A half-hour before Arctic Cat’s planned 1 p.m. press conference at the Haydays Grass Drags & Swap Meet event on Saturday, September 12, Arctic Cat Snowmobile Product Manager Troy Halvorson was hurrying in one direction while a Snow Goer editor was going in another.
“What are we going to see at 1 o’clock? A couple of race sleds?” we asked in passing.
“Oh no, there will be something else – you’re definitely going to want to be there,” Halvorson answered, eyebrows raised, before scurrying away.
Hmmmm, a new Tucker Hibbert edition consumer sled, we pondered? Maybe a specialty, limited edition version of a current sled, we wondered. A half hour later, we were blown away.
Instead of just pulling the wraps back on a version of an existing sled with special graphics or a custom shock package, Arctic Cat stunned the huge crowd that circled its semi when it unveiled – ever so briefly – a snow bike.
Calling it “a totally new snow vehicle,” Snowmobile General Manager Brad Darling introduced the concept of the Arctic Cat SVX 450 – something that was the result of three years of development between Arctic Cat and Camso (the track manufacturer that, until recently, was known as Camoplast Solideal).
“The suspension system on our new snow vehicle has been a joint project with Camso for the past three years,” Darling said. “It’s Arctic Cat’s goal to provide a new riding experience to a category of snow lovers that want the lightest, most affordable vehicle for the mountain market.”
Then, from behind a screen the crowd waited in anticipation as some sort of product was started and then slowly raised up from the ground while sitting on the rear loading platform of an Arctic Cat semi. While the obvious sound of a winding four-stroke engine began making noise behind the screen, the vehicle started to become visible.
“It’s a tracked ATV,” somebody near us said in the crowd. “Nope, it’s a snow bike, I bet,” that person’s friend answered as the front fork and narrow dirt bike seat peeked above the screen. While the crowd cheered below, Halvorson stood next to the still partially obscured bike, the top of its track now showing, twisted the throttle and brought engine RPM up it its rev limiter. Then the bike was slowly lowered behind the screen and squirreled away in the semi before anybody else could see it.
Careful examination of the photos that were snapped while it was partially exposed have led to some conclusions. Since Arctic Cat is not in the dirt bike market, whatever it was showcasing pretty much had to be a modification of somebody else’s dirt bike. And that bike appears to be a Sherco 450 – a bike from a European brand that started with trials bikes and now also makes dirt bikes.
The bike never got high enough to fully see the front end – though we were later told it does indeed have a single ski. There was definitely a long track with tall paddles mounted beneath the seat.
In a brief interview with Snow Goer right after the unveiling, Darling refused to confirm speculation about the bike’s brand, give any detail on the rear suspension or track or, really give any details on the product, other than to reiterate that it’s been “3 years in the making.” Instead, he merely said that bits and pieces of such details would be metered out in coming months as the brand tries to build excitement for the product.
We were, though, able to get a timetable. Darling said it is a product aimed at the 2017 model year – meaning it would start becoming available next fall. This coming winter, Darling said Arctic Cat designers would be doing “final prototyping” and testing, with an eye toward releasing the product for the following winter.
Arctic Cat’s sneak preview of the snow bike came less than 5 months after Polaris announced that it was buying Timbersled Products Inc., the leading producer of snow bike conversion kits. And various brands’ dirt bikes wearing the Timbersled conversion kits were sitting front and center in Polaris’ booth at Haydays. Until the last couple of years, it seemed like most snowmobile manufacturers wanted to treat the conversion kits that allowed dirt bikes to travel in the deep-snow backcountry as red-headed stepchildren. But as the snow bike craze has grown in the mountain west, now two of the factories seem mighty interested in this niche market.
As more details are released, we’ll launch them on snowgosite.wpengine.com.