The thing about following a rumor mill closely is that it’s always entertaining, but in the end rarely accurate.
Such is the case with Yamaha Motors’ snowmobile division. If you’ve followed popular online opinion during the past few years, you know that many predicted the company was slowly exiting the snowmobile industry entirely. Cue REM, because many were sensing “It’s The End Of The World.” The “correction year” lineup sizes were a strategy adjustment, not a going-out-of-business sale, according to product manager for Yamaha’s North American snowmobile division Jaret Smith.
Instead of dodging rumors heading into the future, Yamaha is making its own news instead. As we enter 2021 the company appears to be building toward a brighter future by officially introducing a lineup of 20 total sleds that most notably features new two-stroke tweener, utility and mountain machines, plus a new Stryke trail ski to couple with additional tweaks to retuning models.
It was 15 years ago that Yamaha stopped producing two-stroke engines and instead opted for four-stroke powerplants – and most recently predominantly turbocharged four-strokes – to propel most of its machines. A utility two-stroke appeared two years ago with the return of the utility VK540, and then last year a 600-class Transporter was offered, but those sleds were for niche markets, and not ones that would be considered overly “fun” for most riders.
That all changes this season with the introduction of the Mountain Max and SXVenom lineups, two group of two-stroke-powered sleds that are aimed at bringing fun to growing riding segments.
“Our big addition for 2021 is the expansion of our two-stroke market. We felt there were some niche two-stroke markets that we weren’t playing in,” Smith said at the unofficial unveiling to the snowmobile media at the Snow Shoot/Rode Reports event in West Yellowstone, Montana.
It’s no secret that the future success of the snowmobiling industry depends on new blood becoming involved – from riders, to racers and everywhere in between. In recent years Polaris launched its Indy Evo, and in November of 2019 Arctic Cat announced its new 2021 Blast model lineup.
In an effort to attract a new demographic of fans for itself, this year Yamaha announced the SXVenom – a new sled offering a 65 hp two-stroke, single-cylinder, fuel-injected engine, with 10.7 inches of rear travel, 7.2 inches of front travel and a 14- by 121- by 1-inch track. It very closely mirrors Cat’s Blasts, expect with blue paint and Yamaha’s new trail ski (more on that in a bit).
During Snow Shoot testing in West Yellowstone, Montana, we found the so-called 7/8th chassis design to offer a controllable ride with enough power coming from the engine – even at altitude which undoubtedly robbed the machine of some ponies – to pin shoulders back a bit and inspire confidence. A smooth powerband allows quick acceleration that’s not intimidating, while allowing the machine to top 65+ mph eventually (while carrying a full-grown occupant).
The smaller chassis offers mobility that doesn’t feel cramped, meanwhile the track offers a moderate amount of grip to the snowy surface while also allowing a driver to predictably slide through corners. The sled is small, agile and fun – we found it to be a perfect sled for the tweener crowd between a Snoscoot/Arctic Cat ZR 200, and 600-class adult trail sleds.
“The Snoscoot was a very good example of how we were able to bring new people into the sport, the next thing we need to do is make them more affordable for the masses,” Smith said.
Inquiring minds will be quick to note the similarities between the SXVenom and Arctic Cat’s new Blast lineup due to development partnerships between the two companies, but differences include windshield, color and graphics, as well as, skis, shock and clutch calibration setups.
Mountain Max Returns
Meanwhile the Mountain Max 800 154 and 165 will lead Yamaha’s charge to bring its riders to new heights in the West.
The sleds feature the Arctic Cat-produced 794cc, semi-direct injected, liquid-cooled, two-stroke engine combined with TEAM Clutches, plus Cat’s single rail rear suspension surrounded by a either a 154- or 165-inch Power Claw track wearing 2.6- or 3-inch lugs. Specs include reinforced running boards, 1.5-inch QS3 front shocks, lightweight brake disc and 36-inch ski stance (with Yamaha Mountain skis).
