Having proper snowmobile traction doesn’t only make for a better riding experience, but a safer one as well. For many riders, the traction of their sled is one of the last things that they consider before hitting the snow. The snowmobile track and carbides are on the ground and aren’t visible without lifting the skis or closely inspecting the track. While most of the time, the track and wear bars will be fine, there are times when they should or need to be replaced. In this guide, we will look at when you should replace your snowmobile traction and also what style of products that will be right for your style of riding.
Your sled’s track is more than just the thing that makes you go. It plays a major role in your traction while you are cornering and stopping as well as helping you hook up on the snow. Having a worn out or underperforming track will not only hinder your snowmobile’s performance, but it could lead to costly and dangerous outcomes.
When to Replace Your Snowmobile Track
Old and worn tracks– When you are inspecting your track, there are certain things that you should look for to determine if it needs to be replaced. A worn out track can eventually lead to it blowing out while you are riding. If you are lucky, it will not do any damage and it will happen at low speeds. If you are not so lucky, blowing out a track can damage your heat exchangers under the tunnel, damage your tunnel and can lead to an accident, like a rollover or going through a corner.
Cords showing- A snowmobile track is just like a tire. They are built with cords and if any are exposed, it usually mean that it is time to replace your track. The cords will eventually continue to pull out further and separate from the rubber causing it to weaken the strength and durability of the track as a whole.
Weather checked & Dry Rotted- Proper care can prevent most weather checking and dry rotting. These things occur when the rubber compounds that make up the snowmobile track begin to break down due to over exposure to the sun and elements. You can tell when this happening if you start to see fine cracks and lines in the rubber. Those will eventually grow over time and can lead to tears and chunks falling off of the track. If the cracks are small, your track is still usable, but you should try to limit the amount you let your track spin. Once they start to grow deeper, your track should be replaced or you will run the risk of it blowing out.
Missing Lugs- There are different reasons to have missing lugs. Some examples are excessively spinning your track, over using a paddle track on hard pack, dry rot and weather checking. Whatever the cause of the missing track lugs, you should closely inspect the track. If only a few are missing on the track and they ripped off cleanly, your track should be fine. If they were ripped off due to dry rot/weather checking or have pulled cords up, your track should be replaced.
Missing Track Clips/Drive Ports Damaged- Track clips can be replaced if you are missing just a few, but over use without the clips can lead to your track sliding off. The drive sprocket can end up wearing away the rubber of the track around the ports. This can not only lead to less power transferred from the sprocket to the track, but can over time lead to further degeneration of the track. This usually is not an urgent matter in which you should replace your track, but prolonged negligence can lead to that point.
Upgrading/Change of Style- Upgrading your track can greatly improve the performance of your snowmobile. The advancements in snowmobile tracks keep progressing and by fitting the right track pattern to your sled and riding style, you can get your sled to perform better. With these advancements, there are also tracks that meet the different needs of the multiple styles of riding. By matching the right lug pattern and track length to your style of riding, you will have a much better experience.
Snowmobile Track Styles
Aggressive Trail/Hard Pack– This style of track is for the rider who spends most of the time riding on groomed snowmobile trails, ungroomed trails that are compacted from other riders and bare or lightly covered ice. Because the terrain that you will be riding on is harder, the lugs do not need to be as long. The general trail lug ranges from .75” to 1.352” in length. The lug pattern is more staggered with a tapered design for more bite on corners. Trail tracks are usually short tracks.
Cross–Country- For riders who like to take their sled through many different conditions, a cross-country track is the right choice. These tracks will help you excel in the ditches, on less-used trails or boondocking in the backcountry. Cross-country tracks are a blend between trail and mountain tracks. The lug length can be up to 1.75” and are still in a more staggered pattern. Some lug styles are in the paddle form like mountain style to get the most bite in soft, deep snow. Cross-country track lengths are in the middle ground with the most popular at 136” to get the best of both worlds.
Mountain-When the bulk of your riding is in deep powder and on steep slopes, you will need a mountain style snowmobile track to get the best performance. The lugs on the mountain tracks are very long averaging from 2-3” in length. Mountain tracks are made to be lighter to help the snowmobile stay afloat in deep snow. These tracks range in length all the way up to 174” for extreme conditions.
Other- There are other tracks to fit specific needs. Some come pre-studded for performance on ice. There are also tracks that are designed specifically for touring long distances. These tracks feature a straighter lug pattern to get the ultimate drive forward with the least amount of vibration.
Snowmobile Track Considerations
When you are buying a track that does not exactly match the original, you need to make sure that it will work for the machine that you are putting it on. If you choose a track with taller lugs, you will have to make sure that you have enough clearance from the bulkhead, tunnel and heat exchangers for the added height.
You need to match the pitch of your new track to that of the old one so the drivers will fit into the track windows correctly. The pitch is the distance between the center of one drive window to the center of the next one. Most tracks will have a standard pitch of 2.52” or 2.86” but there are other measurements as well. You can change the pitch by changing your drive sprockets.
You can calculate the length of your track by multiplying the pitch by the number of windows in that row. Round to the nearest whole number and that will the length of your track.
For some riders, adding studs to the snowmobile’s track can make a complete difference in the how the sled will perform. On the other side of things, studs will do absolutely nothing for other riders. To help you decide if you need studs, you should first understand the advantages and disadvantages of having a studded snowmobile track and what type of terrain they perform the best on.
Advantages of Studs-
Better Holeshot- This is what most people think of as the most beneficial aspect of having studs. When you have studs on hard pack, it is less likely that you will spin out and you should be able to hook up quickly.
