Those who ride snowmobiles and dirtbikes tend to have a lot in common, including a passion for motoring through scenic locales and making a lot of noise while doing so. Many speed freaks in areas with four square seasons per year engage in both disciplines, which means owning (and maintaining) two separate machines.
The Polaris Timbersled is meant to solve that problem. It's a conversion kit that starts at $2,000 and turns a filthy dirtbike into a lean, clean, snow-loving machine. But, as I learned after an afternoon shredding some of the best powder Colorado has to offer, this is much more than just a compromised solution for the colder months. This, dear readers, is one of the most enjoyable things I have ever ridden.
First, remove the wheels
The Timbersled is not a contraption all its own, rather a conversion you'll need to apply to an existing dirtbike. Polaris says just about any mass-market machine released in the past 20 years or so can be converted -- if you're curious about your ride, the company has a handy database you can click through. While I didn't have the opportunity to install the kit myself, I'm told the process takes about three hours.
The basic kit includes the two major components that convert bike to sled. There's a fat ski that goes where the front wheel was and a massive, treaded contraption that replaces the rear wheel. That contraption, which looks truly menacing in person, contains an internal chain drive plus separate, Fox suspension components that vary in quality depending on which kit you want to buy -- and just how much you want to spend.
On the low-end, for a kid's bike, you're looking at $2,000 for the basic kit. Want to go bigger? The top-shelf kit is around $6,499, with fully adjustable shocks and bigger, racier components.
On top of that you'll need to spend either $300 for a fixed linkage kit to attach the tread where a swingarm normally lives, or $1,100 for a rear suspension kit so you can mount the entire tread unit on a shock. Meaning, yes, you can spend over $7,500 just for a conversion -- about as much as you'd pay for a decent starter snowmobile. (Or snowmachine if you live way up north.)
More than a snowmobile
After my first five minutes on the Timbersled I was ready to get off and call it a complete failure. I was skittering up a hard-packed, groomed trail and really struggling to get to grips as the Husky beneath me skipped and slipped and danced and basically did everything it could to make me feel uncomfortable.
Dirtbikes are supposed to move around at speed, that's part of what makes riding them so much fun. On this thing, though, I felt barely in control.
But, once I got off the trail and onto a field of untouched powder, everything changed. The Timbersled seemed to come alive. That giant track out back bit into the snow and provided amazing acceleration. The front blade floating across the top felt the way I imagine snowboarding on a rocket sled would.
The Timbersled still moves around constantly beneath you on deeper snow. But once you get used to that feeling, start to work with the bike and stop fighting it, riding becomes an incredibly free sensation. It's remarkably fun and, under these conditions, a million times more engaging than a snowmobile.
The bike is a lot more nimble than a full sled, for one thing. Within an hour of riding, I was hauling ass up hills and jumping over ruts, ducking between trees and even riding along steep inclines. Those last two things in particular can be really difficult on a snowmobile, but the narrow Timbersled makes it easy. Relatively easy, anyway.
The thing mostly stands up on its own, so learning to ride a Timbersled is much, much easier than learning to ride a dirtbike from scratch. In fact, from a controls standpoint, my biggest issue was continually stalling the 450cc four-stroke engine. With all that weight at the back, you'll need a few extra revs to pull away from a stop.
But, you probably will want a four-stroke. I don't want to dismiss those who love the two-stroke lifestyle, but the additional weight of the Timbersled makes the extra torque of a four-stroke a necessity.
The Timbersled is a remarkably fun ride. It won't replace a snowmobile in all situations, particularly if you're looking for a machine to cover big distances. In that case a snowmobile is simply a more comfortable and practical solution. But, if you're the kind of person who rides in the snow to play, the Timbersled is a much more engaging experience. In the powder, it's a total delight.
If you don't already have a compatible dirtbike, the combined up-front cost could be prohibitive vs. just picking up a snowmobile. But there are so many advantages to having a single machine you can ride year-round. That the Timbersled is so outrageously fun is just icing on the cake.