According to our testers, the Mountain Max is a welcome returner to Team Blue to put the company back in the Mountain market, saying “It’s nimble, has great power for an undersized 800 relative to its competition, and the track moves great amounts of snow. It’s a tough chassis with potential to run for miles and miles.”
Yamaha officials made little effort to hide the fact that the sleds are essentially Arctic Cat M 8000 sleds painted blue; however, they noted that the shared platform is allowing Yamaha to cost-effectively re-enter the deep-snow market, giving Yamaha customers and dealers the lightweight agility they’ve been missing with brand’s previous four-stroke powered mountain sleds.
Offered as a mountain sled for the aforementioned tweener market, the SXVenom Mountain 146 will be its 7/8th chassis sled featuring narrow bodywork and a shortened, lowered seat. The mountain mini offers a 397cc two-stroke engine with variable exhaust power valve, EFI and electric start, plus a single-rail rear suspension surrounded by a 146- by 2-inch Camso Challenger track.
Each Mountain Max model is only available during Yamaha’s spring Power Surge program, so you’ll need to make a decision sooner than later if you want to be riding them next winter.
New Trail Ski
Changes are fewer in the trail segment, but one notable change is both impactful and long-awaited.
You may have read the reviews from us and others before, so there’s no need to spend full paragraphs reminiscing about how Yamaha’s Tuner skis would be predictably unpredictable in many snow conditions, causing subpar handling that didn’t befit the otherwise well-finished Sidewinder and SRViper machines that wore them.
A new single keel ski called the Stryke replaces the dual keel Tuner skis on every model except the RSVenture TF. According to Yamaha, the unique ski has the ability to change its handling characteristics by using different shims in the ski mount that alter loading on the rubber block in relation to the spindle. The front of the skim effects steering input, and the rear adjusts loading based on hard or soft snow conditions. Yamaha will advise riders to use more rear shim during soft, spring snow conditions to offer more keel bite, while balancing steering effort with the front shim. In hard-packed conditions, the shims can be adjusted for performance preference and riding style. Carbides have also been altered from the Tuner to provide extra depth. Swapping shims trailside isn’t a realistic possibility – it requires full removal of the ski – but they can be altered easily throughout the season, and it’s yet to be determined how many different variations of shim Yamaha will offer, though three to five was the initial consideration.
“The big thing we wanted to gain was that extra confidence coming around the corner,” Smith said of the skis.
Yamaha didn’t have any of these shims available at our testing event, but it didn’t take much riding time to find a world of difference was made with the new ski. Although direct comparisons were unavailable due to the near full-lineup switch, we’ve spent thousands of miles on the Tuners and can positively report that the machines’ handling prowess through many trail conditions was greatly increased with this change. The Sidewinder and Viper models we tested held their lines better in corners and didn’t exhibit the slide-and-catch quirky characteristics of the Tuners, allowing us to much more confidently push the machines down the trail.
However, we still don’t know much about the shims, and were frankly surprised that Yamaha didn’t have this part of their ski package dialed in at this late of a date.
Stable Trail Sleds
A group of 200-hp, turbocharged Sidewinders and one 130-hp, naturally aspirated SRViper model will be Yamaha’s full-sized trail sled lineup that features the introductory Stryke ski.
Most aggressive is the lowered, lake-racer-focused Sidewinder SRX LE, featuring dual-rate springs and adjust-on-the-fly iQS suspension that allows one to switch between Soft, Medium and Firm settings on the ski shocks and the rear arm with the push of a handlebar-mounted button. A Ripsaw track features 1-inch lugs for quicker top-speed, but it also results in a looser feel to the rear end. New for this season are optional blue seat and snow flap combinations.
Sharing the iQS technology but with full suspension travel and more grip from its track is the Sidewinder L-TX LE. The blue and orange trail rocket shares its 137-inch track and 42-inch ski stance with other L-TX models, but also has a lightweight disc brake (saving nearly one pound of rotating mass from the driveline).
