After suffering through a snowless fall, we loaded up two snowmobiles and headed to the U.P. of Michigan for an early season ride. We traveled from the Snow Goer home base in Minneapolis to Twin Lakes, Michigan — almost seven hours — but the drive was well worth it as trails were in better shape than we expected and we put 400 miles on two of our machines.
Trails were a mix of ungroomed, very tight and twisty single tracks, wider, bumpy trails, some smooth areas and high-speed rail trails that had a few curves thrown in to keep things interesting. Snow cover varied from packed, icy paths littered with rocks and dirt to mid-season excellence where the skis and tracks could hook up.
Here’s the report about our 2012 Arctic Cat F 800 Sno Pro:
Harking back to the days of the ZR when Arctic Cat had a reputation for building light, athletic sleds, the new F 800 is more fun – and more capable! – for aggressive riding on rough trails than Twin Spar snowmobiles. Riders can quick stab the throttle to lighten the skis off a rise in the trail and hang the front end over a bump; you couldn’t do this with the heavy, low-slung Arctic Cat Twin Spar snowmobiles.
The new F 800 Sno Pro’s front suspension works really well to isolate the driver from bumps that are big or small; the machine feels tight and able to take a pounding and keep the driver in control. Handling isn’t very sharp and the skis seem slow to engage, but the machine seems to push less than the prototypes we rode in the spring. Stud Boy studs and carbides will go in later this month and should improve the handling.
The rear suspension in our F 800 Sno Pro feels harsh in the mid stroke. Initial suspension movement feels right, but it suddenly becomes too firm partially into the stroke. Is shock valving suddenly too firm at that point, or does the motion ratio of the rear suspension suddenly ramp up?
Power from the engine has always been incredible, but it feels even more so in the lighter ProCross chassis. Where a Polaris Liberty two-stroke is fairly smooth, and Ski-Doo E-TEC engines are really smooth, the Suzuki H.O. 800 is best described as raw, but it pulls hard. A lot of engine noise comes through the gap between the steering post and gauge, but it rips. The F 800 is one fast snowmobile!
After about 75 miles, we made a few adjustments to the F 800 Sno Pro’s Fox FLOAT ski shocks and reduced preload from 70 psi to 60 psi. Lower air pressure made the front suspension feel more compliant through corners and helped reduced ski push. After 150 miles, the chassis felt less rigid and the rear suspension started to absorb some of the chatter and G bumps more effectively. We also adjusted the handlebar riser to a more-vertical position, making the ergonomics more comfortable by letting us move forward on the seat for better handling.
Our sled needs to go back to the dealer for a few repairs before we can ride it again. About 30 miles from the end of our ride on Saturday, the drivetrain started to behave weirdly and acted like it was binding. Sure enough, the rollers that were supposed to be in the secondary clutch were gone. We later realized the filament inside each headlight bulb was broken. And yesterday at our shop we discovered the sled has an oil leak.
So after a few fix-ups, our black-and-orange Cat will be ready to roll again, and we’re excited to run it through all sorts of trails and conditions to get to know it better. Indications are that with the F 800 Sno Pro that Cat built a great sled for sporty, playful trail rides.
— Andy Swanson Snow Goer Managing Editor