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Marching Forward: Two Days with Arctic Cat in TRF (and nearby)


(3/21/2016)

Recently I was fortunate to spend a couple days at Arctic Cat in Thief River Falls (and the surrounding area), where I checked in on some of the people who make our snowmobiles, ATVs and side-by-sides.

There was the usual buzz of production, engineers testing snowmobiles, interesting creativity and Team Arctic snocrossers pounding out laps in nearby Fertile, MN.

 

Arctic Cat snowmobile engineers. photo by ArcticInsider.com

The first part of the trip was spent north of TRF, where Arctic Cat Engineering and Field Test were making use of the quickly fading snow and ice conditions.

 

Arctic Cat engineering test sleds. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

There was a mixture of pre-production 2017 models and other machines.

 

Arctic Cat's Kevin Thompson, Larry Coltom and Gary Homme

L-to-R: Kevin Thompson, Larry Coltom and Gary Homme of the drive team, discussing what they've observed while testing some new drive belts and clutch calibrations.

It's cool listening to these guys discuss their craft, as they roll through a distinct language of clutch behavior and how it correlates to sled performance. They've memorized dozens of part numbers for each clutch weight, each driven cam and more, and they discuss such matters like you or I might dissect the nuances of a sports play.

 

Arctic Cat's Ryan Hayes.

Ryan Hayes, Group Leader of 2-Stroke Engine Calibration, was busy programming and evaluating one of the sleds. I asked him if he's ever "done" calibrating an engine, to which he laughed.

The truth is, there is no end to the amount of time and tweaking that can be done to an engine's management system. Temperature, elevation, throttle position, RPM, humidity, snow consistency...every change to one of these factors affects engine performance, and the mapping/programming that guys like Ryan perform accounts for these changes. But it's truly endless how much time and tweaking they can perform for a single engine.

 

Arctic Cat engineers testing snowmobiles. photo by arcticinsider.com

Here Roger Skime tries to hocus-pocus some extra magic on Brent Magner, who's installing a new clutch calibration to test. Donn Eide (left) laughs at his friends while Greg Spaulding looks on. I think about how many hundreds of times these four guys have raced, discussed, changed, tested and retested snowmobiles over the years, and my mind swims. It's cool that they truly enjoy themselves and the critical roles they play for Arctic Cat.

 

Arctic Cat engineers testing snowmobiles. photo by arcticinsider.com

I had to laugh, in the wake of last week's interesting discussion amongst many of us regarding whether it matters being the fastest... these guys spend the entire afternoon testing calibrations and comparing it to a baseline sled, all in an effort to produce the best overall clutching package, including being the FASTEST!

Yes, being the fastest matters to these guys!

 

Arctic Cat in Thief River Falls. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

After leaving the test area and driving south to Thief River Falls, the scene was markedly different. There was no snow. Temps were in the 50s and bicycles were parked in front of the plant.

Winter had definitely transitioned into spring in the span of 85 miles, and the mood of the people I talked to reflected the changing seasons.

 

Arctic Cat in Thief River Falls. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

There were still 2016 model snowmobiles on display in the lobby. It won't be long until new 2017 snowmobiles will grace this space, along with some wheeled machines.

 

Arctic Cat in Thief River Falls. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

While I most enjoy talking with the great people at Cat, I confess that it's almost as good to see the production of ATVs, ROVs and snowmobiles. On the way to see what machines were taking shape, I snapped a shot of this chassis being welded. While there are many robotic welders at Cat, there are also plenty of human welders too. I like that.

 

2016 Arctic Cat HDX on the assembly line. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Brand spanking-new Arctic Cat HDX 700 XT Crew models looked absolutely stunning as they came off the assembly line. And big (which is to be expected for a 6-occupant machine).

 

Arctic Cat Alterra 700 TRV on assembly line. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Another late release model, the Alterra 700 TRVs were worthy of a thumbs-up as they came off the line.

 

Arctic Cat snowmobile assembly line.

The snowmobile line was empty last week. It won't be too many more days before this is moving with 2017 model machines.

 

Team Arctic's Troy Halvorson. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Speaking of 2017 models, I had a nice conversation with Troy Halvorson, Product Manager of snowmobiles, about the 2017 models and the recent Dealer Show. Troy has spent TONS of time dissecting the various categories of snowmobiles and has some really creative ideas.

We also chatted about the flood of comments on the New for 2017 story here on ArcticInsider. Troy reads this stuff and is keenly interested in what Arctic Cat riders have to say. He was puzzled by a few untrue statements in the comments section, but he otherwise appreciates getting constructive feedback.

 

 

Arctic Cat's Ira Johnson and Jeff Brand.

I stumbled into a conversation between Ira Johnson (left) and Jeff Brand, two guys who are fully immersed in the C-TEC4 engines. Each is a bright, dedicated engineer, hardcore snowmobiler and motorsport enthusiast.

