By Stephen King
Well, this one is going to be just a bit different. Usually I write about things that most people can do, like ride sleds, go to a race or get involved with the politics and the decision-making process.
This story is about a sled (more or less) that is more a dirt bike on snow than a snowmobile. What I am talking about is the latest incarnation of a snow bike — the Timbersled.
I like to share with you readers how we got onto this story. Most of the time, I am out wandering about and just trip over them. More exactly, I am out traveling, and somebody tells me about something. Or I am chatting up some friend on the phone and they tell me about it. Every now and then, somebody calls in and we get a lead.
This time last fall, during the U.P.’s color season, somebody let my boss, Scott, out of his box. Usually, he sits in the office, but, with the colors, he wanted to get out and about. I was at first just a bit worried about him wandering about the U.P. all by himself, but then I found out his wife, Ann, would be with him. So, I knew she would keep an eye on him.
Anyway, they were traveling about the U.P., over toward the western pointy end. They stopped in at Pat’s Motor Sports in Greenland, where they ran into Paul Kotchon. They got to chatting and Paul told Scott about something called a Timbersled, the latest incarnation of the snow bike.
This gave Scott the idea of doing a story about it. So, when the boss gets an idea, I have a sudden urge to do a story on the Timbersled.
This idea has been around for a long time, and so have I. (The first sled I drove had the engine in the back. And, yes, I had a pet dinosaur.)
Also, I live in Naubinway, home of the Top of the Lake Snowmobile Museum. I spend a good bit of time there and have seen quite a few of the remnants of these ideas. Seems like just about since the dawn of snowmobiling, somebody wanted to make a snow bike.
This time, it was way back in 2002 that Allen and Natasha Magnum worked on the idea. (I will not say anything on Boris and Natasha or Rocky and Bullwinkle. OK, fine: This was a secret Russian plot to get better aerodynamics on the snow so they could outpace a flying squirrel. There, are you happy?)
Anyhow, these were not just a couple of flying nuts. They had a history of working with sleds, especially suspensions. And, they had an idea of how to make a snow bike. In 2008, Allen decided he had figured out how to make a snow bike better.
A year later, he had gotten a prototype made and gave it a go. Right away, he took it out and compared it to some other snow bikes. On this try, he was out in the mountains. And, with his new prototype, he got to the top of the hill faster than the rest — so much faster that he knew he was onto something.
In 2010, he started production and the Timbersled was born. A few years later, and it got noticed by one of the big guns in the snowmobile world. In 2015, industry giant Polaris bought up the rights, and then took over the manufacturing and marketing of this revolutionary style of snow bike.
In 2017, Polaris came out with their updated and all new version. Polaris’ claim was that it “optimizes performance by making more efficient use of the engine’s power, delivers easy and responsive handling and dramatically improves deep snow performance.”
Since then, the new snow bikes have sold relatively well.
Now, what these things actually are can best be described as kits that mount to an existing motorcycle frame that basically converts your favorite summer dirt bike to a winter snow bike. Not a bad idea. They were not trying to reinvent the wheel.
What this basically does is to take the front forks, gets rid of the pesky front wheel and adds a ski. Then, most of the back end is removed and a very different suspension and a track are added. This basically keeps the motor and frame and changes out the rest.
As for pricing, they start at about $1,999. This is for something to fit out a 110 cc motorbike chassis. Then, they go up from there. The top one on the Polaris site lists at $6,999. Now, that may sound like a bit of cash, but if you compare it to a new sled, well, suddenly it doesn’t look all that pricey. Also, riders get to use their own dirt bike, which they most probably are used to riding. But, with this, I am sure there is a learning curve involved. But splattering on snow is usually way softer than splattering on dirt.
Now, as to how they ride. I have not tested one out personally, and I will readily admit that although the fire is not out, there is getting to be quite a bit of snow on the roof. So, I am thinking I just might have to recruit one of my local motocross racers to give this thing a test.
But, in talking to Paul, he and some of his friends totally love these them. They get together just about every weekend during the winter and head out back country. These things are not made to trail ride; they are made for back country riding. Now, some of you proponents of the “stay on the trail” lifestyle may not want to hear this, but in a lot of places off-trail riding is growing quicky — even here in Michigan. There are lots of places you can legally ride these things.
(I keep calling them “things” because in nobody’s world are they snowmobiles. They do not meet the criteria.)
Paul says he and his friends just love them. Week after week, they head out into some of the most back-trail places in the U.P. And, if you have ever been to the western end of the U.P., you know that up there, we have a whole lot of “off-the-beaten-track places.” Even the most popular places are not exactly metro centers.
But, if you want to try something that is basically a dirt bike on snow, then this might be an idea. Just check the Polaris site and find a dealer near you.
Also, this coming winter, Paul has a “demo day” happening. Pat’s Motorsports is in the town of Greenland. The demo day is in Jan. 29 in the town of Twin Lakes, just a few miles from Greenland.
Not exactly sure what the whole event will be about, but there will be Timbersleds there. And, from what I gather, you will get a chance to test drive them.
For more information about the Timbersled, check out the Polaris site, www.timbersled.com. For more information about the ride or Pat’s Motorsports, call Paul at (906) 883-3536.