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Best Tracksled – Initial Impressions

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My local cycling club (Shoreline Cycling Club) recently acquired a Best Tracksled for $5,400 to use to groom a 16-17 mile loop at the Big M in Manistee National Forest which is in the northern portion of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. I have clocked about 8 hours so far using it to groom trail and felt that sharing my impressions of the machine could be beneficial. This is nowhere near enough time to really get to know it and know the many variations on where is it good, where it isn’t, nor all the tricks of operating it and producing the best trail possible, but is enough time to get an idea of the general benefits a grooming device like this offers compared to other common grooming implements and vehicles like snowmobiles, Rokons, rollers and other grooming tools. Our club also grooms two other areas for fat-bikes (one using a Rokon and roller and the other area using a utility snowmobile and roller) and two cross country ski trails so we have a fair bit of experience with different grooming vehicles and implements.

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One of the many commercially available Russian Tracksleds

Tracksleds and similar vehicles have a long history in Russia. There are numerous big manufacturers of them in Russia because they are such a popular vehicle. Up until recently they were not very popular in the US but that is changing somewhat. I personally started seeing some info pop up about Best Tracksleds being used for fat-bike grooming in about 2016 maybe 6 months before the Fat Bike Summit that was held in Marquette, MI where it was on display. Based on what we saw, our club decided to pull the trigger and put in an order with Korakahn Singvongsa who hand builds each tracksled in Minnesota. We put in our order early July and had it delivered early February.  Korakahn said he makes 6 or 7 per year so this isn’t a high volume manufacturing scenario. He says that every one he makes is different than the previous versions because he learns ways to improve each iteration. From my impressions of our tracksled, he has really refined the design through this process helping to make a true workhorse of a device.

We got ours with a 7HP Kohler 4 stroke engine and a wet clutch. The wet clutch was a new feature and while it does sap some power, it is able to manage heat much better to help avoid burning up the clutch. There is also a higher horsepower option (10HP) with a dry clutch but we chose not to go that route because it makes the vehicle a bit more top heavy. Total weight is supposedly about 220 lbs. Overall width is about 20″.

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Behind the tracksled is a platform that you stand on. Depending on where you put your weight on the platform you can change slightly what it does to the snow. Put your weight need the front and it renovates the snow more (aka breaks up the top layer and compacts it down) taking out ruts and other issues. Stand on the back of the platform and it tends to float more easily over the snow making it easier for the tracksled to pull. Stand on one side or the other and you can change the camber of the trail. Because of the small amount of surface area for the platform and the weight of the operator being fully on it, you get great compaction of snow (far better than any roller setup I have seen).

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Korakahn built the platform with a mesh surface that you can kick and easily break up the compacted snow that forms on it. So far I have never had snow/ice build up that I wasn’t able to easily break up and knock off. You need to transmit power from your feet to the handlebars to steer and control the “roll” of the tracksled so having good traction on the platform is really necessary.

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The underside has three skegs running the length which really help with steering and on off camber trails. The finished product is a very smooth surface and I have never notice the ridge of the skegs when riding the trail.

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The platform is very burly which is a very good thing. It is easy to hit stumps, rocks and other things in the trail with the platform. Even though it is fairly heavy due to the burly construction it is still easy to move around by hand if you need to fix places where the trail get screwed up because you overshoot a corner, steer off the trail accidentally or need to turn it around. All you do is set down the platform on a good section of trail and then use the tracksled to pull you over the screwed up spot leaving minimal lumps and bumps in the finished trail. Some other grooming implements make it much more difficult to maneuver them and fix situations like this.

The controls on the bars are very straightforward with a thumb operated throttle and a cable actuated disk brake from a bike. The brake is very effective and easy to use and the throttle is easy to operate and doesn’t lead to your hand or fingers getting tired.

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There is an area behind the motor where you can stash stuff and there are also the electronics. There is enough room to stash a small chainsaw, tank of gas and some gear. There is an hour meter, switch for headlight, and fuse/electrical shut off mounted on the front of the box. The exhaust also comes out on that front panel of the box. I was a bit worried about the location of the exhaust and it heating stuff up too much but have had zero issues even when I have had equipment fairly close to it. When running the sled there is little to no smell or other problems with the exhaust either.

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The power goes from the motor to the belt via a chain and gears on the outside of the frame. There is an aluminum guard for it that helps protect it from impact. I have already tagged a tree or two and it seems to shrug off most impacts without issue. Being aluminum it is somewhat malleable so if you do whack something hard enough to bend the shield so it rubs the chain you can just bend it back (I bring a hatchet/hammer with my chainsaw to pound wedges but it can do double duty for fixing the shield if needed). The chain requires periodic lubing and isn’t too dissimilar to maintaining your fat bike chain in the winter.

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The fuel tank has approximately a 1 gallon capacity. In really, really tough grooming conditions I got about 1.5-2 hours of runtime out of that much gas and 3-4 hours under more normal conditions. Because of this we always bring extra gas with us when we go out to groom. The good part about keeping the tank for the engine fairly small is that it helps to keep the sled from getting top heavy.

I wish I had taken a picture of this but the tracksled also fits in the back of my Subaru Outback no problem. I used an 8′ 2×12 to drive it in and take it out and can do it without needing anyone to help me. After needing a truck and/or trailer to haul grooming equipment around for the last 6+ years this is one of the most appealing aspects of a tracksled. You can haul it easily in a wide variety of vehicles and don’t need a trailer or a bunch of other special stuff to move it around. Logistically, this makes it far easier on your volunteers, to do maintenance, store it in the off season, do special grooming projects, etc.

