The 2019 Arctic Cat Alpha One Mountain Cat features a brand new single beam rear suspension, which makes for a wickedly nimble platform that is sure to cause some arguments on the forums.
Get used to this term: Single beam rear suspension. Twin rail is what we historically know. Single beam is future knowledge that has come. Get use to the model name: Arctic Cat Alpha One.
Six years in the making.
Arctic Cat first showed to Snowmobile.com its single beam (monorail) rear suspension in early February 2017, as we tested the now current 2018 Mountain Cat at Arctic Cat’s model year 2018 sneak peek in Island Park, Idaho. Here, Cat let us ride it and ask questions. But a deep information embargo was agreed upon, which included sure death at the hands of Sasquatch. Code name for this skunk works snowmobile was Alpha Bravo (AB) for Mountain Product Development Manager, Andy Beavis – initials A. B.
Let’s go farther back. At Cat’s model year 2017 sneak peek, early February 2016, Cat had Alpha Bravo sitting outside, covered up – mostly. As we walked by the covered Alpha Bravo (we did not know of its code name at the time), the showmen at Cat’s mountain R&D center, exposed just enough rear suspension to tease us. We dared not ask questions. They told us not to look as they deliberately paraded us by it. Cat’s Island Park crowd are very smart showmen.
Well, Alpha Bravo became Alpha One – an Alpha Mountain Cat. (Think Alpha wolf.)
In 2013, Andy Beavis cut up a twin rail Pro Mountain rear suspension, mated the two rails to a single rectangular aluminum rail and began coloring outside the lines – challenging every engineering question all the naysayers would throw at Arctic Cat. The concept worked and took root. Just so you know, a 2013 M8000 is still in use at Cat and is functioning with this earliest of early prototype single beam rear suspensions; it has never failed.
Polaris introduced to the snowmobile market, in mass-production, an independent front suspension (IFS) with trailing arms. The Karpiks and its FAST M-10 brought us a long travel rear suspension. What about Team Ski-Doo and its T-motion? The we-know-what-is-best-for-snowmobiles snowmobilers blew up. “Are you kidding me,” the scoffers scoffed.
So, what in the Sam heck is wrong with Arctic Cat’s single beam (monorail) Alpha One rear suspension and its specific three-inch Power Claw track with a 3.5-inch pitch and full width rods?
Nothing. Nada. Zip. We rode it, twice over a two-year period and it is smart, fast-acting, easy to maneuver, and gentle on the hands through the handlebars.
This is a time when being an armchair forum-reading quarterback will not serve you.
Want to go all out dirt bike-style on a snowmobile? Then the Arctic Cat Alpha One is your mountain snowmobile. Simply, and we mean just that, stand tall and straddle the seat, position your feet near the rear suspension’s mounting bolts/bracket, and be as aggressive, or not, and Alpha One will return smart moves with compounded interest. You’ll be amazed how aggressive Alpha One attacks a slope.
Be prepared though, Alpha One takes no prisoners. It is an over achieving 18-pound seldge hammer, and every mountain or ravine is a railroad spike. It is meant to be in the trees and in the thick of things.
If you’ve been riding a 2017 Mountain Cat or M80000 Limited, back way off on sled input when riding Alpha. If you have a 2018 Mountain Cat, dial it down about 40% on Alpha. If you are an aggressive old dude, enjoy. Alpha One needs little input to crack open a mountain.
Remember, a suspension and track six years in the making.
We believe Arctic Cat has something here.
We’ve read the rumors. No, it is not a single-rail T-Motion. It does not swing right or left; it is a fixed – locked down – rear suspension.
Durability is another topic in the forum mill. The Arctic Cat Alpha One rear suspension is made from two metals, aluminum and magnesium. The two metals are bonded together through a special bonding agent (glue) rather than rivets or welding.
