Building the Ultimate Winter ATV

Home Page Slide Show, Utility ATV — on January 27, 2011 at 1:13 pm

It’s getting cold out there and it will only get frostier, if the last 6,000 years of recorded history are any indication. Winter has arrived with all itsLead-WDP_3564baggage and, like Cousin Eddie, it’splanning to stay a while. This gives us a choice: get fat and lazy, or fight back and conquer winter’s doldrums with some outdoor fun.

Quality time with Jack Frost doesn’t have to be lonely and grim. Up in snow country you either find ways to savor the season and stay active, or begin treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder. There’s a reason they call it S.A.D. — staying cooped up while the flakes pile up outside your door is depressing. One must get out and experience the icy side of life. Allow ATV Reviews to prescribe a few seasonal changes that will heat up you and your ATV, even in the dead of winter.

Take it from a Minnesotan: a good winter requires off-road recreation, some ice fishing, the occasional hot toddy after riding and finding a way to enjoy plowing snow. The alternative is Prozac and “light box” therapy.

While many ATVs in snow are like turtles on their back — helpless, immobile, afraid — a few small modifications can make riding on the tundra a wintry blast, more productive and much more comfortable.

Building a Winter ATV: The Vision

Modifying your machine for wintertime is no problem with some basic goals in mind. Our wish list included ice fishing, snowy trail riding, the capability to go anywhere on the back 40 and plowing heaps of snow better than a quad with stock tires could manage. Melting it down, the priorities were improved traction, rider warmth, more storage and cargo carrying capacity and cold-weather reliability — because ATV batteries often need help to make it through the cold months.

Our platform was a 2010 Polaris Sportsman X2 550, chosen for its convertible rear seat, comfortable ride, light steering (good for snow) and rear cargo bed, which would be perfect for hauling ice fishing gear, and anything else we’d be carrying along.

And, if you need to justify the expense of upgrades to your more prudent half, we remind you that snow shoveling can generate sudden increases in heart rate and blood pressure, causing many heart attacks. This build project just might save a life.

Building a Winter ATV: Four-Wheeled Snowmobile

The flakes had already begun accumulating when we finally got motivated. Time was wasting, so we cranked up the heater in our shop and got started on job 1: improving traction.

Stuck, spinning tires and a high-centered chassis are the reasons most ATVs stay parked for months across the Snowbelt. Skinny, non-aggressive stock tires are a lost cause in deep snow, or while pushing heavy snow across an icy driveway. Even four-wheel drive can’t help you through snowy powder.

Options for better traction in snow usually include bolting on wider, mud-specific tires or a track kit. While we’ve tested track kits before, and know they truly let you ride anywhere, we wanted to maintain some sporting ability, light steering and better maneuverability you can only get with upgraded tires.

ITP Studded TundraCross Tires added plenty of grip on the ice.

ITP Studded TundraCross Tires added plenty of grip on the ice.

We had good luck with the chunky Maxxis Bighorn 2.0s last winter, but they didn’t fare so well on ice, so we bolted on a set of ITP’s innovative TundraCross tires on SS rims. The tires have taller lugs similar to the Bighorns, but with sharp metal studs embedded in the track that claw at ice for surefooted traction in all conditions.

The TundraCross tires would be ideal for plowing driveways, and still tame enough for riding groomed trails (where legal). But, what about getting through the back 40 after a real whiteout? Without tracks, we’d need something more, but what?

Allow us to introduce one of the strangest ATV accessories we’ve ever found: J-Wheelz. A simple and lightweight

THere's no mistaking J-Wheelz wheel extensions out on the ice!

There's no mistaking J-Wheelz wheel extensions out on the ice!

wheel extention that doubles the contact patch like dually wheels, J-Wheelz add traction and a lot of flotation, with small paddles to pull ATVs or side-by-sides through deep mud or snow. Once installed, our Sportsman X2 really stood out from the crowd with a significantly wider contact patch clawing at the ground.

