Unnerving, uncomfortable, unsure, we’ve all been there while riding. Sometimes dictated by trail conditions, other times suspension set-up, but many times it can be traced to poor ergonomics setting the tone of skepticism during a days ride. Ergonomics refers to how a rider integrates with the touch-points of a machine, whether it’s an automobile, toothbrush or in this case a snowmobile. Every device we use, engineers must design and develop ergonomic parameters as to how we interact with the device.
Snowmobile manufacturers are tasked to develop the best ergonomic package to meet the needs of the largest number of potential riders while still meeting cost objectives and deadlines. The results are what I refer to as “Joe Ergo;” ergonomics designed for the average user with typical riding skills.
Joe Ergo is fine if you meet the physical specifications (which about 30 percent of all snowmobilers do) and the average riding style, which even fewer do. Let’s face it, practically no-one operates a snowmobile in the same exact manner as the next person. We all have our likes, dislikes and riding quirks.
Fortunately, customizing your snowmobile from Joe Ergo to (insert your name here) Ergo is relatively easy, quick and inexpensive, you just need to understand your objectives before you start.
The first thing you’ll want to do is properly understand how you interact with your snowmobile while you are riding. Think about where you are sitting, how far is the reach, what feels natural and what doesn’t. Then really think about why it feels uneasy. Are you reaching too far? Do your wrists fold in or feel awkward? Understanding this is what racers and mechanics call being “in-tune” with your snowmobile. It’s how a driver communicates to his or her pit crew or in this case how you communicate to yourself when it comes time to make adjustments.
Another thing you’ll want to do before you start making adjustments is to record a few basic measurements so you know where you were and where you are going. Two measurements to record is the distance from the handlebar grips to the rear seat bun and from the bars to the foot-stirrups. Exactly where you measure to and from really doesn’t matter, just be consistent. With these measurements you don’t have to be entirely “in-tune” with your sled, but can still make adjustments in the
right direction. Just be sure to measure from the same
points every time.
Rise and Bend
One of the easiest and most dramatic impacts you can have on ergonomics is by changing and/or adjusting the handlebars and handlebar risers (if equipped). There are several handlebar and riser manufacturers on the market including options from the original equipment manufacturer (OEM). Once you have determined what types of changes you want to make, its time to start shopping.
A few generalizations can be made when it comes to both products, however personal preference always wins. Handlebars that are flatter or have less arch from their mounting point to the grip point are often better suited for more aggressive riders and those who like to stand more while bridging bumps. Bars with a greater arch are often better suited for riders who are less active and typically are “sit-down” riders. The height of a bar riser often correlates with the height and/or reach of the rider, with higher risers working better for taller riders.
No matter your choice, you’ll want to check the set-up of your particular machine before the wrenches start to fly. If you opt for taller bars or a higher riser, check the overall length of your cables and wiring harnesses. You may need to add extenders to some or all and most aftermarket manufacturers offer kits to make the job easier. Also check the clearance of the bars at full-lock left and right so there is not interference with the windshield or dash area.
Once you’ve made your choices, changing the bar and/or riser is a relatively simple procedure and can be performed with hand tools. Be sure to continue to double check clearances and the operation of all controls before taking the first ride and it’s a good idea to bring a few tools along so you can make adjustments on the trail. A few offerings, such as those from Rox Speed FX (www.roxspeedfx.com), have developed adjustable bar risers, making quick on-trail adjustments even easier.
During the procedure you’ll have to remove and replace both the handgrips and handwarmer elements (if changing the handlebars). If care is taken you can reuse both, but now is the perfect time to upgrade your grips to a more ergonomically friendly choice.
As you continue to make tweaks, measure once again the touch points we referenced earlier. Note what changes you like and don’t like and compare those to the measurements. While you may not be “in-tune” with the changes, good notes will help you hone in on the best ergonomic solution for you and your sled.
By Pat Bourgeois
*THIS ARTICLE ORIGNALLY RAN IN THE FEBRUARY, 2009 ISSUE OF MINNESOTA SNOWMOBILING MAGAZINE