CONVERSION TEST | SNO-TRAXX ’98
*Here is a story from our 1998 files about a company that made conversion kits for snow use. These SNO-TRAX CONVERSION kits were the bomb.
For several years now, the staff of Dirt Wheels has traveled to the snow-covered peaks of Southern California to try out the latest Sno-Traxx units from Snow Conversion Inc. (SCI) out of Bakersfield, CA. In years past, we tested a variety of four-wheelers outfitted with these unique kits, which turn a quad into a snow machine for the winter, and then can be switched back to wheels and tires for the other three seasons.
The first kits off the assembly line were for high-performance machines like the Banshee, QuadRacer 500, and Honda FourTrax 250R. Last year, we tried out a Polaris Sport 400 and a Honda 4×4 with a prototype four-track drive system installed.
To quickly sum up our previous tests, the Banshee, QuadRacer, and FourTrax were an absolute blast on groomed trails and reasonable snow depths. Of course, the Sno-Traxxes don’t perform as well as a snowmobile—nobody really expected them to—but the high-performance Sno-Traxxes were plenty of fun and can get you from Point A to Point B on most winter trails. In the conditions we tested in, not once did we ever see one get stuck.
Last year’s Sport 400 worked well, but, of course, wasn’t as thrilling as the high-performance machines. However, the auto-transmission and floorboards made it feel even more like a snowmobile. On the other hand, we weren’t too enthused about the prototype 4×4 Quad-Traxx system on the Honda Foreman. It worked, but the steering was awfully hard and the machine just couldn’t get up to speed. SCI has put that project on the back burner for now, but it may be resurrected as an all-utility kit. Since the Foreman project has been tabled, the SCI gang has come up with a kit for 4×4 Polaris models that uses the skis up front and the tracks in the rear (of course, the machine must be run in the 2WD mode!).
Our all-new mounts this year are a Polaris Scrambler 500 4×4 and a Polaris Magnum 425 2×4. These are the first four-stroke Sno-Traxxes we have tested. To add a new twist to this year’s test, we also brought along a regular Sportsman 500 4×4 with tires and a Polaris 660cc snowmobile for comparison (see sidebar). We also had the original Banshee 350 Sno-Traxx along on our day-long ride.
The kit consists of a set of halftrack-looking rear tracks that bolt on to the back of your ATV in place of the rear wheels. A replacement axle (included in the kit) is installed and the cog-driven dual rear tracks are installed on either side. Upfront a pair of plastic snow skis (the same as those used on snowmobiles) are bolted on in place of the stock wheels. Both ends utilize the same suspension your ATV already has. SCI provides the buyer with both written instructions and a videotape of the installation process to make the job fairly straightforward. If you are good with a wrench, the entire kit takes a little more than two hours to install.
The whole idea behind the kit is to make the reversal as easy as the initial conversion. Amazingly, everything in the snow conversion kits are designed to bolt on with no hacking, sawing or welding required.
Last year, the kit got a variety of upgrades, which included a new plastic ski with a metal backbone, new EZ steer carbide runners, a fiber spring on the tracks to replace the previous torsion bar steup and AC Racing custom foot protectors for non-Polaris machines (stock Polaris floorboards already get the job done).
This year’s kit now features all-aluminum front ski legs (the piece between the hub or spindle and the ski), which are 60% lighter than the steel units of last year, shaving about four pounds off the weight of the machine. Weight is still a limiting factor on these kits since they add about 45 pounds to the quad after subtracting the weight of the components removed (tires, wheels, and axle).
TOPPING THE SUMMIT
We found some awesome fresh snow in the mountains surrounding Lake Isabella, northeast of Bakersfield, in which to do our test this year. It was light, but pretty deep if you happened to stray off the trail.