They too echoed Ryan Hayes's statement that there is no end to the amount of fine-tuning that can be done to a snowmobile engine management system.

 

Arctic Cat's Tim Benedict.

My last stop for the day was with Tim Benedict, who puts his considerable experience and expertise into building, nurturing and growing Arctic Cat's Parts, Garments and Accessories business.

Tim was pumped about some new ATV/ROV accessories that will be announced soon, as well as the hefty new Arctic Cat Snow PG&A book that dropped at the time of the dealer show.

With my conversation with Tim done, it was time to head for home, but not without stopping at the Christian Bros. Racing snocross track an hour south of TRF.

 

Team Arctic testing in Fertile, MN. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

There were a handful of Team Arctic racers there testing and practicing on the track. Here Kaden Woodie drops out of the sky during a grueling moto.

 

Team Arctic testing in Fertile, MN. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

In addition to Woodie, Michael George, Jay Lura and Adam Mach were pounding laps during the hour that I was there. They were talking with Arctic Cat engineers Brian Dick, Wes Selby and Kelland Bjerke, gathering input on things that Arctic Cat can do to improve the race sleds in the coming years. 

 

Arctic Cat's Tucker Hibbert. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Tucker Hibbert was also testing this day in Fertile, under the watchful eye of Steve Houle (Speedwerx) and Tucker's dad, Kirk. This crew is always trying new ideas in an effort to keep their competitive edge, and they were hard at work with a three-day stint at the CBR track (which is Tucker's regular practice track). All three were looking forward to the final 2016 ISOC national weekend in Lake Geneva, Wis.

Well that's all for this trip. I'll be back up to TRF soon, and I'll report back with what I saw and learned.

Thanks for reading.



Comments (19):

tito says:
3/21/2016 12:24:00 PM

John: If the almost regular production 6000's there. Do they have the new 16 pipe and muffler off the r xc or the old 16 and eariler one of the 6000 series
Charlie says:
3/21/2016 2:16:00 PM

John,

Out of curiosity what "unture statements" was Troy puzzled by??
B&E OUTDOORS says:
3/21/2016 2:40:00 PM

When are you going too swing by Bemidji and talk too Dennis Z??
John Sandberg says:
3/21/2016 3:12:00 PM

tito: sorry, I don't understand the question.
John Sandberg says:
3/21/2016 3:31:00 PM

Charlie: the untrue statements that Troy and I discussed were the "Cat-is-lying-about-the-change-in-supplier-for-not-releasing-a-new-800-motor” as well as the “The-only-difference-between-my-2013-and-a-new-’17-are decals-and-QS3 shocks” as the “Cat-was-going-to-release-their-800-motor-but-changed-their-mind-when-they-saw-Doo’s-850.”
tito says:
3/21/2016 4:10:00 PM

John: just wondering if the 6000 series of sleds is getting a new exhaust system for 17.
Dean says:
3/21/2016 6:14:00 PM

Another interesting story but my observation is that Arctic Cat has not just lost the edge but seems content to fall back and follow with it's consumer sleds. The new intro, in particular the mountain segment, has me switching brands. I want innovation and a sled that exceeds the others in capabilities. And there is simply no excuse for building such poor fit and finish for 6 years in a row. Big changes were promised for 2017 and I don't see much. No more waiting for me, and I have had Cats since 1980.
hugh says:
3/21/2016 7:50:00 PM

"these guys spend the entire afternoon testing calibrations and comparing it to a baseline sled"

And there is the rub, John. If last years sled is the 'rabbit' and has the same spider shimming, light tipped weights and giant secondary spring, what does it matter? The 2017 model may finish two lengths ahead of it in TRF but on any other lake it still gets drilled by the skidoo and Polaris without several hundred dollars in clutch work. If Troy Halvorson is truly interested in what the consumers want he'll talk to people like Duane Watt and get these sleds set-up out of the box like they should be.

And as we said 15 years ago. TEAM: old Norwegian saying for "where'd my top-end go?"
Mike Mattson says:
3/21/2016 9:37:00 PM

Great article John. Looks like you had a lot of fun watching those guys.
Phil says:
3/22/2016 8:53:00 AM

Sounds like Hugh has it all figured out. Please get an application in up there!

Look at the names of these guys. They have won more races than most of us have even attended. They might have an idea about clutching...
Riding is not about just the 1 run across the lake. They are working for all around performance, including backshift.
Charile says:
3/22/2016 9:03:00 AM

Thanks John for clarifying Troy's puzzlement. I think everyone can certainly understand folks skepticism on this. In a general statement i think lots of people expected a new 800 this year and thought it had been ready for a few years now but not released. So when a competitor drops a new motor and there is now a delay on what people perceived good to go motor some team green fans get a little twitchy.
Ken says:
3/22/2016 9:10:00 AM

John: Thanks for another great article. I hope you know how lucky you are? You get to hang around Arctic Cat and all the people involved in Cat. How awesome is that? I know you have to write the articles but being around, talking to and even riding, Cats of course, with these professionals would be a dream come true for me.

