SnowTrax TV’s Luke Lester Reports On The Pros And Cons Of A New-Generation Cat Crossover…
The 2020 RIOT is probably Arctic Cat’s most-changed platform this year. For a moment, erase your previous impressions of its direct competitors, the Polaris Switchback 144 and Ski-Doo Backcountry 146 and tell us what you think of it as an off-trail Crossover on its own. What are its strengths or weaknesses in comparison to the others?
Luke: I’ve spent a good amount of time on the 2020 RIOT and RIOT X both on and off the trail and if I had to pick one word to describe my feelings about them, it would be “impressed”. I had pretty low expectations for this sled before I swung my leg over the seat for the first time, but it didn’t seem to matter where I went riding it, this sled exceeded my expectations. On the trail, it’s a great trail sled. Off trail, it’s a great off-trail sled.
I would compare it very closely to the Switchback 144 in that it really does do a great job at both ends of the spectrum. The Ski-Doo is more biased to off-trail with the hybrid front end. But, like the Switchback 144, the RIOT comes extremely close to that perfect 50/50 mix.
Is the power-revised 2020 SDI 800 really noticeable or is it just hype to keep Cat customers happy? When riding it, how and when does the power change evidence itself?
Luke: It would be unfair to comment fully on the new 800, simply because my experience with it was at altitude. But, I can say there was nothing about the new engine that jumped out at me in terms of major improvement. With that said, this is a stellar powerplant and was a great engine last year, too. It revs fast, pulls hard and it likes to wail up top. As an 800, I have nothing bad to say about it.
Cat went big with a completely new skidframe design for the RIOT, called Cross-Action. The new setup uses torsion springs and torque sensing links like a trail sled but is uncoupled. What are the design benefits it offers over the former coil-over skid and how does the change benefit the sled in a) deep powder situations and b) trail riding situations?
Luke: This skid is really the secret to why the RIOT is such a great Crossover. Moving to a more traditional trail skid results in more than acceptable on-trail riding characteristics. It handles bumps of all sizes well, just like a trail sled should. Being uncoupled does allow the sled to lift its skis a bit more than might be ultimately desirable on the trail, but this is one of the only trade-offs that were necessary to give this sled its impressive off-trail capabilities. And it is impressive off-trail. Like the Switchback 144, you can keep up with mountain sleds in situations that would leave most other crossovers buried.
Cat offers its full-on AMS (Arctic Cat Mountain Sled) front end parts and geometry on the RIOT X. Does this obvious off-trail focus compromise the sled’s handling capabilities as a true Crossover sled? ARS II, Cat’s newest front end, is used on the plain vanilla RIOT. How do they behave differently?
Luke: In my opinion, this was a genius move by Arctic Cat. Make the standard RIOT as close to a 50/50 Crossover as possible. Then offer the X model as a much more off-trail biased unit. And this is exactly what they are. The X definitely doesn’t handle as well on the trail though it does still ride good. But there’s no question, the secret to the Riot’s 50/50 personality is the trail front end… just like the Switchback 144.
Did Arctic Cat nail the track length and lug depth with the RIOT? Would you change anything back there?
Luke: I think Cat did a great job on the RIOT with its 146-inch track with 2-inch lugs. The lug height is about as tall as you’d want to go on a sled you intend to ride on the trail 50-percent of the time. But the 146-inch length is what makes it so capable off-trail for the other 50-percent of your day. Again, this is why offering both the RIOT and RIOT X was genius. The X model gets the deeper 2-inch lug track that, on the trail, is overkill but positively affects how the sled handles deeper snow conditions.
You’ve mentioned formerly that, ergonomically, some Cats don’t feel as good to you as you’d personally like. Describe the feedback you get from the RIOT.
Luke: The RIOT is an interesting sled from an ergonomic perspective. I don’t love the low seating position on Arctic Cat trail sleds. The RIOT uses the mountain seat which is taller, and in my opinion, better, even on the trail. However, the seat is pretty short, so you’re forced to ride up closer to the tank. Still, I like the RIOT’s ergonomics better than the trail sleds.
What would you change about the RIOT? What would you keep?
Luke: I don’t think there’s much I’d change. Like the Switchback, this sled is great both on and off trail. Trying to improve it for one would only hurt the other. I think one thing that could improve the sled on-trail with no negative consequences off-trail would be tipped rails, though. This would make the sled feel more nimble and maneuverable on the trail without hurting traction at all off-trail.
Give us a 1-10 rating of the RIOT as a trail sled. Now, do the same with it as an off-trail sled and tell us why?
Luke: Judged entirely on how it performs on-trail, the RIOT gets an 8 out of 10 from me. BTW, that’s exactly how I’d score any Arctic Cat 8000 series trail sled. Judged solely how it performs off-trial, but still considering its Crossover classification, I’d give it an 8 out of 10 there, too. The trail front end is not as capable off-trail, but the stand up ergonomics and longer-than-average track make up for a lot of that.