Different Strokes for Different Folks
IS THE 4-STROKE SNOWMOBILE DEAD? IS THE RESURGENCE IN THE 2-STROKE MARKET THE NAIL IN THE COFFIN FOR THE 4-STROKE?
I really have nothing against 2-stroke snowmobiles and in fact I own three of them, but I feel the need to be the defender of the 4-stroke machines. I have ridden many fast 2-stroke machines that obviously weigh less, but wouldn't trade my 4-stroke sled for any of them. And yes, I love to ride and carve powder; I am not simply a trail rider! Granted, I am not climbing steep chutes or trying to sidehill on steep, treed mountainsides; however, for almost everything else, I do just fine and hold my own with the 2-stroke boys and definitely enjoy myself at least as much as they do!
Now it is no secret that 2-stroke snowmobile manufacturers have done a fantastic job in the last several years making the 4-strokes in general look less desirable. This includes the design and manufacture of 2-stroke power plants with increased horsepower, efficiencies and reliability and shaving weight from engine and chassis designs from companies such as Polaris with the Axys platform and engines from Ski-Doo (new 850 E-TEC) and Arctic Cat (new 800 C-TEC2). Ski-Doo is marketing the 850 E-TEC with increased power, torque and response with the same efficiency as the previous 800 E-TEC while borrowing technologies used in 4-stroke and diesel engines to increase reliability. Arctic Cat's new power plant has dual stage injection (DSI) and they claim a quieter and smoother engine with 18% more torque above 6000 rpm and 30% more torque below 5000 rpm with improved fuel and oil usage efficiencies. Less weight, more power, narrower chassis and new technologies such as the new SHOT Starting System from Ski-Doo have all been tempting buyers over to 2-stroke models.
Polaris and Ski-Doo production of 4-stroke engines have been somewhat disappointing when compared to their Arctic Cat and Yamaha rivals. I often wonder if this was a ploy by Polaris and Ski-Doo to push customers back to their core market toward 2-stroke machines by offering inferior 4-stroke options. Given Yamaha’s dedication to the recreational 4-stroke snowmobile market (and yes as of the 2017 model year, Yamaha DOES offer a 2-stroke powered VK 540V) and the fact that even Arctic Cat now chooses Yamaha as their engine builder of choice for snowmobiles powered by 4-stroke engines, Yamaha appears the to have a distinct advantage in the 4-stroke snowmobile market.
The 4-strokes hold distinct advantages over their 2-stroke counterparts including fuel economy, longevity and reliability of engine and engine components, cleaner burning exhaust as well as the ability to reliably generate big power using turbo or supercharger configurations. I posted an article a few weeks ago where a guy rode is Yamaha Vector over 100,000 miles – try that with a 2-stroke! The weight of a 4-stroke engine and overall machine is definitely a factor that many riders consider problematic when riding difficult terrain where manoeuvrability is key. Dry/wet weights of snowmobiles are always a hot topic right beside horsepower and skid length. I do find it interesting; however, that many 2-stroke riders will brag about how light their sleds are and then proceed to strap heavy gas cans on the tunnel to refuel during their run. Granted, some boosted 4-stroke may need the fuel as well over longer runs thus adding more weight to a heavier sled. For 2017, Yamaha has decided to come to the plate with the offer of a factory boosted 4-stroke to the avail of many Yamaha fans anticipating this move for so long. The “Sidewinder” comes with a 998 cc, 3 cylinder 180 hp factory turbo charged engine with a variety of track lengths and options…it seems Yamaha has finally decided to play with the big boys right out of the box. Previously, Yamaha owners had to opt for aftermarket turbo or supercharger kits. This sled is getting some great reviews, albeit with some concerns over belt and clutching issues and loose turbo bolts. Lets face facts however, 2-strokes aren’t short on problems either!
In a recent issue of American Snowmobiler, a number of acceleration tests (speed and timing over defined distances up to 1000 ft) were conducted on a field of factory-optioned sleds including the following 2-stroke machines: Skidoo 850 E-TEC MXZx, the Arctic Cat ZR 8000 RR, Polaris 800 Switchback Pro-S and two factory 4 stroke turbo sleds: the Arctic Cat ZR 9000 RR and the Yamaha Sidewinder L-TX. In all tests, the turbo 4-strokes beat ALL the 2-stroke sleds (even the mighty 850 E-TEC) with the Yamaha Sidewinder claiming all but one category (the 4 stroke Arctic Cat claimed the remaining category). The Arctic Cat and Yamaha turbo sleds run the same engine and chassis with different clutching.
It would appear that the Sidewinder might play a role in helping boost the image of the 4-stroke performance sleds. Are 4-strokes sleds a dying breed and inferior to the all mighty 2-stroke? Not according to the stats in the test above! Maybe don’t rule them out of the game just yet!
I realize that no matter how compelling the argument would be, some will never be swayed to switch over to a 4-stroke machine. With weight being a large factor, the 2-strokes will have a distinct advantage in challenging mountainous terrain, but for those who don't ride those areas, a 4-stroke should be taken into consideration when researching a sled purchase. Given there are so many options out there today, don't simply assume you won't be satisfied with a 4-stroke machine because its too heavy; rather, make an informed decision and choose the best machine for you based on your riding style and the places and terrain you chose to ride. Different strokes for different folks as they say - pun intended!
The important thing is that we all get out and enjoy the sport. I know what I will be riding...Enjoy the ride and be safe!