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Last updated January 12, 2007

Iron Dog 2007 Preparations

March 21, 2006

Some negative waves arose about the size, power and weight of my Ski-Doo Renegade 800X. During the 2006 race, I was not able to lift the machine out of the snow or get unstuck by myself. And the machine was top heavy and difficult to handle in the twisty trails plus a beast to pull-start without electric starter. I am 60, and things are not going to improve!

How heavy? When we shipped it, the scales had it at 570 lbs dry. Electric start would have it at 600 pounds. Terrifying.


Freestyle Photo Courtesy BRP, Inc

The Freestyle 300 -- May 4, 2006

So, when the opportunity arose to ride a Freestyle, I jumped at the chance.

Kenny wanted to try one, and Lena Peterson, a local girl in Nome had one that was willing to let us take out and try. With its 300 Fan cooled single cylinder engine, it is very light at less than 400 pounds complete with electric starter.

But it has soft springs, plain shocks, and narrow 32-inch stance and 121" track. As it turned out, Lena's son, Andy Peterson, (of Wilderness SkiDoo) had put in the wider 8" Camoplast skis and the stronger springs, while retaining the standard Motion Control shocks.

The snow was at Mile 29 on the Kougarok Road, and we trailered there. With temperatures in the 30's or 40's, the snow was getting soft and mealy. Before even starting the machine, I rocked it from side to side and the skis even came off the ground. This I could not do with the 800, so I said to myself "this thing is TIPPY!" Kenny assured me that it was no big deal and that I would have no problems. But I was aprehensive, and told him that if I keep tipping over, we'd trade machines and he can ride Mr. Tippy himself!

I tried the electric start, and it started instantly. I was amazed at how smooth the engine ran, even though the sound is the typical disconcerting sound of a single cylinder engines.

OK, here we go, south into the mountains. I started out very cautiously, specially in the tundra bumps and drifts, but it was not tippy at all. In Salmon Lake I was able to open it up a bit, watching for bumps as I did not want to tip over. But it seemed ok. The engine response was very smooth, although not very powerful. I tried a few turns, and some zooms up some snowbanks, and had no problems. Boldness, a firm hand and body english is what is needed!

To make a long story short, I took it up 2500 ft mountains, down valleys, across sidehills, mini-highmarking some pipes, etc and my confidence grew. And grew. This thing is not Tippy at all. It is controllable. In fact, sidehilling with it was very easy, and it takes much less brute strength than the 800.

The acid test. I took it down this here valley, with a creek that had lots of willows, powder snow, and sinkholes with open water. I was dodging all these obstacles and finally came to an impassable place. Time to turn around. I stepped off the machine, and sank to above my knees in snow. In the 800 that would have been the end of it....but this is the Freestyle! I just picked up the front end and with 6 or 8 heaves its pointing back the way we came. Give it a bit of gas, and when it starts moving I hop on and away. I can actually take care of myself should I get stuck! Better yet, without electric start, this rig would have been another 20 pounds lighter in the front.

Just what I want.... but in the Long Track version: the Tundra. A 16 x 136 x 1.25 track is new for 2007, which has the same footprint as a 15 x 144. This would be perfect and would improve flotation: my only reservation of the Freestyle.

The 32" stance is fine, and I do not need electric start. For Iron Dog I am going to have to tip stud the track. The acceleration was a bit anemic, but speedwise the Freestyle went as fast as I ever care to go.

...oh yeah, I want a speedo.

Looks like this what I want, and am in the process of getting quotes from various dealers, in particular as to the possibility of trading in the Renegade 800.

Total Freestyle Miles: 30


Skandic Tundra Photo Courtesy BRP,Inc

December 3, 2006

A few developments. First, the Iron Dog is on! Partners Kenny Shapiro and Autumn Falls, along with me, have posted the entry fee and forms to Iron Dog HQ. Five trail teams are signed up this year.

The 2007 model SkiDoo Tundra has been ordered and should be here this coming week. I opted for non-electric and with a Speedo. The track studding will be the "paddle tip" carbide traction screws. Today I went for a very short ride with the boys, using my trusty Polaris 500 EFI (1995 vintage). Indeed snow is still white, and I still remember how come I so much like the REV's instead of those Polarises. Better report soon after I get a few miles on the Tundra.

December 16, 2006 - Saturday

Had a more substantial trip today. Did about 30 miles in the back hills and valleys. We left about 2 pm, went over Anvil Mountain to the Snake River valley and played in the snow. Had a lot of fun sidehilling, going over tough moguls, doing some straight runs, and mostly playing in the soft snow amidst the willows.

I managed to get it stuck once, but it was virtually a non event. Keith came over to help and basically we just pushed and motored it out. The partners in this trip were Keith, driving a 151" Arctic Cat Panther, and Autumn driving an older Summit 600.

Total Miles on ODO: 43.5

December 18, 2006 - Monday

Today is the day Kenny and I went to White Mountain. The trail was a real dissapointment as there was virtually no snow. A highlight of the trip was that Safety Lagoon was frozen solid, and we had about 20 glorious miles of flat and smooth ice, with a quarter inch skim of snow/frost on it. Just enough to show any wetness and leave tracks for us to follow on the way back.

