First Ride - 2000 Polaris 800 & 600 RMKs
It is true that for 1999 Polaris made a wholesale change to the way their sleds look. The Gen II chassis offered up new hood, belly pan, handlebars, brake, and controls. It has indeed been a welcome change and for the most part customers have been very happy. There have been minor problems with the brake pads wearing prematurely, but Polaris has taken care of that under warrantee and the new look has worked well.
However, for the Polaris rider that knows all the details about his or her sled, the changes for 1999 were mostly cosmetic. Well, for 2000 Polaris has kept the cosmetics the same, but it can be argued that the changes this year are even broader than those of 1999.
So let's take a bit of a closer look at the 2000 RMK's changes and how they work. One of the first things you'll notice about the RMKs is that they have a new seat and tank combo. This is a direct pull over from the EDGE racer and riders are going to like it. The new tank is a lower profile at the rear which gets it out of the way when you're moving back and forth across the seat. The seat is a shorter and firmer design that offers very good comfort, especially for those of us with shorter legs and arms. Taller riders may feel a little cramped, but with the new tank it won't be too bad. We don't want to offend anybody's brand loyalty, but the new seat feels an awful lot like the Arctic Cat SnoPro seat, which is a good thing. The only gripe we have with the seat is the wasted space at the back and the minuscule trunk opening. Polaris is equipping each RMK with a rack on the rear tunnel extension, large enough to hold a 2 1/2 gallon gas can, and has mounted the tail light on this rack. This frees up quite a bit of space in the rear of the seat which should be used to expand the trunk and especially the trunk opening. We wouldn't be surprised to see this change made before production starts.
While we're talking about comfort we need to mention the new handlebars. The '99 units were a dramatic improvement over previous years, but the 2000s are even better. The bars get an additional 2" rise in them which makes standing and sidehilling or climbing very comfortable and natural. The built in bar hooks also help as does a side hill strap installed at the factory, but we have to say that the slick grips on our test machines were terrible. We expect them to be different come production time because even the Polaris people with us didn't like them. A couple of our taller riders mentioned they would like the bars to be even taller, but if you're 6 feet tall or under you'll really like the leverage and feel of the new bars. One thing we would like to have seen is a slight change to the hi/lo headlight switch. This easy-to-reach switch actually pops off pretty easy and if you ride standing up much you're eventually going to hit it with you leg/knee. Not a big gripe, but to see how common this is take a look around at the '99 RMKs sitting at the base of a hill and see how many are missing this switch.
Another big change for 2000 on the RMKs is the addition of the Sidehiller skis. These skis are wider on the inside, under the machine, which adds float in the powder but doesn't affect sidehilling ability because the machine stays narrow over all. We were very curious as to how this would work and we have to admit that this was one of the biggest surprises. We had a 1999 700RMK along for comparison and made several side hill pulls on the it. Our '99 RMK has the stock ski stance which we prefer for most mountain situations. We then switched to the 2000RMK and repeated the sidehill pulls along the same slope. All pulls were made in fresh snow and it was very obvious that the Sidehiller skis work very well. We've tried several after market skis over the past couple of years and this new offering from Polaris seems to sidehill as well as any of them. On the '99 we found ourselves having to "stay on top of" the machine to keep it in the sidehill. The 2000 was nearly effortless, simply pick a slightly uphill line, pull over on the bars and carve it into the hill. We hope Polaris cranks up the ski making line because a lot of people are going to want to add these skis to their older machines.
Another change on the 2000RMKs is an adjustable ski stance. This is accomplished by moving the radius rods in their mounting positions in the trailing arms. This gives the rider adjustments in width from 38.2" to 39.5". We left the 2000s we were riding at the narrower setting, but kudos to Polaris for offering this adjustability to riders as it will allow the RMK rider to tailor the stability of the machine to his/her riding preference.
