In the past, we here at RidersWest have explored several benefits that come from swapping out an ATV's wheels with tracks, such as improved stability, accessibility for the elderly and the ability to use the machine year-round. This time, we’re getting into the nitty-gritty of how to attach tracks onto your ATV, with even more reasons why it’s worth the effort.
To guide us through this process, we’ve enlisted Wayne Mercer, member of the Kootenay Rockies ATV Club and the Cranbrook Snowmobile Club. Mercer often rides his tracked ATV with friends who have sleds on groomed snowmobile trails.
“While we get a few sideways glances from sledders who are unfamiliar with the tracked machines, our rigs are very gentle on the trails and are welcomed as tow trucks when sleds get mired,” said Mercer. “They are also happy to see our chainsaws when snow brings trees down across the trails. We can't always go where they go, and they can't always follow us, but we can meet for lunch to swap yarns.”
If you’ve been searching for essential details regarding swapping out wheels for tracks on your ATV, look no further.
Wayne Mercer is a member of the Kootenay Rockies ATV Club and the Cranbrook Snowmobile Club. — Photo courtesy Doug Williamson
What is the first thing I should be aware of before I begin modifying my ATV by adding tracks?
Talk to people who have experience with tracking and try to go for a ride with them to see if you like it. Get to understand the strengths and limitations of what you'll end up with, particularly if you have a smaller machine or one that is very heavy. Conversions run about $4,500.
What equipment and supplies do you need in order to switch an ATV from wheels to tracks?
Track conversions are done as a kit and are sized for the make, model, and engine size of the ATV. After that, you can add the bling: heated grips, heated seat, tow ropes, etc.
Safety in winter is maybe a bigger issue than in the middle of summer, when it is easier to walk for help, so all the usual winter safety gear and communications devices are highly recommended.
“Tracks are an excellent alternative to a sled provided you have realistic expectations that there will be differences in handling and capabilities.” — Wayne Mercer — Photo courtesy Wayne Mercer
Where can I get these supplies?
Most ATV dealers are able to source the conversion kit. While each ATV manufacturer will offer its own branded track system, by far the most popular in this area is the Camso line. Most commonly, people will have their dealer do the initial installation and then swapping tracks and wheels is a fairly easy D.I.Y. project thereafter.
Are there certain kinds of ATVs that are more viable with tracks than others?
As with sleds, more power and less weight makes for a more fun ride. A 550 cc quad can run on tracks but it will run on the governor all day long. A 700 does better and I love my 1000 (2017 Arctic Cat Alterra XT TRV 1000). On an uphill run in soft snow, I can be in low range and use all the power it has to offer. Tracks use sprocket ratios that typically result in actual speed being about two-thirds of what the speedometer will indicate. Fuel consumption will increase 50 per cent (L/100km).
Some riders have a preference for four-wheel-drive systems that allow the front differential to be locked, as opposed to those that use an on-demand coupling that relies on a tiny amount of slippage (front vs. rear) to trigger the locking of the front end. I suspect that rider skill and experience is a bigger factor.
Side-by-sides on tracks can do well. There is such a variety of machine sizes, weights, and power that it is easily a subject unto itself. As a rule of thumb, the bigger the unit, the less maneuverable it is, and that can pose a problem on trails.
“You have to be prepared to fall off and/or get stuck and have to do the work to get unstuck. It's all a part of the fun. Getting ejected into the snow is an uncommon but pleasant alternative to hitting the gravel.” — Wayne Mercer — Photo courtesy Wayne Mercer
What’s a safe way to test out the tracks to make sure that they have been installed correctly?
The Camsos come with an excellent manual. I’ve installed and removed my own tracks and I’ve had them installed by my local shop. If the maintenance and set up procedures are followed, you should expect the tracks to be trouble-free for the riding season. Bolts should be retorqued and alignment checked on occasion but none of it is rocket science and no special tools are needed, except to pull a bearing. Alignment is important and the adjustments needed are usually surprisingly small.
What material are the tracks made of?
Camso refers to them as rubber. They are heavily reinforced with cords and are exceptionally hard-wearing. They don't stand up to chainsaws but that's a different embarrassing story.
How functional are ATVs with tracks?
This is the next best thing to owning your own tank. They feel like they'll go anywhere (they won't) and it is fun to go from mud to gravel to snow without hesitation. With a longer and wider track than when on wheels, the ATV is much more stable. Getting ejected into the snow is an uncommon but pleasant alternative to hitting the gravel.
It is an interesting change from riding on wheels, where an ATV is incredibly capable of negotiating almost any terrain except snow and ice. Once a wheeled ATV is high centred on snow, everything stops. An ATV on tracks has much lower ground pressure and does great on snow so long as there is a bit of a base. If the snow is bottomless, the ATV will become high centred, and everything stops again.
“As a rule of thumb, the bigger the unit, the less maneuverable it is, and that can pose a problem on trails.” — Wayne Mercer — Photo courtesy Douglas McGovern
Do ATVs with tracks work like a snowmobile?
Tracking is a similar but different experience. It is slower and easier on the operator. When it gets a little stuck, you can usually back out of the problem. When it gets very stuck, it is as much work to get free as a badly stuck sled. Tracked ATVs won't climb as steep a slope. They do well on sidehills when compared to a sledder of average skill but won't handle extreme sidehills.
As with sledding, being able to read the snow is very important. I’m fortunate to ride with former sledders who can call upon 30 years experience to warn me away from what I’d have thought would be an ideal riding situation. Conversely, they’ve led me into places that I thought were impossible. There is no substitute for experience.
Are ATVs with tracks a substitute for not having a snowmobile or are they just a unique alternative to riding a snowmobile?
Tracks are an excellent alternative to a sled provided you have realistic expectations that there will be differences in handling and capabilities.
My friends told me I was too old to start sledding and I was happy to be able to get year-round use out of a quad that I really like and to not have to worry about finding storage space for another toy.
If you are a sledder and you’re happy with your snowmobile, I wouldn't try to talk you into making the change as tracks just won't generate the same adrenalin rush that sledding offers.