From the June 2016 issue of Dirt Rider Magazine.

Of all the various brands who make snow conversion kits for dirt bikes, Timbersled is the undisputed leader, both in terms of technology and market share. Just as a pirate would seize a valuable ship, the Idaho-based brand swiftly stole enough business from the snowmobile market in recent years to catch the attention of Polaris who, in a brilliantly strategized move, then bought Timbersled. Like a controlled wildfire, Timbersled is still headquartered in Idaho and managed by the original owners, but it now has the backing of one of the biggest snow machine companies in the world and is in a perfect position to help the sport grow.

2017 Timbersled Snow Bike Conversion Kit from Polaris
The 2017 Timbersled Snow Bike Conversion Kit is Polaris' new toy that is perfect for the winter months.Photos by Todd Williams

The Method
Compared to a standard snowmobile, Timbersleds have a number of advantages. For one thing, they are much lighter (the Timbersled track setup adds just 115 pounds to a bike), nimbler, easier to get unstuck, and generally much more fun to ride for the average motorcycle guy. Additionally, Timbersleds are convertible. Instead of buying a sled, riders can turn their off-road machines into snowbikes in the winter then go back to knobbies when the snow melts.

As far as wear and tear goes, consider this: You’re not getting any dirt into the engine (or even on the bike, for that matter), the operating temps are also extremely low, and crash damage is often nonexistent. One final point to consider is the environmental footprint of snowbikes: You could spend a few days zipping back and forth through the woods (“off trail,” as they say), yet when the snow melts there won’t be a single sign that you had been there.

2017 Timbersled Snow Bike Conversion Kit from Polaris
There is no lack of excitement here. Traction is plentiful and so are smiles under the helmet.Photos by Todd Williams

The Madness
When I arrived at Polaris' recent Timbersled press event in Salt Lake City, Utah, it'd been about five years since I'd ridden a snowbike. In that time, the technology has evolved substantially. Joining me on the test was Gary Hymes, a senior test rider of ours who had never before ridden a snowbike. The test fleet available to us was primarily made up of converted Husqvarnas; I ended up on a converted FC 450 with Timbersled's ST 120 LE kit, which comes equipped with a yellow frame and fully adjustable Fox Zero QS3R shocks. Gary found himself on an FE 501 with the ST 120 kit (with Fox Zero Pro shocks).

One of the first things that became apparent to me was that Timbersled’s front ski technology has evolved drastically in half a decade. The hard-plastic front skis have become wider (the current Timbersled front setup is 10 inches wide), and they also feature a series of three distinct “keels” on the bottom—two outers and one center—that help the front end to bite. The steering effort on these new skis is very light and easy, much like how a normal dirt bike feels (older-generation flat skis had a very vague feel to them). The center keel is also taller so that when riding on hard-packed snow, you’re just riding on the center and aren’t fighting the entire width of the ski (in powder, all three keels engage). I was very pleased with the predictability of the front end of the Timbersled I rode, which allowed me to charge into fluffy powder turns with much greater confidence than I remember. Even on ice, the front ski hooks up because each keel has a biting, metal edge on each side, so you essentially have six sharp edges available to you to help grab traction.

The front ski connects to the bike using Timbersled’s Backcountry Ski “spindle” and HD fork clamps. This is designed as an intentional impact zone, much like the front bumper of your car. In a really hard impact (such as running the ski into a huge stump), the “fusible link” of the spindle will take the hit so that your expensive front suspension components don’t break first.

The progression has continued out back, where the Timbersled track now features the company’s very own Convex 2.5 (that’s the paddle height, in inches) design. Measuring 120 inches in length and 12.5 inches wide, the track’s paddles have multiple rubber densities built in. Once on the snow, this translates to feel and performance that mimics that of a normal motorcycle tire. With curved shoulder tracks and a main contact patch in the center, the Convex 2.5 has made these bikes light-years easier to ride on packed, groomed trails (where you’re only riding on the center paddle) than the old, flat-track designs.