Thanks again for all the writing and sharing and if the Arctic Cat people are reading this, thank you for your hard work and dedication for all the great machines and products you make. Arctic Cat forever!!
gerard says:
3/22/2016 6:46:00 PM

"Another interesting story but my observation is that Arctic Cat has not just lost the edge but seems content to fall back and follow with it's consumer sleds. The new intro, in particular the mountain segment, has me switching brands. I want innovation and a sled that exceeds the others in capabilities. And there is simply no excuse for building such poor fit and finish for 6 years in a row. Big changes were promised for 2017 and I don't see much. No more waiting for me, and I have had Cats since 1980."

lost the edge? Are you serious? I gotta step up and be brand defensive here. The chassis absolutely dominates cross country. Dominates snocross. Dominates in other forms of racing. Do you really expect constant huge innovation out of these companies who sell so few units a year. Cat has the most shallow pockets out of the 4 players but I feel they have done a great job. Fit and finish I don't have any qualms with. In a year or so when everything from cat is on a new chassis with the latest and greatest you can then gripe that the brand you switched to isn't the latest and greatest and you want innovation. lol.

No questions asked the procross chassis is the best sled I've ever owned. I'd wouldn't be caught dead on a skidoo. What i'd like to see the most out of a cat.... a wicked display on the dash. like Polaris gauges but bigger and better and if that's all I want then cats god a damn good sled out now.



Karl says:
3/24/2016 6:08:00 AM

No doubt A/C makes a good sled, and the trail cruisers (which is the bulk of what they sell) work well. But they could be better in the mountain segment, if a bit more suspension tuning had been done on the now deceased M1100T / M9000 had been done, it would have been a better seller out west - same story applied to the deceased M1000. These sleds came with the same suspension springs / valving as their smaller siblings, with an extra 40-50 lbs of weight in the front end - so "one size doesn't fit all". Upgrades to the OEM suspension (with existing Cat parts) or replacing with aftermarket made a huge difference, so I feel that the ball was dropped on what should have been the flagship model... and now they have abandoned the mountain 4S all together, leaving those out west to jump to team blue, ride the current 2S offering, or simply keep their existing 4S, as the perception "out of the box" of being a noncompetitive sled due to weight and feel has killed the resale value, evidenced by new 4S holdovers selling for the same price as the 2S models... To secure top spot in the mountains will require more effort before it leaves the showroom floor...
Greg Hallstrom says:
3/27/2016 9:48:00 PM

Did you go to the Snowmobile Rally up at the Northwest Angle on the 5th of March? Great snow! Great food! Great beer! And lots of good fellowship amongst many snowmobilers!
Bulldog says:
3/28/2016 9:24:00 AM

I for one would like to see them running comparison tests against the competitions sleds instead of a 800 Procross. (I'm sure they DOO but cant show that here) The e-tech 800 in stock form has consistently been the fastest sled in the 800 class (in our riding group of 15 to 20 guys) since Cat went to the Procross Chassis. You can say what you want about Cats success on the race track but those aren't the same sleds rolling off the assembly line. The 800's coming off the assembly line have no top end and get their asses handed to them on the lake on a regular basis. I hope cat is taking some time to figure out why the drive line / chassis is so inefficient and makes corrections there. That is the biggest problem in my opinion and the bonus to creating less rolling resistance for more top end would be better fuel mileage.
Ken says:
3/30/2016 11:34:00 AM

It all depends on how the sled is set up with any engine. Remember that Cat changed the gearing on many sleds after the 2012 models. They were geared lower. Therefore slower on top end. I do agree that Cat needs a little more work on the drive line for you lake racers out there and I'm sure they are working on it. As far as the Cat chassis I think it is the best out there right now. I think it is the meanest and best looking sled out there. Polaris and Ski-Doo are just plain ugly. I can't even sit on those sleds. When I have I had to get off right away. They just don't feel right to me like the Cat does. When I am on my Cat I have a big smile on and to me that is the main factor.

I do however have two wishes and this is not a chassis fault. First I would like to see a fix on the ice build up I have in the tunnel. I of course am no engineer or a designer but I think it has to do with the heat exchanger in the rear. The second would be an access lid to the radiator cap with out having to remove the hood.
Mike F says:
4/1/2016 4:19:00 PM

Bulldog.....do you honestly think that AC doesn't test against the competitors sleds? If you do then you are less than well informed.
Chad Camacho says:
4/25/2016 8:20:00 AM

Hey John,
Would love to know more about trv. Also how long before accessories will be released for this machine. I've talked to salesman that don't know they exist? Anyway would love to know what will be available specific to the trv.
Thanks

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