Beavis tells us, “Different materials have their own advantages of strength, weight, formability, and manufacturability. The front casting is magnesium – to allow the combining of so much geometry and mounting points into one piece: front arm mounts, approach angle idler wheels, front anti-stab idler wheels, limiter strap, front arm lower shock mount and tie-in to the extruded aluminum rail. Combining all the mounts and geometry into one casting was efficient and magnesium made it all the more efficient for weight.
“The rail is extruded aluminum for strength and weight, as are the rear mounting points. Using epoxy allowed us to use the different materials and join them without affecting the base properties of the materials, for example how welding would alter the material temper and strength.”
Another rumor hints on hyfax wear. Though this is a single beam rear suspension, it has two hyfax rails, one on each side the single beam. The track, the hyfax clips and the track rods, where designed to match the single beam and its two close parallel hyfax rails.
Track resilience is another topic forum readers discuss. Arctic Cat’s suspension engineers, with the Power Claw builder, molded a track that sheds heat from friction at the track’s middle. Twin rail suspension tracks are no different, as these too go through heat and friction tests (analysis).
Back to Beavis’ knowledge, “Track durability was a question with the new system, but has not been an issue. What we have worked on is optimizing the track’s performance and how it is allowed to work with the ground through the Alpha rail configuration. The track’s rods, paddles and rubber durometers (how stiff/flexible/dense a track is at the paddles in inner belt) were altered (from the twin rail Power Claw) to dial in the performance we wanted.
“The hyfax are traditional in construction and function. The one thing to remember is that because the suspension sheds snow, it can also build heat in the hyfax sooner than a traditional skid that carries so much snow between the rails. The sacrifice you make for all the extra maneuverability, floatation and traction improvements is hard trail performance, as it is with any mountain sled built around a 3” track. There are newly designed scratchers that provide more spray to the hyfax over their length and mount out of the way on the front arm and away from the track motion. Our Alpha really is the top model for dedicated off-trail riding. Our Mountain Cats, Sno Pros and SE models still provide industry best-in-class performance with the more traditional twin-rail suspensions.”
From an Arctic Cat press release to the media, this is written: “When it comes to snowmobile suspensions, Arctic Cat Technology has introduced some of the snowmobile industry’s firsts including: the revolutionary sliderail rear suspension, the first production independent front suspension, the production use of gas shocks, the first A-arm front suspension and other industry-leading innovations.
“For 2019, Arctic Cat Technology once again revolutionizes snowmobile suspension innovation with the M 8000 Mountain Cat ALPHA-ONE featuring a single beam suspension and an 11-lb. weight reduction for cutting edge backcountry performance….”
Cat’s goal with Alpha One is to make a mountain snowmobile where the track’s whole width remains on a slope up to certain angle. With a slope meter, we measured this. While Alpha One sat on a concrete floor, we rolled it center-left and center-right. From this lab test, the track remained in full contact as Alpha One rolled 17-degrees right or left, where at this point, the track’s outer edge started to lift. In comparison, we took a 2019 M8000 Hardcore and at three-degrees, the track’s outer edge began to lift.
The Arctic Cat Alpha One comes in two track lengths, 154 and 165. The new Power Claw track with its 3.5-inch pitch, is designed to flex and conform with slope-angle. What is meant by “flex and conform with slope angle? ” Let’s return to Andy Beavis. “Our goals for Alpha 1 were actually three-fold: 1) increase maneuverability, 2) reduce weight (both static and riding) and 3), increase traction/floatation. These goals were all met and exceeded! The 11-pound dry-weight reduction pales in comparison to the 50-plus pounds the other brands/models gain from in-field deep snow conditions.
“Allowing the track to flex and conform with slope-angle is where the traction, floatation, and maneuverability come from (see #1 and #3 in above paragraph). All current mountain skids allow some freedom from coupling rear to front which tries to keep more of the track in contact with the ground and pushing you forward.
