By: AJ Lester
The sheets have been pulled of the 2009 iron and although it seems for the most part free-riders are overlooked, the Engineers in Roseau are making some headway in what I’ll go out on a limb and refer to as a “new” segment.
The new Polaris 800 Assault is as close as we have ever been to a factory-built, dealer available free-ride rig. The Assault will more closely answer the call of high altitude free-riders as it comes in only one shoe size, 146-inch.
This all-new ride carries factory-installed Pro Taper high rise bars, piggyback air suspension and minimalist cut-backs everywhere. Matte colors and basic but aggressive graphics pave the way for this boondockin’, free-ride-bred 800cc monster.
For flatlanders an identical package with a 121 pushed by the 600 Shift mill would work perfectly and could carve out this segment with a reasonably priced, potent motor package.
As much as this sounds like an endorsement for a new Polaris sled I didn’t say it was perfect. Since I’m not a thin air rider, and only get to ten thousand plus a few times a year, the Assault isn’t the sled for me, and probably not the sled for the majority of flatland free-riders using groomed trail systems to get to the backcountry. However the idea is perfect.
Face the facts – the majority of free-riders are looking for a big horsepower, lightweight sled that goes up and over as well as over and off. This means big suspension, handlebars that are more comfortable when you’re standing than sitting, and a short track with an aggressive paddle.
Most traditional riders think a X-over sled answers these questions. They really don’t. A 136-inch trail sled with a 1.25 paddle is longer than it needs to be and due to the extra length, heavier. The perfect compromise is a 121 track with a 1.5 lug.
The added height on the lug will move as much snow as the 136 does with a 15-inch shorter footprint – making powder carving through the pines a much easier maneuver. In short would Polaris offer the Assault in a 121 version with a 1.5 lug? The majority of free-riders breathing sea level air will agree this package makes for a potent boondocker while still maintaining a level of trail-ability.
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, free-riders don’t worry about the number of miles racked up in a day – it’s not about how tight the seams on the hood fit or how many MPG we got on the last gas stop. It’s the experience, the thrill of lining up a tight climb that looks impossible knowing if you bail there’s a video camera to produce necessary evidence you actually tried.
It’s important to note the majority of mountain riders don’t use their sleds on trails, for the most part the sleds are purpose-built and are destined for nothing but high altitude and big powder. These riders don’t buy trail permits and aren’t looking to support and use the local trail systems.
Back at sea level growing numbers of free-riders are still interested in getting out for a day’s ride on trails and the majority will still buy trail permits because they want to use the trail system to find uncarved public land while still supporting local clubs and organizations.
I’ll say this again – free-ride doesn’t mean irresponsible. Although we’re not a huge segment we are growing, we are buying snowmobiles, accessories gas and food, and in doing so supporting a sport that can’t afford to turn anyone away.