But the real beauty of the current track design is in its performance at a lean angle. The outer paddles provide incredible traction, so you can skirt these bikes across some jaw-dropping side hills while still maintaining traction. Corner exit is also vastly improved, with the track really hooking up well in multiple types of snow.

2017 Timbersled Snow Bike Conversion Kit from Polaris
Although it does take a little more work to lean a Timbersled into a corner, it still feels very similar to standard dirt bike technique.Photos by Todd Williams

The Freestyle Opinion
Having spent a few days on snowbikes in the past, I knew that I wanted to push my own limits of what I felt I could do aboard a Timbersled. Fortunately, Canadian Reagan Sieg—a fellow former FMXer who is now the world's top snowbike freestyle rider—was on hand at this intro to provide me with some encouragement. Throughout the day, Reagan offered a ton of tips that really helped up my snowbike game. One of the biggest hints he gave is to stay on the throttle! Shutting off (and even simply using the clutch) will immediately slow your track speed, and this can stand you up in turns. By staying on the throttle through corners, the bottom of the ski and the bottom of the track collectively flex to make one big bow shape that provides a ton of compliance and stability.

The big moment in my day came when Reagan discovered one of his famous rock ledge drop-offs—and then encouraged me to try it. He explained that since the track is so long, you have to stay on the gas off the lip so as to not drop the front end. Reagan also showed me a trick for marking the launch point of a blind drop-off, which involves putting a small stick at the edge so you know where your line goes.

With that, I was able to successfully bomb down what felt to be a pretty significant drop. The only downside was that I learned firsthand why Reagan’s personal snowbikes have unthinkably stiff forks—with the added weight of the track setup (which features 20 inches of suspension travel in itself), the stock fork does not have what it takes to hold up under hard hits!

2017 Timbersled Snow Bike Conversion Kit from Polaris
Navigating the woods is made easy on a Timbersled. Plus no one will know you were there after the snow melts.Photos by Todd Williams

The First-Time Opinion
As exciting as it was for me to play freerider for a day, the highlight of my time in the mountains was seeing Gary experience a Timbersled for the first time. Here is a man who has ridden countless dirt miles in his life, and yet Gary was transported back to the fun and excitement of being a first-time rider as soon as he swung a leg over the Timbersled. His opinion directly reflects what the average Dirt Rider reader would likely feel when riding a snowbike for the first time.

“I had absolutely no idea that these bikes would be as much fun as they are!” Gary beamed after the ride. “It takes a little getting used to the added weight, but within minutes I felt incredibly comfortable aboard the Timbersled. And the climbing! My goodness, you can climb anything on these machines! You kind of have to ignore your traditional riding instincts and get rid of your ‘two-wheeled’ way of looking at the trail because the impossible truly becomes possible aboard a snowbike. I never thought I’d be able to navigate some of the side hills that I made it across—and on my very first day. Crashing is an interesting affair because in chest-deep powder, it can be tough to get the bike stood back up and to get back on. I ended up crawling up the back track just to get on at one point! Overall, the new Timbersleds completely surpassed my expectations of what I thought these bikes could do. If I lived in a snowy climate, I’d buy one in a second—it’s the only way I think that I could get my moto fix in the winter.”

What Timbersled Says
Timbersled Sales & Marketing Director Brett Blaser, an incredible off-road rider in his own right who may have more time on a snowbike than anyone, summed up the company's product development objective while also stressing the importance of the front ski technology: "Snowbikes have always been a blast off-trail, but their nemesis was the sketchy, frozen trail ride back to the truck. We've also been chasing the 'dirt bike feel' we all love in the summertime. Our goal with the Timbersled Backcountry Ski was to make the trail ride a good experience and to give the Timbersled rider that nimble front-tire feel with even more terrain-carving confidence. We will continue to innovate and refine our ski technology."

Judging by what we experienced with the new product—and seeing the incredible opportunity in this growing segment of the market—I’d say that Timbersled’s goal of global domination is right on track (get it?).

Want more? Check out our onboard video from the day—including the big drop-off—here

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