It’s a question we get asked a lot, and it’s not surprising with our characteristically snowy Canadian winters. Riders want to know whether they should buy snow tracks for their UTV/ATV. Of course, we can’t make the decision for you. Just like with most accessories, you add to your machine, you need to look at what your needs or wants are in order to decide whether they’re right for you.
So we’re going to look at what you need to know before you buy yourself some UTV snow tracks.
Deciding what’s important
Every rider is different. How you ride, why you ride, and what you ride will all play into your decision to get tracks. You need to list your priorities or what’s important to you to determine whether tracks are going to give you the ride/benefits you want. Ask yourself: Is top speed or traction more important? Do I want better handling of my machine, or do I want the confidence to get my machine through any type of snow or obstacle that winter riding brings? Do I want an all-season machine or am I really looking for a snowmobile? This blog will look at all these questions and more.
It’s not chump change
Tracks are pricey – even used ones. A good set will set you back around $5000. You want to make sure to check whether or not the mounting brackets are included in the price. Some are and some aren’t.
Putting that kind of investment into your machine means you really need to understand how your machine is affected before you purchase.
Give and Take
Adding tracks to your machine is a give and take relationship – you get some and you give some. You have to remember that your ATV or UTV was never intended to turn tracks. That means adding tracks will cause you to compromise on some of the things your machine was designed to do. Tracks affect things like speed, handling, and turn radius. But they allow you to ride through deep, slushy snow and go through obstacles or technical spots that just aren’t possible on 4 wheels.
What’s in a track?
When looking to buy tracks there are a few different options. Some are designed for snow only and some are 4-season. Different tracks offer different control, traction, vibration-reduction and handling. No matter what you buy you want to look at durability and whether your gear ratio is reduced enough for your drive train to turn those heavy tracks.
Floatation is a big word when it comes to tracks. Track manufacturers will tell you what the floatation, or ground surface coverage, is. Spreading out the load of your machine over a bigger area allows you to ‘float’ over the snow easier, even wet heavy snow. The bigger the contact patch the better the floatation.
It’s important to note that tracks are specific to your machine, they’re not a one size fits all. The main difference is the drive sprocket. Gearing and power are not the same on all makes and models – that means you need to match the drive sprocket to the machine in order to optimize the engine output.
So how exactly do these changes affect my machine?
Pros and Cons
Like we said, adding tracks is a little give and a little take. You need to decide what you’re willing to give up in order to get the benefits from the tracks. Tracks are not for everyone.
The biggest pro is the traction you get with tracks. The larger contact patch of the track redistributes the machine’s weight more evenly allowing you to get through terrain that would seriously bog you down with wheels. The tracks are really heavy, lowering your centre of gravity to help you stick to the ground. This means you can climb and descend hills easier. It also means you won’t roll over as easily. The higher ground clearance allows you to get through rough terrain and technical spots.
Tracks have come a long way in the last few years. You’re not just putting snowmobile tracks on your machine anymore. A lot of thought has gone into the design to allow you to enjoy your machine’s capabilities while getting the functionality of the tracks. But, because you’ve substantially increased the ground surface coverage and the weight of your machine you are going to sacrifice a bit on speed, handling, and maneuverability.
Wheels have a small contact patch allowing you to go at your top speed. The large contact patch of the track will not allow you to go as fast as you might want or expect. Gearing makes a huge difference, especially if you have a bigger machine. You don’t have to worry about power in the low end and you’ll mainly just notice the difference at top speed.
Most UTVs run a CVT (continuously variable transmission) – if yours does it’s worth checking to see whether your track manufacturer recommends installing a clutch kit. They’re not that expensive but they can significantly improve the performance of your machine when running tracks.
What You Will Notice
You’ll also notice your machine doesn’t handle the same when using tracks. Most of us know the ins and outs of our machine. We know the feel of it beneath our feet – it basically talks to us. That’s part of the joy of riding. The added weight of the tracks is unsprung weight, meaning it’s not supported by the transmission, so we lose that ability to really feel the machine the same way. Some people claim it takes the fun out of riding.
The turn radius of your machine will be a lot wider with tracks. It’s harder to get that machine around when the contact patch is so much larger than you’re used to. If agility is important to you then tracks may not be the right choice.
Most of us use our ATVs/UTVs all year; simply with tires, but running a set of tracks allows you to go places you would never dream of otherwise. But, even with tracks, you will never turn your machine into a sled.
Snowmobiles are specifically designed for snow – and stunting – and that makes a difference.
Tracks vs Sleds
If you want to utilize your machine to its fullest then adding tracks is a great way to do that. It really becomes an all-weather/all-season machine. There are a few benefits your machine has over a snowmobile too. First of all, you stay a lot warmer in your machine if you have a cab enclosure and a heater. If you invest in 4-season tracks you can travel distances over the dry ground without damaging them. And you have a lot more pulling power than a snowmobile. That’s really where the advantages end though.
Snowmobiles are fast and agile. Your machine is not going to maintain the same speed or handle like a snowmobile. You will want to check out the rules where you’re riding and make sure your machine is not too wide for the trails. Remember, the tracks have added to your width. (Just a note to make sure your machine still fits on or in your trailer with tracks on.)
If you’re buying tracks because you want to go snowmobiling you might want to buy a snowmobile instead.
If you’ve invested in a set of tracks it’s important to maintain them. It’s fairly easy to do and can save you money and trouble down the road.
Simple things like keeping the tracks clean, checking that the bolts are tight, and looking for tears or missing lugs on the track can go a long way to ensuring their longevity. You also want to read the manual to ensure you maintain the right traction. It’s not rocket science – the better you take care of them, the longer they will last.
Now that you’ve looked at the pros and cons of investing in a track system, you need to decide what fits your needs and riding style best. It’s a personal choice and if it’s right for you there will be no regrets.
Send us photos of your winter riding adventures and tell us what you think about riding with tracks.
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