When we first took off on the Scrambler, we had to pull over and check to see if the choke was still on; the thing felt like a total dog! The choke wasn’t the problem. Then we asked if the jetting was off or something. SCI owner Chuck Shaw said he specifically jetted it for the elevation and temperature conditions the day before and he figured that was the best we were going to get out of it. Yikes!
This machine did not have anywhere near the spunk of a regular Scrambler 500 with tires and wheels. We soon found out that the Magnum 425 wasn’t performing up to snuff either. Apparently, the four-stroke powered Sno-Traxx vehicles don’t have the punch to get the machine up and running on top of the snow like the two-strokes. In case you didn’t know it, nearly all snowmobiles are two-stroke powered. The SCI folks ackowledged that they have also found that the two-stroke quads do perform considerably better with the Sno-Traxx kits than the thumpers.
In other words, the rides up the mountain on the Scrambler or the Magnum were far from thrilling. Basically, we just kept the throttle pegged and plodded along. Sure, they both handled okay and were comfortable, but the four-stroke Sno-Traxxes were about as exciting as a golf cart. Meanwhile, the Banshee and the snowmobile just roosted away on us.
As you can see in the accompanying photos, test rider Brand Johnson did manage to get some slides and jumps out of the Scrambler, but he was giving it all he had. We also managed to get one stuck for the first time when we buried the front end in the deep, unpacked snow. The extra weight of the machine didn’t make matters any easier, but the Banshee Sno-Traxx or the snowmobile could quickly pull us out with a tie-down.
By swapping rides and hopping on the Banshee Sno-Traxx, we were quickly reminded why we liked these conversion kits from day one. The Banshee actually gets up and goes like a snowmobile and can carve through the trails like an ATV on dirt. The stock suspension feels like it’s working to its full extent at both ends and one can ride comfortably while either sitting or standing. With some good throttle and clutch control, you can get the machine sideways and jumping is no problem at all (like a snowmobile, the tips of the skis won’t drop down while airborne; in fact, the rear tracks also stay “toe-up”). The Sno-Traxxes even work well on real, hard, ice-packed snow. Of course, all these attributes can be found on the Scrambler and Magnum Sno-Traxxes; it’s just that they are tough to feel since they are so down on high-revving horsepower.
If you really want to hit the trails like a snowmobile without having to buy one, we certainly recommend the Sno-Traxx kit—that is, if you have a two-stroke-powered quad. These conversions are a blast to ride as long as you have the peppy power of a two-stroke engine. Unless you have a fairly hopped-up four-stroke, they just don’t seem to have what it takes to get the rear tracks really moving in the snow. Now, on the other hand, if you are thinking about putting a Sno-Traxx kit on your four-stroke quad simply to get from point A to point B or to do some tough winter chores, then we would recommend the kit. After all, it does work much better than a quad with tires. However, if you think you are going to go out and have all sorts of fun on the snowmobile trails, well, think again. You may find you will have just as good a time running on snowmobile trails and frozen lakes with a regular quad with slightly studded tires (see last month’s issue for an article on Wisconsin ATV snow riders).
MODELS, PRICES & INFO
The fact is, most of the kits sold, so far (about 100 in the last three years), were to Banshee, QuadRacer 250 and 500, and FourTrax 250R owners (see sidebar for customer evaluations). The entire kit is priced at $2495 (same as last year) and is available for the aforementioned high-performance machines as well as the Warrior and nearly every Polaris quad (except for the independent rear suspension Sportsman 500). SCI is currently building units for the Sportsman 500, Honda Foreman, Yamaha Wolverine and Big Bear and the Polaris 6×6.
SNO-TRAXX vs. QUAD vs. SNOWMOBILE | HOW DO THEY COMPARE ON THE TRAILS?