Better Braking- This is probably the most important aspect of having a studded track, but it is often overlooked when studding the track is being considered. Being able to stop quickly on icy and hard terrain could not only save your snowmobile, but could also save your life. When the track is locked, the studs dig in to add braking power.
Better Cornering- With studs, the chances of your back end coming around are greatly reduced. Studded snowmobiles are able to accelerate through corners much more easily and quicker on harder terrain.
Better Hookup on Roads & Parking Lots- When crossing a road or maneuvering through a parking lot, it can be very difficult to hook up with a non-studded. With studs, you will have a better chance of hooking up and safely making it across a road or getting out of the way of other vehicles in a parking lot.
Disadvantages of Studs
Hard on Trailers– Studded snowmobile tracks are notorious for eating up snowmobile trailers. If the trailer is not equipped with track mats, the wood of the trailer can be quickly torn apart by the studs, either by dragging across or by spinning the track while loading.
Prohibited from Certain Trails- Many state trails prohibit the use of studded tracks because they can be damaging to the trail underneath, which is often times paved walking trails. If you have studs, you have to be prepared to take different routes if you come across trails that prohibit the use of studs.
Can Lower Life Span of Track- This is not the case all of the time, but it can be a factor. If the studs are not installed properly or if some rip out, the track can be damaged. With proper installation, proper use or the use of pre-drilled or pre-studded tracks, the lifespan can last just as long asF a non-studded track.
Studded snowmobile tracks perform the best on hard pack and icy terrain. If you ride in this type of terrain, the studs will give you the advantage of being able to get more bite and hook up much faster. Having studs on ice covered lakes is obvious advantage and greatly improve your performance for lake running. If you ride mostly in powder and deep snow, studs will have no benefit to your riding. Because your only traction is coming from the lugs spinning through the powder, the studs are just added weight that is hindering your sled’s snow floatation.
Push Through VS. T-Nut
There are two different types of snowmobile studs, push through and t-nut. For the majority of snowmobile riders, the push through style is the optimal choice. One advantage of the push through studs is that they are much easier to install. There mass is larger, which makes them easier to handle during installation. There is also less maintenance involved with the push through studs because they are less likely to pull or tear out due to the larger backer plates. The t-nut style of studs is the best choice for the rider who is all about performance, like a Snocross racer. T-nut studs are lighter, which is gives the track a smaller rotational mass to allow it to spin faster.
Stud Length– The stud point should extend 3/8” above the tallest of the track lugs. Any longer and the studs risks breaking or rolling and could potentially damage the tunnel, heat exchangers or exhaust. Any shorter and the studs will not be effective.
Stud Patterns & Scratch Lines– Using a template is the easiest and fastest way to lay out a stud pattern. Choose the best scratch lines to get the performance you desire for your particular sled and riding style.
Drilling Holes– Using a track cutting tool can make drilling stud holes much easier and cleaner to preserve the integrity of the track.
Carbide Length– Whenever you add more traction to the back of the sled, it is important to increase the traction in the front of the sled as well. The more studs that are added to the track, the more carbide you will need on the wear bars on the skis. Without increased traction in the front, the snowmobile will tend to stay in a straight line and push through corners.
Standard– The standard style is the bare minimum for wear rods. With no hard cutting surface, these bars are best used for sleds that are used at very low speeds and in soft snow. They work well for children’s snowmobiles.
Hardweld- These wear bars feature a weld along the bottom of runner for added durability. Many low speed sleds, including vintage, can use the hardweld style. Also deep powder riders who do not need a cutting edge can use the hardweld wear bars.
Carbide- Most trail riders should use some sort of carbide wear bars to provide a cutting edge for cornering as well as prolonging the life of the wear bar. They feature varying lengths of carbide to match the amount of traction that is needed.
Dual-Runner Carbides– These are unique wear bars that feature two parallel carbide runners on one wear bar. The advantage of this style is that it can eliminate darting by keeping the skis in their own unique path instead of catching the paths made by previous riders.
Choosing the Correct Length of Carbide
4” Carbide- This is the most common length of carbide that is needed. Non-studded snowmobiles will benefit the most from 4” carbides. Snowmobiles with a 121” track with 96 studs or less or a track with up to 1” track lugs that is ridden through corners at moderate speeds can benefit from 4” carbides.
6” Carbide- For higher performing snowmobiles, a 6” carbide will do the trick. They are ideal for snowmobiles that have a track that is in the 136” range with up to 1 1/4” lugs. Also a short track snowmobile with more than 96 studs will benefit from 6” carbides. This length is good for the intermediate style of rider who occasionally pushes the limits.
8” or longer Carbide- The long carbides are ideal for the ultimate performance snowmobiles. When the sled has a maximum amount of studs and/or has 144” or longer track with paddles, the 8” carbide or longer is best. The longer length will give the sled the ultimate bite while cornering.
Longer Carbides are not always better. Without enough power and traction coming from the track, a longer carbide can make steering the snowmobile very difficult. With too much traction in the front and not enough in the back, the back end can spin out and come around on corners.
Longer Carbides do NOT last longer. The whole stretch of the carbide will wear away at the same pace no matter the length. For a longer lasting wear bar, choose one that has a larger diameter host bar.
Different degree cuts on the carbide can give you different results. The most common cut degree for carbides is 90 degrees. This cut will ultimately last longer and give the rider the most use in the long run. The 60 degree carbides are mainly used for racing snowmobiles. The 60 degree is very sharp and will give the skis ultimate bite when new but they will wear out quickly and are not ideal for use in the long run.
Ryan is one of the lucky ones who gets to combine their passion with work. He has enjoyed powersports his whole life and now gets to write about it. Ryan has been around the industry since High School and continues to enjoy learning and sharing about powersports with others in his role at DK.