A Day on the 2019 Polaris 850 RMK – Our Demo Ride Experience
You have a relaxing weekend planned with your wife when the phone rings and a voice says, “Hey, you want to come down and try out the new Polaris 850 RMK?” What do you do?
If you’re anything like me, you drop everything, ditch your plans and leave tire marks in the driveway. After all, it’s not every day you get an offer to put some miles on a sled that isn’t even in production yet. I’m still not sure how these sleds became available, but I wasn’t about to question it. A new plan was put in place: hotel room booked, truck fueled, dogs to the pound, kids sold to a roving band of gypsies—anything to free up the day (I’m kidding of course, we would never get rid of our dogs). We were off to Valemount, BC.
A Day on the Polaris 850 RMK
If you’ve never ridden Valemount, you really should make it a priority to get there. The views are spectacular, with white peaks stretching as far as you can see in every direction as the Rocky, Monashee and Cariboo Mountain ranges all come together. With 14m of annual snowfall and areas like Clemina Creek to play in, Valemount is a sledder’s paradise. Even without the excitement of the new 850s beckoning, we were happy to head back to Valemount, especially since we hadn’t made it there yet this season. Our ride was planned for the Allen Creek area, across the valley from Clemina, and home to some of the best riding you will find anywhere.
After arriving at the Allen Creek parking lot, we were given a walk-around and talk about the 850 Patriot engine and updated chassis with the new React front suspension on the 2019 RMK. We went over the newly-designed powerplant in detail, covering a lot of technical specs on items like piston skirt size and support, wrist pin location, crankshaft weight, etc. The short story is that Polaris has huge confidence in this engine; enough to offer a four-year warranty out of the gate. Impressive.
Demo Sled Configuration Options
We had a selection of steeds for the day. Two sleds had 163” tracks; one with 2.6” lugs and the other with 3”. There was also a 174″ x 3″ tracked sled on hand.* The 174 on this day had the Walker Evans piggyback clicker shocks on it, while the other two units featured the standard-bodied Walkers. The new SLS lightweight springs on the 850 RMK are visibly different, with the coils spread wide apart. The spring coils are very thin in comparison to the springs of previous years.
*Note: RMKs fitted with 3” tracks feature a chaincase drive, while the 2.6” tracked sleds feature the popular Quickdrive belt system.
Who’s Going First?
After some arm wrestling, it was decided that my wife Carla would leave her personal Axys in the trailer for the day and she would get the first turn on the Polaris 850 RMK, riding it up the trail to the cabin. We just had to promise that she would get another turn later on as well, once we found fresh snow.
You could see the grin inside her helmet whenever the flipper was mashed, although I think her arms were stretched a bit longer by the time we reached the alpine. If she hadn’t already snowchecked an 850 for next year, she would have by this point. Finally we were in the playland and it was my turn to give this beast a try.
First Impression of the Polaris 850 RMK
Everything about this 850 RMK seems geared towards lowering your physical exertion. Starting the engine requires an easier-than-expected pull on the cord. You would never know just how big an engine you are turning over—a one-handed snap is all it takes to flash up this new powerplant. The throttle pull is also unbelievably light and those who suffer from sore thumbs at the end of the day will have no problem squeezing this unit.
The lack of vibration of the new big twin is also noticeable. It’s not that my current 800 Axys RMK is rough (in fact I thought it was pretty smooth), but going back-and-forth between the two made clear that the new 850 is definitely the smoother engine. Running through the open meadows I tried to find a weak spot in the power curve, cruising at different RPMs or slowly accelerating and then suddenly snapping the throttle to the bar. Every time the response was the same—no hesitation or stumble, just an instantaneous pull to 8200rpm. It is hard to describe how linear and smooth the 850 is in its power delivery. No sudden surge or top-end spike; just a pure, brutally strong pull from bottom to top.
Time to Hit the Hills
Next it was time to hit the hills. The previous storm had left some nice powder which had settled into that heavy fluff we like to call “mashed potatoes”. I pointed the 850 Patriot at the first long hill and pulled the trigger briefly, thinking that it felt similar to my current, lightly-modified 800—but only for a moment. As the climb progressed, the torque of this engine really began to show, and the RPM never wavered while it flew toward the summit. The 163″ x 3” track hooked hard in these snow conditions and I needed to dial back the throttle as the nose went skyward over the top. In a subsequent run on the same hill, my 800 155” didn’t wheelie, nor require me to let off at the top—anecdotal evidence, but worthy of mention.
Sidehilling with the new front-end is so easy that it will make a better rider out of anybody. The new stance is effortless to initiate tip-up, and it holds the line, straight and predictable. As mentioned earlier there was no shortage of hills tracked up by other sleds, so in an attempt to find fault I repeatedly sidehilled across the slope, crossing the trenches from other climbers. There was no washout and it was easy to hold into the hill while the Polaris 850 RMK soaked up the bumps as it transitioned in and out of fresh snow. A line like this is something I can do on my current 800 Axys, but the difference lies in the amount of effort required. The new front-end geometry and narrower stance makes it easy.
Some other points worth noting from the day:
If you decide to snowcheck the Polaris 850 RMK, spend the extra money and get the clicker shocks. They feel so much better, and the ability to adjust them throughout the day depending on conditions makes them worth every penny. This becomes even more noticeable when the trail gets bumpy on the ride home.
Most of us preferred the 163” over the 174”. I was able to turn the 163” around on a downhill in a tight gulley and head back up and I’m not sure I could have done it on the 175”. On a straight climb however, the 175” kept the nose down and went over everything we pointed it at. Rider preference plays into the decision here.
Everyone Wants to Know How Much Power it Makes
“How much power does it make?” This is the most common question asked. We all have heard the estimates and rumours, so we all have our own suspicions on where it will land exactly. Polaris officially says 9% more power than the current 800. What I can tell you for certain is that the 850 has a 2º steeper helix in the secondary, a longer and taller track and is still pulling as much weight in the clutch as my modified 800. Take that info for what it’s worth. The 850 Patriot is building power!
If you are undecided on which bar height might be best for you, err on the side of shorter. We had different height options on each demo and every one of us found the tall bars were too much. The lower bars were more comfortable to ride and much easier to get your body “on top of” when twisting tight through the trees. If having the added bar height for leverage is your concern then rest assured, you don’t need it on this chassis.
And finally, when you are riding with a current Jackson Hole Champion, sometimes you have to just sit back and enjoy the entertainment. One of the riders with us on the demo was this year’s Semi-Pro Stock and Mod winner at the 2018 Jackson Hole Hillclimbs, Matt McCray. The lines Matt took up through the trees had the Polaris rep softly whimpering at times. This guy is a lot of fun to watch.
Polaris 850 RMK Demo Experience Summary
The experience of throwing a leg over the seat of the new Polaris RMK 850 showed us firsthand that the hype is real. This sled takes everything that we love about the current 800 RMK and does it more. More power, more smoothness, more maneuverability. The React front-end is confidence inspiring and will make you a better rider while reducing effort and fatigue. As for the power? “Wow” says it all. I can’t wait to have an 850 RMK in the fleet.
Special thanks to Brett from Polaris Industries and Dustin from Cycle North Powersports for all the hospitality and for making this ride happen!