The 700RMK has been wildly popular since its introduction in 1997. Long time Polaris riders will remember that prior to the 700 all of Polaris' liquid cooled sleds had heat exchangers under the running boards. This was a bit of weight penalty, which once removed, lightened the machines up. Since '97 the mountain twins from Polaris have been cooler-less on the running boards. For 2000 Polaris has once again changed the cooling system. Now the cooling fluid is sent down the tunnel roll in a heat exchanger/ boot grip extrusion. The coolant then crosses over through a heat exchanger under the tunnel extension and back up the other tunnel roll. This design eliminates the rear cooler under the seat so your sodas in the trunk will no longer be warm. The big advantage to this new system is that it now keeps the snow and ice melted free from the running boards and foot wells. How well does it work. Well, it doesn't keep them dry, but even in powder or when getting the machine stuck and filling the running boards up, the coolers melt the snow into a slush that is quickly and easily wiped off with the boot. Appears that we get the best of both worlds, heated running boards and light weight. Polaris says this new design is lighter than the old one and gives more cooling volume as well. When lifting the back of the 2000 compared to the 1999 there is a noticeable weight difference with the 2000 being lighter.
Part of the noticeable weight difference in the rear of the '00 RMK has to be accredited to the change to the Xtra-Lite rear suspension. If you haven't gotten a chance to look at this, just find a '99 Trail RMK and look at it's rear suspension. This is the new suspension on all the RMKs for next year. It's a much simplified suspension when compared to the Xtra-10 and that accounts for its weight savings. You still get adjustable rear spring pre-load and a dampening adjustable rear shock. The front limiter is not as easy to adjust as on the Xtra-10 and we found this to be an issue as the 800RMK we were riding had WAY too much ski lift. It's adjustable, just takes a little more time than the Xtra-10 does. The Xtra-Lite suspension doesn't give up anything in ride on the limited trails we rode. Its not a mogul pounder, but that isn't what you buy an RMK for anyway. It does work well with a claimed 12" of travel. One thing we noticed on both our 2000RMKs is that they climbed up on top of the snow quicker than the '99s when doing dead stop starts. There are obviously many things that can affect this, but after a week of riding the '99s and '00s side by side we're confident that the Xtra-Lite isn't giving up anything in the mountains, and in fact performs better in the deep snow.
While we're under the rear end of the machine we ought to mention a little bit about tracks. Current spec sheets for the '00 RMKs say that they will be available with 136" tracks. We had some good time to ride the 800RMK with both a 1.75x136 and a 2x141 track. It was painfully obvious that the machine needs more track. One of our test riders who has an 800RMK on order even commented that he was not impressed with the 800 when it had the 136" track under it. After we switched to the 141" he was tickled pink and planning on having a "long" track put on his. To Polaris' credit they are looking at track options. We've seen 141" and 143.5" tracks being tested and we're positive that something in the 14x length will be offered. We feel like it should be standard, at least on the 800RMK, but a kit will be better than nothing.
Ok, now for some specifics on the two RMKs. When we pulled the 600RMK off the trailer and took it out we found that it was a pig. The Polaris rep that was with us quickly went to work and found that the clutching and jetting were 0-3000' setups (not good when the hotel you're staying at is at 7550'). A spring and weight change, a helix and some jet tweaking had the 600 running very well. Throttle response is excellent on this smaller twin and it would climb nearly as well as the stock 700s. We were pleasantly surprised at just how potent this 600 twin is and in the new chassis it works even better. In this day of big horsepower and going up higher than ever even this 600 can get you to where you might be nervous coming back down. When comparing the 600 to 700s we found that the smaller twin feels very comparable down low in the speed range, but tails off a bit on the big end compared to the 700... just about what one would expect.