Using the Tracksled to Groom and the Finished Product

Driving the tracksled is not exactly ergonomic but is fairly easy to do. You want the handlebars to be low because then you have the most control over the roll/camber of the tracksled as well as being able to steer it. Because of this it favors shorter operators but I am 6’4″ and have no problem driving it. It definitely takes some upper body strength to operate but isn’t any harder than driving a Rokon or having to muscle a utility sled through tight spaces. I have taken it down very narrow technical trails and have had no issue navigating them.

On steep hills and in a fair amount of snow you may need to skateboard kick or even get off the platform and walk next to the platform. It is pretty rare you need to do this and is easy to do when you have to. Even without all of your weight on the platform there is still good compaction of the snow. The following video is a short section of our trail when we were initially grooming it in about 2′ of fresh snow. You can see how the operator needs to occasionally kick to get up steeper rises.

It is very good at going through deep snow even in hilly terrain. The first time we used it we had at least 2′ of standing snow on the trail with the top 8″ as fresh snow. It was able to plow through that with no issues and left a superbe track in its wake. I don’t know of any other fat bike grooming implement that would be capable of creating rideable trail in those conditions with a single pass.

The thing I love most about the tracksled versus other grooming implements is your ability to control the camber of the trail. Normally the groomer is pulled by a vehicle that you are sitting on and the implement that is actually grooming the trail just follows the contours of the snow under it. With a tracksled you have more control over things because you are standing on the grooming implement itself. You can control the angle/roll of the tracksled with your arms which prepacks the snow before the trailing platform goes over it. To initiate a turn you first want to angle/roll the tracksled so it is banking into the corner and then it is far easier to steer. That in combination with your ability to weight one side of the grooming platform and all of this produces some banking to the trail making the finished product more swoopy and fun to ride.

The only thing that has annoyed me about the tracksled so far is the automatic fuel shutoff for the oil pan. If the tracksled tips too far over to the left there is a fuel shut off so that the oil pump doesn’t run dry. This occasionally kicks in when banking hard around corners, especially on faster downhills. When the engine cuts out you come to a stop pretty quickly and I have almost gone over the bars a couple times when this happens. It is infrequent enough to not be an issue but frequent enough to be slightly annoying.

The track that is laid down is about the perfect width for tight singletrack. It is wide enough that you don’t have to work really hard to stay on it (like riding a ridden in trail in the winter). It is also wide enough that it allows some degree of line selection but isn’t so wide that you feel like you are riding down a sidewalk. It definitely adds a degree of technical difficulty compared to riding wider trails. We are purposefully grooming our flatter, 5 mile loop with a snowmobile and 30″ roller to make it more beginner friendly and then using the tracksled on the bigger, hillier 16 mile loop because of our early feedback from novice riders. You could put a wider platform on the tracksled to increase the grooming width but I would worry that it would require a big increase in the amount of power and traction needed to pull it (but that is only a guess at this stage).

When Korakahn first delivered the tracksled to us and I asked him about different platform designs (V-plows, different shapes to renovate the snow…) for different conditions and his answer surprised me when he said that “we have found simple setups to work best in most conditions.” Now that I have used it for awhile I see where he is coming from. There is an amazing amount that you can do with the stock platform. I am sure that there can be a lot of development on this front in the future but I have been very impressed with how much you can do with the stock setup.\

With many options for how the Best Tracksled can be configured your final price could be different than the $5400 version we had built but, rest assured, you will get a super product.

Final Thoughts

This tracksled has opened my eyes about what can be groomed. This “eye opening” is similar to how a fat-bike opened my eyes about what I could ride. The ease of use, the versatility of transportation and overall capability of the machine has far exceeded my expectations. You basically can groom any trail you can fit a MTB down in the summer. Add on the fact that tracksleds are some of the least expensive grooming implements to buy and you have a recipe to revolutionize winter fat bike grooming.

With that, I leave you with a quick video I made from the second time I rode the outer loop of Big M. Scott Quiring of Quiring Cycles is in front with a camera mounted to his seatpost and I am doing everything I can to hang on behind him. Enjoy!

 

 

5 Responses to Best Tracksled – Initial Impressions

  1. Wade March 7, 2017 at 10:00 am #

    That is a work of art! What an awesome job they did with making a very utilitarian machine!

    Props…

  2. thub March 7, 2017 at 1:22 pm #

    Thanks Ken for the report, the Tracksled looks like it throws down a nice riding surface. Appears to be the best single track grooming equipment out there. Hopefully we’ll see one of these in Anchorage by next winter. I attended the Fat Bike Summit that Gary Sjoquist just held a few weeks ago here in Anchorage. There was interest in the Tracksled. Awesome that its American Made.

  3. Dave Hallaway March 7, 2017 at 3:45 pm #

    We have used one for just over a year now and it does a very good job of grooming snow. We have a 20 inch and a 28 inch drag, the 28 inch does pull harder but not as much as we thought it may have. If you groom first with the 20″ and follow up a few days later you can fill in the groove the first wheels will make.
    You can also make multiple passes in soft snow with the Tracksled which can be a problem with the Rokon.
    The machine is pretty simple so if you do have a problem it’s pretty easy to fix. The company has been fantastic to work with!! They have been very open to discussing fixes and helped modify our groomer.
    I’d highly recommend the Best Tracksled!!

  4. Erv Spanks March 8, 2017 at 12:02 pm #

    I love that KBS’s Initial Impressions are far more detailed than most actual reviews!

  5. Peter March 16, 2017 at 5:20 am #

    Thanks for the review. Our club has a similar machine a SnowDog and so far it has been a good machine. The one thing I didn’t see in the review was any talk of driving it on off camber terrain. I did find the statement “You basically can groom any trail you can fit a MTB down in the summer” to be untrue. There are lots of places I can ride my fatbike that you could never get down or up with the tracksled. We can only access about half of our singletrack with it because of the varied terrain. But it is still the best general design for fatbike grooming.