Winter’s Work

Because you shouldn’t recreate before the chores are done, we focused on successful snow plowing before moving on to playtime. Polaris hooked us up with its Glacier Plow system that installs easily and can be mounted up or removed by pulling a cord that disengages the plow from the frame. It couldn’t be easier, which is crucial; fumbling barehanded with tools in the cold is best avoided.

The Mibar Power-Lift and Glacier Plow was an ideal combo.

The Mibar Power-Lift and Glacier Plow was an ideal combo.

Powered by the winch that came as an option on the Sportsman, this still wasn’t the ultimate plowing machine. We quickly rigged up Mibar’s hydraulic Power-Lift, another unique product that piqued our curiosity at last year’s Indianapolis Dealer Expo. Its claim to fame is providing real downforce on the plow blade. Minimal downforce is one of the primary problems using an ATV to plow snow — they’re often not heavy enough without mechanical pressure pushing down.

Better lighting is doubly important in the snow and during the short days and long nights of winter, whether you’re on a trail or pushing snow in your neighborhood. While the X2 comes with a three-headlight system that’s sufficient, PIAA’s durable and handsome 510 ATP 4-inch lamps added a lot more light to the scene.

Lastly, we mounted up Montana Jacks’ Cautionary Light Beacon tower, which was partially for fun, and half to be “that tough guy with the flashing light” on our block. Held in place by ropes, like guy wires on a transmitting antenna, installation was a game of trial and error, but well worth it once sorted out. The difference in projected light and visibility was dramatic; nobody would miss us coming their way.

Before getting to work, we still hadn’t done anything to keep warm on our ATV’s chilly, exposed seat. Wind guards and a Lock & Ride windshield

Our X2 had a lot of added controls with all of the accessories.

Our X2 had a lot of added controls with all of the accessories.

from Pure Polaris blocked the wind, and a heated seat, grips and throttle from Moose Utilities strained our magneto to its absolute limit while toasting our buns, hands and go-fast thumb.

Speaking of drained juices, dead batteries are a pain in the butt, and an ATV in cold storage can quickly lose its charge. Odyssey Batteries’ PC310 has much higher capabilities — 310 cranking amps for 5 seconds, and reserve capacity. The goal was adding the Odyssey as a secondary power source with a rear battery kit from TM2, a company that specializes in building Polaris components. Unfortunately, we just didn’t have the space out back, so we replaced the stock battery with the better battery and hoped for the best.

Fun In The Snow

Outside-IMG_2940

Ultimate Winter ATV

So we had done a pretty fine job justifying this project in the name of plowing, traction, reliability and safety — but let’s be honest here: it’s all about getting out with friends and family to enjoy the season.

Ice fishing captures the spirit of winter in the North; impromptu games of ice football, steaming kettles of chicken noodle soup, hot drinks, admiring the creative design of fishing shacks, catching a few fish and sitting around, shooting the breeze for hours.

To this end, our final accessories included a sturdy Mad Dog ice auger mount, a lightweight power auger from StrikeMaster and a five-gallon Pail Pal bucket holder from Woody’s that fit into TM2’s dual-receiver mount, so we could carry the buckets and one pull last item — a tow-able Voyager TCX fish house from Clam Corporation.

With minimal heft, a thermal fabric covering, padded seats and 27 square feet of fishing area inside, Clam’s Voyager TCX was easy to set up, simple to tow across the lake and a great place to tune out the outside word while supervising a jig pole and some tip-ups for a few hours.

It can’t blast across a laketop at 80 mph like a snowmobile, but our super Sportsman X2 can surmount any snow drift, keeps its operators warm, looks cool, plows snow like a champ and can haul enough goodies to keep a crew of hardy northerners occupied and entertained for hours. While it might not take much to accomplish that, these few modifications made our winter a lot more fun, and kept away the season’s dreaded weight gain, lethargy and boredom. Bring on the snow!

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