Traction With Your Snowmobile

What happens when you hit the trigger on your snowmobile? If everything is working just right you shoot out over the snow like a drag racer. If not…

Lots of things come into play with traction.

    * A heavy rider on a sled has more traction than a child or woman on the same sled.* With your sled you may have good traction on the trail, and no traction on ice.

    * The sled that had poor traction on the trail may find traction improves as the temperature rises, until a certain point when it gets worse again.

    * If you’ve been driving your sled with a worn track you’ll find you have more traction when you replace it.

    * If you change your suspension adjustments you’ll find that the traction changes.

Ski-Doo snowmobiles
Ski-Doo snowmobiles

What is Traction?

Traction can be described as how well your snowmobile track connects with the surface under it. Heavy riders exert more pressure per square inch on the track through the suspension set-up than a light rider. Changing your position on the snowmobile seat will have some affect on your traction.

Some riders move to the front, some to the rear of their snowmobile seats, depending on how the suspension has been set. In order to improve the traction for a light rider the suspension would have to be adjusted.

Traction on Different Surfaces

An ice surface presents major problems to the snowmobiler as far as traction is concerned. Snowmobile tracks are designed to bite into the snow to grip it. Ice, on the other hand, has too hard of a surface to allow this to happen so the snowmobile has more difficulty.

The only way for a snowmobile to gain real traction on ice is with the addition of studs to the track. Studs are available in a variety of lengths, configurations, and types. Longer lengths, up to a certain point, may produce greater traction. The exception is really hard ice where too long of a stud may actually bend the track instead of penetrating the ice. Lake ice is often harder than slough ice. Other factors include colder temperatures which produce harder ice.

Traction on Different Snow Conditions

Today’s groomed trails are hard packed snow that may actually resemble ice surfaces under some conditions. The colder the day, the harder it will be for the snowmobile track to grip the snow. As the temperature rises and the snow softens, traction increases. However, once the snow surface becomes slushy there is less for the snowmobile track to grip.

Some riders may wish to adjust their suspensions to compensate for changes in temperature or snow surfaces. Riders who do not usually ride groomed trails will certainly notice a difference from backroads or fields of soft snow.

Your Track and Traction

The condition and type of your snowmobile track has a huge impact on traction. The lugs on the track are designed to grip the snow, so as they become worn or torn, they are less effective.

Many snowmobilers either purchase a sled with the deep lug tracks or upgrade to them. These tracks have more traction on soft snow. However they may not be as effective on a hard packed trail as the lugs may bend the same way that studs do. You may also lose top end with the deep lug track as it is harder to turn.

Snowmobile rear suspension
Snowmobile rear suspension
Snowmobile rear suspension
Snowmobile rear suspension

Adjusting Your Suspension for More Traction

Many riders adjust their suspension depending on the snow or trail conditions described above. The rule of thumb is that for running in soft snow you’d want to add pressure to the front of the slide rails to help lift the skis up more. You might also want to lengthen the amount that the front of the rear suspension can go down to lift the skis.

However, when you’ve done this you may end up in trail conditions, such as running a road, where you will have very little ski pressure which will make the sled difficult to steer.

Snowmobile suspension
Snowmobile suspension
Snowmobile suspension

Getting a Good Hole Shot

If you’re planning to take part in some kind of local snow drag fundraising event, or just want to improve your take-off, you’ll have to experiment with your sled. Your best hole shot is achieved when you can transfer all of your weight to the track without lifting your skis too much. The best way to accomplish this is to take two similar sleds out and make a few runs, then adjust the suspension of one machine, noting where improvements occur. There is no substitute for testing!

This article originally appeared in SnowRider online magazine in February 2001.

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