Of course, we were all excited to get a chance to spend some time on the 800RMK. A little background is in order. The 800 is a new motor although it resembles the 700/600 mills. The crank has beefier main bearings with a 2mm longer stroke than its smaller siblings. The 800 has twin 40mm Mikuni flatslides and no ACCS. We didn't see a problem with this as the machine performed flawlessly from 7000'-10,000'. The 800 also has a low octane fuel switch which was interesting to play with. We ran good premium fuel in the machine the whole time but we could see a slight difference on the hill with the ignition turned to the "premium" setting. This is a no brainer, buy good fuel and run it on the premium setting. Other than motor the 800 is identical to the other RMKs. This is a good thing because 800 owners get the benefit of the lighter chassis and all the goodies described above.
So how does it perform. Well, for the first couple of days we have to admit that we were less than impressed. Don't give up yet, we'll explain. The 800 we had was equipped with a 136" track. Snow conditions in Cooke City were a nice hard base with a little powder on top and then as you got climbing up on the hills the powder increased in depth to maybe 18". In side by side drag races and comparisons to a myriad of stock and mod sleds the 800RMK was almost always first out of the hole (except when running against the 156" tracked machines). Against a stock 700RMK it would then slowly inch ahead. It would climb higher, but acceleration wasn't impressive. The thing that jumps out at you though is that the 800 just keeps on grinding up the hill. The 700 has a nice wide power band, but the 800 is even broader. Want to go, just squeeze the loud lever and it starts pulling. Throttle response was excellent and the 800 was at least as smooth running as the 700s and 600s. The 800 was in dire need of some suspension adjusting. When climbing with it, the front end wanted to jump up and the thing loved to dance on its tail. Our mountain natives found it a bit difficult to control and all complained about it. The flatland natives found it down right spooky and even had a couple of get-offs because of it. Shortening the limiter strap was in order, but as mentioned above, this isn't as easy to do as it could be so we just kept riding it.
Towards the end of the week, the Polaris rep pulled out a 2x141 Challenger track and put it on the 800. Once again we were convinced of what a track does for a sled. We didn't have the exact gearing available for the bigger track, but it didn't seem to matter on the 800. It was a completely different sled. If we hadn't have been sharing beer and bull with the Polaris rep the night before we would have thought he changed something else. The track went under and along with that the front limiter was shortened about 1/2". The next day as we all took turns on it everyone was smiling. The 800 would pack the skis about 4" off the snow all the way up the hill. It was quick out of the hole and would walk away from the other sleds, even going higher than some of the mod machines we had along. Best comparison we can come up with is that its quicker out of the hole and then runs every bit as well as a piped 700RMK. Nice thing is that its stock and quiet and has a warrantee.
We give the 2000 Polaris RMKs a big thumbs up. The 600 is a better than capable mid sized sled. The power is top of the class and the refined chassis gives you a complete package. The chassis praise is common across the whole RMK line-up. RMK riders, no matter which RMK they're on, get to enjoy all the latest tricks. The 800 twin is a potent big brother. These machines will have limited availability this year, we're hearing somewhere in the 4000 unit range. Because of that dealers are enjoying the chance to get full retail price for the machine. Those buyers going out and plunking down the $7899(USD) will get the privilege of riding the latest and biggest twin weapon out there. Those upgrading from 700s will be pleased with the even wider power band of the 800, bigger top end performance, and higher mark on the hill. Those coming from other brands will be equally pleased with the stump pulling grunt the big twin possesses. The 136" track is not enough track for this big twin, we had that driven home vividly after our track swap in mid-week. Polaris is working hard on a track option which will round out the 800 nicely.
And finally the worst news... you'll have to wait until next season to get on one of these new RMKs.
SCORE San Felipe March 10-12 ATVA GNC Round 2 February 12, 2006
Copyright © 1995-2005, Off-Road.com a publication of Advanstar Communications All rights reserved. All contents making up this page are protected by United States copyright and other intellectual property laws and may not be reproduced, rewritten, distributed, redisseminated, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast, directly or indirectly, in any medium without the prior written permission of Advanstar Communications.