Is the Sno-Traxx more like a snowmobile or more like an ATV, or is it simply something in between? To find out, we took all three types of vehicles along for a ride on some deep, freshly packed powder in the Sequoia National Forest north of Bakersfield, CA. Of course, the 660cc two-stroke Polaris snowmobile hooked up the best and could roost away at will from the Polaris Sno-Traxx and Sportsman 500 quad. However, the Banshee Sno-Traxx had the ponies to hang with the snowmobile good enough that they were riding buddies. The 4×4 quad worked pretty well on the really hard-packed stuff and was both fun and comfortable. However, as soon as the snow got soft or deep, the front end would wander around and it quickly became a handful rather than a good time. When the trail got a slight incline, the quad lost traction big-time and slowed to a crawl, while the Sno-Traxx just roosted on by. If the quad happened to wander into virgin snow, it got hopelessly stuck. In these conditions, the front skis on the Sno-T
raxx provided plenty of control and the ride was still a good one, whether you were on the hardpack or the new snow.
At the top of the summit (which the quad barely made it to), we played around on the jumps and off-cambers of the rolling hills with the Sno-Traxx and snowmobile (and mercifully left the quad parked). Both the Sno-Traxx and the snowmobile were fun to jump and some of us were actually more comfortable in the rough stuff and off jumps on the Sno-Traxx because it was easier to stand up on. As far as turning goes, the front skis on both machines worked about the same, but one needs to add a little more body english with the higher-sitting quad. In some ways, the shorter wheelbase of the Sno-Traxx allowed us to make slightly tighter turns. The reverse gear on the Polaris Sno-Traxx also came in quite handy if you happened to get stuck.
Switching to the snowmobile for the trail ride back home, we found some more differences—you sit much lower on the snowmobile and the overall ride is more comfortable. You also stay quite a bit warmer on the snowmobile, which protects nearly your entire body from the wind. Both the snowmobile and the Sno-Traxx will get tippy in the corners if you come in too hot and dig into the soft snow. On hardpack, both are capable of some good slides.
So where does the Sno-Traxx fit in as far as performance? We found in a head-to-head comparison it’s just what it looks like—half quad, half snowmobile. There are some things it can’t do as well as a snowmobile, but it certainly gets more power to the snow and handles considerably better than a quad.
CUSTOMER RATINGS FEEDBACK FROM THE SNOW ZONE
Snow Conversion has been selling Sno-Traxx kits for several years now to ATVers in all parts of North America that have a substantial amount of snowfall. Here are some of the results of a recent customer survey regarding the installation and performance of the Sno-Traxx kits.
Eric Allen, Maybee, MI (’88 Suzuki QuadRacer LT500): Easy to install. Very maneuverable runs great in heavy snow. Keeps up with a friend’s snowmobile. Corners great. Went through drifts. Very satisfied.
Mike Bradbury, Chepachet, RI (’87 Yamaha Banshee): Installed in 1-1/2 hours. Converted back in the spring in 20 minutes. Impressed with the turning radius and how it handled in rugged, unstable conditions. Handles better than a snowmobile.
Charles Janovsky Jr., Oneida, NY (’96 Polaris Trail Blazer): Plowed through about four feet of new snow. Went up a large hill and got stuck but simply backed out with reverse. The friend with the snowmobile got stuck and had to pull him out.
Jeremy McSwain, Atlanta, MI (‘88 Honda FourTrax 250R): Get lots of attention and have lots of fun with Sno-Traxx. Took it to a snowmobile race and they almost stopped the race to look at the unit.
Al Richter, Mankato, MN (’95 Yamaha Warrior): Took trails with snowmobilers and was amazed how well the Sno-Traxx worked.
Steve Summerhill, Fruit Heights, UT (’96 Yamaha Banshee and ’95 Yamaha Warrior): Works well in powder. Topped out Banshee at 75 mph and held up with a Ski-Doo Summit. Purchased a second kit for Warrior.
Ellis Undercuffler, Germansville, PA (’91 Yamaha Banshee:) Easily installed. Gives maximum use of ATV during all seasons. The suspension works better than snowmobile suspensions. Makes people look twice. Lots of winter fun, 2000 miles worth!
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