CONVERSION TEST | SNO-TRAXX ’98

Now, this is fun: We could scoot down trails much faster with the Banshee Sno-Traxx than with the Scrambler 500. We found that two-stroke-powered quads work better with this kit than the four-strokers.

SNO-TRAX CONVERSION

*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.

Drift buster: The Sno-Traxx kit utilizes the quad’s own suspension and gets the same amount of travel as it does when it has wheels. The big Scrambler jumped just fine; the only trouble was finding enough speed to catch some air!

SNO-TRAX CONVERSION

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.

KIT BREAKDOWN

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 business end: The swingarm and bearing carrier stay the same, but the Sno-Traxx kit comes with its own axle. When jumping, the rear tracks mercifully stay “toe-up” and won’t drop down and catch on anything.

SNO-TRAX CONVERSION

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).

The real McCoy: The plastic front ski is a lightweight, high-performance unit that is actually made for snowmobiles. It gets the job done just fine when at­tached to a quad and the Sno-Traxx ac­tually ends up with a tighter turning ra­dius than found on most snowmobiles.

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.

Tank Girl: The rear tracks are cog-driv­en and will work in nasty mud as well as snow.

SNO-TRAX CONVERSION

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.

Satisfied customer: Utah’s Steve Sum­merill bought a Sno-Traxx kit several years ago for his Banshee and says that he’s very happy with its performance. Other testimonials back him up.

RECOMMENDATIONS

SNO-TRAX CONVERSION

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?

Three snow modes: We compared a snowmobile, Sno-Traxx and a regular quad in a heads-up trail comparison.

SNO-TRAX CONVERSION

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.

Sleighbells ring: We tried out a Cam­bridge Metal and Plastics (CMP) snowmobile sled behind the Sno-Traxx just for the heck of it. It towed just fine, but there’s no protection from the snow be­ing slung out from the tracks when the speed increases. Snowmobiles solve the problem with a big flap of rubber in the rear.

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.

SNO-TRAX CONVERSION

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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