Dan Gardiner

A friend of mine recently called to ask why his brand-new snowmobile is burning up belts so quickly. Now I’m used to having this conversation with owners of certain brands but this guy is driving a ‘Ski-doo Renegade Back Country X’ model which isn’t known for drive problems. The standard answer for some owners is to simply blame the manufacturer and then start talking about shimming the clutches, buying a better-quality belt, or switching brands – but now I was forced to think.

Thankfully I’ve rode sleds with this guy on several occasions, I’ve been aboard his boat, sat in his truck and heard uncountable stories about the places where he’s stuck his ‘side by side’ – so I know how savage he is on his equipment and therefore, why he’s burning up belts and what causes this problem for everyone else (including Arctic Cat owners) – Abuse!

When you think about it, it’s almost ridiculous to expect a thin strip of ribbed rubber to effectively transfer the massive energy of today’s snowmobile engine to a heavily loaded track and suspension system. Yet the manufacturer’s engineers have applied the latest and greatest technologies to somehow make this system work – at least within the confines of their design and recommended operating procedures.

So if you want your snowmobile belt to last here are a few helpful tips and guidelines for you to follow:

  1. Break in your belt properly. Just like you stretch a balloon before exhaling into it, balance a car’s tire or heat up a set of drag slicks – a snowmobile belt must be properly broken in when first installed. Engage your clutch slowly with light feathering on the throttle. Ensure you apply power smoothly and adjust speeds and loads frequently during the first 25 – 100kms. This will allow the belt to stretch and adjust to your machine.
  2. Increase airflow to the clutches. Hot clutches significantly decrease belt life. Consider installing extra venting, removing unnecessary foam, etc. Check out if you are looking for vents.
  3. Don’t load up your track with unnecessary or abnormal levels of resistance. Snowmobiles aren’t designed to do wheelies constantly in deep powder. Don't get me wrong, you'll find the Boondockers guys doing more than their fair share. However, frequently trying to ride wheelies puts enormous load on the belt. If you love travelling through the mountains in a turbo wheelie half the time you shouldn't be surprised when you are replacing belts every 100 miles.
  4. Drive your machine as it was designed to be used. Don’t take a deep lug, long track machine whipping across the tops of a rutted section of packed trail and don’t expect a short track machine to make any headway spinning madly in deep snow conditions all day.
  5. Engage your clutches smartly and efficiently. This allows the clutches to properly regulate track spin – sometimes crawling up on a more stable snow surface or at other times assertively clearing a track load to bring the machine up onto a better plane. It's all about throttle control and understanding the snow conditions.
  6. Don’t try and spin your sled out of an impossible situation. Now there are times when it makes sense to go for the “pin and wiggle” approach, but recognize that there is a trade-off. Rocking and swaying may get you unstuck this time but the excess heat build-up is going to severely damage your belt's integrity and shape. If you're stuck in a bad spot, wait for your buddies to come get you out with a ski pluck or start stamping around the lower side and roll that baby over for a fresh line of escape.
  7. Frequently check your belt for signs of abnormal wear and make adjustments to compensate – either mechanical changes (i.e. tension) or paying more heed to your bad riding habits.

Enjoy the winter, the savings in expenses, improved reliability and extended performance this season.

Sweat your brains out!

-Andrew McCarthy