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Dec. 22, 2008 – Dirt bikes join snow industry

December 22, 2008
Filed under Features

By Karin Gelschus
Associate Editor
A conversion kit is giving dirt bike riders the option to travel on both hard-packed or deep snow as well as sand. The Explorer transforms many models of enduro, motocross and supermoto bikes into snowbikes.
Ad Boivin, manufacturer of snowmobile suspensions and the single-ski Snow Hawk snowmobile, released the Explorer in February. The company designed the kit to fit many models to appeal to customers globally. While the product is still too new to really determine sales numbers, distributors and dealers are saying the interest is there.

How it works
The kit allows the rider to replace the front tire with a ski and back tire with a track, creating a snowbike. The twin axis system on the ski simulates the front tire, says Max Rancourt, director of sales and marketing for AD Boivin.
“That’s why the learning curve is so short because when you lean, it’s like a tire feeling,” he noted. The same feeling is simulated in the back with a track that has wheels in the center, but Rancourt adds the wheels need to be in the middle of the track.
To accommodate different users’ riding styles and conditions, AD Boivin made the track able to adjust in three positions. Rancourt says the only way a track can be adjustable is if the sprocket is on the outside of the track, which the company has a patent on.
“This is the only system in the world working like this,” he said. “A sprocket like this on the inside of the track, like a snowmobile, you can’t slide back and forth.”
The adjustability makes the bike easier to maneuver in different snow conditions.
“If you’re trying to ride in 4-5 feet of powder when it’s in the back, it will go up like a candle. If you put it in the front, you will float,” he said. “We have guys who will want to go on hard-packed trails because they like trail riding, and we have guys in the mountains going up to 10,000 feet and in 8 feet of powder.”
The different positions allow riders more freedom, says Mark Starnes, owner of Moto-Trax, a distributor in Washington and Oregon.
“This allows them to go in those same high areas (back country) and actually explore bigger areas because you’re not just stuck riding the trails,” he said. “You can go anywhere.”
Between the conditions and different riding styles, Rancourt said, “One motorcycle can be used by 10 guys in the same condition, and they won’t adjust it the same way.”
The Explorer can be changed to fit different model dirt bikes. The ski, frame and track are always the same, but the bracket to hold the ski between the forks in front changes as well as the adaptor kits for the back depending on the swing arm, width and disk brake.
“A big advantage is if the rider is changing his motorcycle, he can keep the Explorer and just order the adaptor kit for his new bike.”
If there’s a model that doesn’t fit the Explorer, Rancourt says AD Boivin has a measuring system, so the OEM can manufacturer new adaptors.
“We developed this because as long as we’re selling the Explorer all over the world, there will be motorcycles that we don’t have in Canada or North America to measure,” he said. “We receive about 1-2 of these measuring procedures every week right now from our distributors in Europe because we’re in the (prime snow) period.”
The Explorer retails for $2,948, which doesn’t include tax or shipping. Peter Woosley, owner of distributor White Surf in British Columbia, said, “The feedback regarding the price point is favorable.”

Early numbers
After determining the initial number of vehicles produced, Rancourt says the company decided a few weeks ago to increase the amount of Explorers to be manufactured this winter. While the final number isn’t confirmed, it’ll be between 800-1,000 units.
“We’re confident all the production made this winter will be sold. Right now guys are starting to ride it. It’s like the snowball effect,” he said. “We think the pre-booking period in March and April 2009 should be pretty big. We’re expecting dealers and distributors will order bigger orders.”
The company is working to get more distributors and dealers, but it’s already selling the Explorer internationally, including North America, Japan, Italy, France, Finland and Sweden. Rancourt says they don’t have a specific market they’re aiming toward.
One area that has done well so far is North America. Distributor Moto-Trax has eight dealers who are actively buying product and more considering, says Starnes.
“It’s been very positive,” he said. “The dealers that have a pretty large dirt bike, enduro riding customer base really get it right away. They understand the concept and see the potential of it because their riders are the ones who they’re targeting, the (riders) who like to get on the back country with their dirt bike where they can’t go in the winter.”
A dirt bike dealership in Issaquah, Wash., is on the same page. Kurt Opel, general manager of I-90 Motorsports, says the dealership just got the unit in and put it on a KTM530EXC.
“We haven’t sold any yet, but there is huge interest,” he said. “We have a demo ride scheduled as soon as we have some conditions that are acceptable.” ”

Demographics
Due to the Explorer’s ability to adapt to nearly any dirt bike, the product’s demographic is considerably large. Rancourt says the Explorer appeals to dirt bike riders as young as 16- or 17-year-olds who are interested in motocross up to 65-year-olds who enjoy enduro riding.

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