The hills past Topkok were pretty bare too, and we did a lot of banging around. Kenny had a minor crash crossing this one creek, and on the way back it was my turn to get stuck there. But Kenny just gave me a pull on the ski tip and it motored right out.

I noticed this machine turns on a dime. Even in powder snow, with care I could make 90 to 180 degree turns. The trick was to ride the sideboards and keep it upright, then just creep it around. I got to this one bank, which would have been impossibly steep for the 800 unless I had a good running start. But this Tundra just crept right up the bank as easy as can be. This type of capability can grow on a man!

At 9 pm we got back to Nome. Gassed up and went to Airport Pizza (which is not at the airport!). We had a meatball pizza and coffee. Not bad at all.

The good news is the fuel mileage on this Tundra. The trip to White Mountain was 80 ODO miles and 4.2 gallons, the return was the same 80 miles and 4.0 gallons. Work it out Jane, 160 miles on 8.2 gallons = 19.5 mpg.

My hands are like hamburger, and I am going to do some research on gloves ... or bandages!

Not a bad day at all!

December 31, 2006 - Sunday

Today we too a ride up the Snake and down the Nome Rivers. By "we", I mean Ken, Autumn and myself; the three IronDog 2007 partners. Keith Andrews also came along on his Polaris 500 EFI.

The original plan was to "go to Salmon Lake," about 45 miles north of Nome. But at breakfast we ran into Dealie Blackshear, who has a trapline north of here, and in the end we decided to at least go by his place, at Mile 21 on the Kougarok Road.

In my opinion, and I prevailed in the argument, the Nome River valley is not good for snowmachining. It has no clear cut trail going up, just a lot of brambles and traps. There is a major highway going up the valley, and the road surface is generally bare for at least the miles closer to Nome. Because of this I thought a better approach was to go up the Snake River valley and once far enough north, to cut across over the ridge to the Nome River valley.

Well, things went awry from the start. Dealey cancelled out, and Autumn thought we were going to travel up the Nome River Valley, so we got separated. After much cussin' and grumblin' we finally got together and went up the Snake valley.

It did not help that I impaled my machine. I dove off a small bump, right into soft snow. Instead of the skis floating up, they lodged under the crust and there I was, as ridiculous as last year's "impaled" picture. While it only took a few minutes to extricate the rig - we just broke the crust and it basically walked out -- it was a harbinger of things to come....

Except that was my last stuck. The one that kept getting stuck was Autumn in her 600 HO Summit 144. Some were memorable ... but will remain undescribed to protect the guilty.

The Tundra was an incredible machine. It went over soft powder, thick willows, brambles and all sorts of 'machine grabbers' without any trouble whatsoever. I was truly amazed, and indeed this machine is the one that goes where others can't follow. In particular I can see where the Summit is not really a 'deep snow' machine.

It is a question of semanthics. If you define 'deep snow' as the powder you find on a barren hillside, and you zoom up the hill to highmark it, then ... yes .... the Summit is suitable for that and does well. In fact, the Summit X 1000 SDI's are made just for that and will highmark perfectly. In level conditions, if the speed is kept up, they do well in powder.

But throw in obstacles, such as trees or willows, and you have to slow down. In that case, the poor maneuverability of the Summit, its weidht, and high-end clutching combine to make it a bear. For instance, the clutching and gearing means that when you try to get moving in powder, the track will spin and sink the back end. The Tundra will not do this as it can creep at 5 mph with no slip, and 1 mph by slipping the belt.

But, on an event like the Iron Dog, different conditions prevail on different parts of the route, as well as in different years. It may well be that this is the year that make the Summit shine. Then again, it may be the year that it sucks. The Tundra, I suspect, will be 'adequate' under any conditions, but in hard, smooth snow will get left behind by the high power brethren.

Kenny drives the short track 550F MXZ. In my opinion, the machine sucks big time for this type of event. However, Kenny is such a capable rider that by sheer ability he copes with any trail adversities and can leave us all in the dust if things are good for the MXZ.

Miles today: 55. Total ODO: 285

January 5, 2007 - Saturday

Today I went with Keith (Polaris 500 EFI), and Charlene. Char drives the SkiDoo GSX 550F, with long track kit installed.

Good, uneventful ride from Nome to Safety and return. It was 51 miles, relatively smooth with all the snow we've been getting.

Char is an athletic woman that climbed Mt. McKinley back when it was called Mt. McKinley. Of course, we all now call it Mt. Denali.

Formerly she had a 380F GSX. She could dance on that machine like a girl, and the machine would respond like a thoroughbred. I seen her do some incredible maneuvering with that 380. But, in races, the other machines would leave her in the dust. So she got a 550F GSX, and then added heavy duty this and that, including Gas Shocks, etc. She also got rail extensions to make her rig a 136" rig.

The engine is a definite improvement in response, but the whole package is just in harmony with her physique. She still dances like a girl, but the machine plows on totally oblivious of what she is doing. This machine needs a 240 pound male brute instead of a lithe, 105 pound woman.

The ride that we took was full of bumps, and a lot of twisting and turning had to be done. My 300 Tundra just smoked it simply because I could make it sing and dance, and she could not with hers. <>P>There is a lesson here, and I am still analyzing and meditating about it.

Miles today: 51 ODO Reads: 336


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Copyright © 2007 Ramon Gandia. All rights reserved.