MOTORHEAD: Mileage Myths Exploded

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By: Motorhead Mark Lester

Over the years we’ve been on the receiving end of many diverse requests from Supertrax readers. It used to be all about top speed. Later came the weight issue.

It still lingers and many continue to ask us what we think is the lightest snowmobile. Times are changing and, recently, your questions have moved in an entirely different direction. Now, the query du jour is: “Which sled gets the best gas mileage?”

Believe me, we listen very carefully to what you’re talking about. This year, everyone is talking about snowmobile fuel economy and because of this critical interest, this issue of Supertrax features “Mileage Champs” – a story on ‘09 sleds delivering impressive fuel economy.

We’ve made painstaking efforts to get you meaningful data on this topic. However, we’re not going to back away from this indisputable reality – snowmobile mileage is a moving target. However, it is reasonable to expect mpg info from us. We’re the experts on the sleds you want to buy. We ride them first, we ride them thousands of klicks in-season and we attempt to take every sled we report on, to ten-tenths of its potential – even if you never will.

This summer we had an intrigiuing opportunity to witness an all-terrain vehicle mpg test performed by our friends at Dirt Trax Television (the same Crew who produce North America’s top snowmobile TV Show, Snowtrax Television). What we learned from the Dirt Trax guys is this: The latest EPA sleds are only a whisker away from the latest ATVs when mileage is the issue. Got your attention now?

Dirt Trax took four new Sport Utility ATVs – a 300, a 650, an 800 and a 1000 on a 50 mile (80 kilometer) tour. They intentionally used pavement to eliminate any variations caused by wheelspin. Sure, ATVs are not used on roads but the Dirt Trax guys were intent on keeping the playing field level – something it’s impossible to do with snowmobiles.

The results generated were enlightening. First, the most powerful ATVs produce less than half the horsepower of the most fuel-efficient snowmobiles. Second, all the ATVs were 4-strokes.

Three of them had EFI and one was a carbureted model (the 300). Finally, the test data was accumulated with the operators paying strict attention to a 40 mph top speed with absolutely no full throttle pulls, period.

They were told to drive like fuel is expensive… hmm? Without stealing their thunder, the results of the Dirt Trax test were stunning. The most fuel efficient ATV in the test generated just over 38 mpg (US gal); the least carded 30.5 mpg.

Rewind to last winter and the arrival of the first direct injected Ski-Doo E-Tec 2-stroke. The 600E-Tec produces 120hp and moves a vehicle weighing between 400 and 450 pounds. After we completed the programmed-in break-in cycle we began scrutinizing gas mileage. At first we thought we were doing something wrong.

The sled carded one tank at 26 mpg. Admittedly it was an easy trail ride but I can assure you, there were some full pulls and 40 mph speeds were not strictly adhered to. Yamaha’s Vector has been a mpg champ for two seasons around here and we’ve seen 23 mpg under similar conditions.

Lets get some perspective. Snowmobiles produce a lot more rolling resistance than ATVs. Snow is an ever-changing medium that always produces slippage and most certainly requires significant power to overcome the friction of pushing skis and dragging rubber through it. When we calculate our mileage tallies, we use real world riding simply because there are no “perfect” conditions like pavement to run sleds on. However, when we talk about maximum mileage numbers, we don’t run WOT down Kevlar Lake, either.

Here’s the twist. Lets say we took those big displacement ATVs producing 60-70hp and ran them harder than the Dirt Trax test. Would their mpg drop? Certainly it would. Lets speculate a drop of 25 percent as a result of more aggressive throttle plying with some loose soil and mud mixed in. It could mean some 120hp sleds can deliver near-identical mileage.

Okay, we’ve made assumptions here to shed light on what we’re currently living with. Today’s modern, EPA certified, 110-120hp sleds are the mileage champs of the sno-mo-biz. However, those individuals we’ve heard talking negatively about snowmobile fuel economy need to look closely at the rest of the powersports industry for perspective.

We witnessed a strange twist while looking over the Dirt Trax guy’s shoulders. The 300cc 4-wheeler delivered better mileage – but not much better, considering its horsepower variance of more than 100 percent compared to the bigger ATVs. With sleds, this effect works backwards. Our 600 class EPA emission champs deliver better fuel economy than sleds producing about half their power.

Sure, ATVs still get better mileage than sleds, however, you don’t need a PhD to quantify the differences in power and the uncooperative surface sleds operate on.

Supertrax Online
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