“By allowing the entire width of the track to flex side-to-side under the Alpha rail and transferring pressure to the entire width of the track through the rods from the rail, we have spread the load over the track’s entire contact patch, which really helps push the vehicle forward. The track contact patch is allowed to conform to the ground (or slope angle). This really helps with maneuverability because as you are leaning, carving or sidehilling, more track contacts the snow which gives you more forward traction. You can lean the vehicle further, if desired for tighter maneuvers and still maintain forward traction so you don’t get stuck.”
The Arctic Cat Alpha One rear suspension and Power Claw track drop the weight from a 2018 Mountain of similar track lengths 11 to 12 pounds. At the rear is a new 10-inch rear axle wheel, which according to Beavis “The 10” wheel improves efficiency with the new Power Claw track – puts more engine power to the ground as well as improving reverse function when in the snow and need to get out of a tight spot.”
The Alpha One, as well as the other M8000s, receives a new mountain ski called “G2 Proclimb-7.” According to Cat it is easier to steer, which we have verified. The ski also has molded-in foot traction. At the cockpit is a new master brake cylinder called “Stealth,” which has a shorter throw (pull) and lever. This means, a rider has to engage very little pressure (pull) to bring in “whoa.” It has a new magnetic tether, multi-range thumb and hand warmer controls, and spaced out handlebar controls (reverse, kill) to avoid accidental bumping and engagement.
For a meaner and sexier body, it has new multifunction instrument pod and LED light with accents. Think GMC Denali.
Riding the 154 Alpha One is similar to riding a 162 Mountain Cat, as far as float. The 154 launches and stays atop the snow as if its track is eight-inches longer. Likewise, the 165 floats and conquers deep snow as if it’s a 175. This all boils down to how the track contacts the snow via the single beam; the Power Claw bites the snow as if longer and wider.
The 154 is a highly-nimble chassis; it is easy to ride, but from our experience so far, quicker responding than Ski-Doo’s G4 Summit. With its Fox QS3 (Quick Switch 3) shocks up front, QS3 as the front rail’s shock and a QS3-L (Lockout) set as the single beam’s rear rail shock, drivers can, in a simple explanation, slow down the 154’s nimbleness. If you want a little bit slower acting chassis, then the 165 is it.
The 165 will power through the deepest of deep powder. With the same shock package as the 154, drivers can keep the 165 planted like a 175 – when the QS3-L is locked.
Final thought on shocks. Alpha One needs – wants – QS3 and QS3-L adjustments. If not moving from “Hard,” Medium,” and “Soft,” and “Lockout” (rear rail), then Alpha One is hampered; hobbled like a horse. Become shock savvy if owning an Alpha One.
Arctic Cat’s Alpha One DOES NOT render a twin rail suspension obsolete – outdated. There remains a need for a twin rail, as there are snow conditions, such as fluff over an icy hardpack slope, where a twin rail is best.
Arctic Cat with the Alpha One further defined – narrowed – exclusive and aggressive backcountry riding. Arctic Cat does not feel its Mountain Cat and its M8000 Sno Pro are yesterday’s snowmobile, nor those of the other OEMs. Alpha One is a highly nimble dirt bike with two skis and a track; it is nimble like a snowbike. It is easy to ride, but so fast reacting to driver input, a driver may wonder why they’re on bottom while Alpha sits on top. Not that Alpha One is unstable, far from it; it is a snowmobile that reacts to input quicker than the agile and nimble G4 Summit, and we thought that could never be possible.
Arctic Cat hopes the Alpha doesn’t kill the momentum its other deep-powder players and crossover have achieved. There is a place for a twin rail mountain snowmobile, such as the Mountain Cat, Sno Pro and XF 8000 High Country. The key – the knowledge – is to know what you need, first. An M8000 Sno Pro is a phenomenal snowmobile; a Mountain Cat with coil over shocks. Furthermore, consider, rather ask yourself, do you need a three-inch paddle track that is 162- or 165-inches long? Consider terrain and tree density, average snow depths and snow conditions. For example, our 2018 Polaris SKS 146 has been an in-your-face mountain stomper.
The Arctic Cat Alpha One is different, for a different kind of aggressive rider.