EDITORS NOTE: This spring, we’ll be posting concise “First Impressions” stories on 2021 machines from Arctic Cat, Polaris, Ski-Doo and Yamaha to help spring buyers make informed decisions. Look for full evaluations in future issues of Snow Goer. Enjoy.
In theory, the skis on a modern snowmobile seem like simple enough items – a couple of slabs of 40-some-odd-inch long colored plastic (or, factually, ultra high molecular weight polyethylene material) with a carbide-wearing keel or two running down their underside and directing the snowmobile where we want it to go.
However, intricacies in their design are vital to the handling of the machine to which they are attached, and Yamaha proved that as well as anybody in model year 2021.
That’s because Yamaha finally replaced the Tuner skis that we and many others have been complaining about for years on its high-end snowmobiles and replaced them with an excellent substitute, and the results are amazing.
That, in turn, makes the Stryke ski-equipped 2021 Yamaha Sidewinder SRX LE the best-handling big-power four-stroke to date, something that played itself out on multiple test drives at the Rode Reports testing event earlier this year.
Important, Impactful Slabs
For the horsepower-loving members of our test crew – OK, that’s pretty much everybody on our test crew – all Sidewinder models have had a magical allure since they were introduced in model year 2017, along with their sister ZR 9000 models from Arctic Cat.
To call the acceleration curve on the 200-plus horsepower, turbocharged machines “arm-stretching” seems trite, but grabbing a handful of throttle on a Sidewinder truly does result in a pull at the shoulders, an indentation on the seat and a feeling of being pushed in the chest unlike any other stock snowmobile ever built. The speed rush is beyond compare.
For 2019, Yamaha went one step further, introducing an SRX LE version of the Sidewinder that was set a little bit closer to the ground for more top speed and, in theory, better handling. It was targeted at the lake racer, but the additional inch of “sit-in” in the suspension also promised flatter cornering when guiding a Sidewinder SRX down a twisting trail than taller-sitting Sidewinder LE or SE models.
It worked, kind of, on the right trails in the right conditions – until it didn’t. And when it didn’t, the culprit was the skis. The dual-keel Tuner skis – introduced originally in 2013 on sleds like the FXNytro and Apex – seemed to help sleds built on Yamaha-exclusive chassis. But for whatever reason, they have provided inconsistent handling characteristics on Yamahas built on the original Arctic Cat chassis – meaning, SRVipers and Sidewinders built since 2014. Those inconsistencies led so-equipped sleds to push through some corners, and then hook-up and lift a ski in others in a rather unpredictable manner. Some Yamaha insiders in recent years have even said to the snowmobile media under their breath, “we know we have a ski problem,” but the dang Tuners kept re-appearing on sleds year after year.
That all changes for 2021. The new, single-keel Stryke skis stick to the ground, providing a consistent and predictable connection to the trail. We could more confidently hustle the bold-looking Sidewinder SRX down the trail, setting the inside ski on a line right beside the inside berm of the trail and rail around corners, knowing we were in control.
When introducing the skis, Yamaha officials spoke about some shim plate kits that will go between the spindle and the ski mount that will allow owners to “load” the ski based on the rider’s preferences – though, surprisingly from a brand that historically gets its ideas sorted out long before the pre-production units we test, the sizes of those shims and the number of options still weren’t fully decided this spring. So, we only got to test sleds equipped in the “standard” or neutral position.
In that position, though, we came away highly impressed. No more need to turn to the aftermarket to get great handling to go along with the thrilling acceleration on the new Sidewinder – Yamaha finally has it dialed in right from the factory.
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.