Physics of Snowmachining

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Whether zipping along a winding trail, flying through the open flats, or powering up a steep hill snowmachines and the rider need to use physics to stay in control of the machine and themselves. The main compenents are the track, engine, skis and riding.

Snowmachine tracks are essential to making a snowmachine move. Ever since snowmachines first originated in the late 50's designers have been finding ways to improve traction in a variety of conditions. Some of these conditions are driving on groomed trails, not groomed trails, overflow, and deep snow.

The very first snowmachines had tracks with very bad traction. But you must realize that they weren't driving in the same conditions snowmachines of today can handle. Old machines were limited to readily used trails and very little powder. The tracks used on the old machines looked like the one shown in the picture below. The traction, the little raised bits of rubber, was minimal and the tracks weren't very economical either. The first attempts at making a track was using steel, which was too heavy, and rubber, which was to flexible and brittle at cold temperatures. Eventually manufacturers found the key ingredients. Kevlar tracks with imbedded nylon strands to reinforce and improve strength. A kevlar track is now the standard in today's snowmachines.

Another key ingredient to the track is the paddles. Paddles are the pieces coming off of the track itself, a picture these paddles is shown below. This is what provides the traction for the snowmachine to move. In today's market these paddles come in sizes ranging from 1 inch to 3 inches. The saying "bigger is better" does not hold true for these paddles though. When the paddles get to big the rotating mass actually bogs the machine down and reduces performance. Polaris Industries have found, through the use of physics and other tests, that the most efficient paddle length is 2.4 inches. This length gives the most grip in deep snow while still being semi-economical on trails.

Snowmachine engines come in two types, two-stroke and four-stroke. Two stroke engines are simpler, lighter, and cheaper to manufacture then four-stroke engines, "plus two-stroke engines also have the potential to pack about twice the power into the same space because there are twice as many power strokes per revolution than in four-strokes". There are other advantages two-stroke engines have which include not having valves which lowers weight and eases construction.

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"Physics of Snowmachining." 21 Jun 2018
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They also can work in any position while four-stroke engines have problems with oil flow unless it is in the upright position. On the other hand, four-stroke engines are more fuel efficient and much quieter than two-stroke engines.

Fuel is pulled in when the piston moves down, then is compressed as the piston moves back up to the top and then the sparkplug ignites the fuel. This drives the piston down the the process repeats itself. In a two-stroke engine the piston moves up and down only once before the period is complete.

Fuel is electronically injected, then the piston compresses the fuel and the spark plug ignites it driving the piston down. When the piston comes back up the exhaust valve is opened to allow the gases to escape. The piston moves down again and the fuel is injected again. In a four-stroke engine the piston moves up and down twice before the period is complete.

Skis are a very important part of a snowmachine because without them the rider can only go forwards, and backwards if the machine has reverse. With skis there are some important factors that give certain styles and edge over others. Skis need to be able to float in powder, take a tremendous beating on trails, and be light in weight to increase the overall economics of the machine. Skis are designed to have as little friction as possible in the forward direction but as much traction as possible side to side as to increase a riders ability to steer.

There are basically only three ways of riding a snowmachine. There is trail riding, racing and deep snow. Trail riding is the most boring thing you could possibly do on a snowmachine. All the rider does is sit on the snowmachine and do a little steering. Racing and deep snow riding are more preferable because they require skill to beat the competition or to prevent the snowmachine from becoming buried under several feet of snow. Riding in deep snow is a very fun and requires hard work. This is where having a good track, a big engine, and decent skis will improve your ability to float on top of the snow as well as providing traction and steering.

With a big engine and a long track, which provides more surface area, a rider can stay on top of the snow and make it to the top of hills and steep mountains.

With too small of any of these requirements, a rider is bound to get stuck and it is not fun to dig out a buried snowmachine.

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