The Sidewinder L-TX SE in “silver frost and jet orange” colors is more groomed trail-focused with HPG shocks. New for this season is a race-height windshield (in addition to the skis).
Aimed toward performance luxury, the black and gold Sidewinder L-TX GT has QS3 front and rear shocks and includes a heated seat, RCA heated shield outlet, 20-inch tunnel bag and goggle bag. New for this season is a thicker smoked medium windshield that’s pre-marked for accessory mirrors.
The solo 2-up Sidewinder model is the S-TX GT, offering 1.5-inch QS3 front shocks and 1.5-inch HPG rear suspension, with a 146-inch coupled rear skid propelled by a 1.25-inch Ripsaw track. Features include overload spring, auxiliary gas tank, two-passenger heated seat and RCA heated shield outlet.
Meanwhile the lone SRViper is also an L-TX GT, offers performance for its faithful fans, powered by the 1049cc liquid-cooled four-stroke triple the sled features QS3 shocks and a 137- by 1.25-inch Ripsaw II track.
With the 800-class Cat engine now in the mountain and utility markets, we know we’re not alone in wondering if a two-stroke Yamaha trail sled isn’t coming soon.
Crossover Fun, Work To Be Done
The Sidewinder X-TX LE 146, Sidewinder X-TX SE and Sidewinder B-TX LE will be offered again for 2021 for those longing for the stability of the 998cc turbocharged four-stroke engine. Collectively the three models span the spectrum from a trail to mountain-focus.
The Sidewinder X-TX LE 146 features the trail-focused Advanced Roll Center Suspension (ARCS) front suspension with 42-inch ski stance and 1.5-inch QS3 shocks. A Versattak uncoupled rear suspension is surrounded by a 15- by 146- by 1.6-inch Cobra track. Yamaha officials estimate the sled offers a 70/30 percent on/off-trail characteristics.
Blending more of a 50/50 mix, the Sidewinder X-TX SE features the same 146-inch Versattak uncoupled rear suspension and 1.5-inch QS3 shocks as the LE, but has a narrower 40-inch front suspension, Yamaha Mountain skis and a Challenger track with 2-inch lugs.
The last remaining, mostly mountain-focused four-stroke in its lineup is the returning Sidewinder B-TX LE with an uncoupled rear suspension propelled by a 153-inch Power Claw track with 2.25-inch lugs.
For those that have work that needs to be done, the Transporter lineup will surely help them out.
The Transporter 800 is a replacement of the Transporter 600 that Yamaha introduced last year, featuring an articulating rear suspension, wide skis and a rear rack offering up to 55 pounds of cargo. However, the 2021 model will now be powered by Cat’s 794cc liquid-cooled twin instead of the 599cc twin from last year – an estimated increase of 35 hp.
The Transporter Lite, meanwhile, is built on the same platform as the SXVenom models powered by the single-cylinder, fuel-injected 400-class engine and also features a 146-inch articulating rear suspension with 1.6-inch track lugs and high floatation Yamaha Mountain skis. A rear cargo rack offers up to 40 pounds of storage.
Last but not least, the Yamaha-unique, Japan-built VK540, VK Pro II EPS and RS Venture TF return for 2021 unchanged, as do the Snoscoot ES and SRX 120.
What do you think of Yamaha’s new 2021 lineup? Leave your comments below, and pick up a copy of the April 2020 issue of Snow Goer for a more complete breakdown of sleds and specs.
Editor’s Note: This review was originally published in the October 2020 issue of Snow Goer. Every issue of Snow Goer magazine includes in-depth sled reports and comparisons, aftermarket gear and accessories reviews, riding destination articles, do-it-yourself repair information, snowmobile technology and more! Subscribe to Snow Goer now to receive issues delivered to your door or your computer for a low cost.