Safety is the No. 1 reason to put studs in your track. With the steady advance in track design, we're seeing good bite in normal snow conditions, like hardpack and looser deep snow. It's when you hit an ice patch in front of a road crossing, or in a well used fast corner on the trail that studs become life savers.
You don't want to overshoot the crossing and find yourself in the middle of a busy road. Studs also can give you the ability to stay on your side of the trail and not drift into the path of oncoming drivers. High-speed stability on icy lakes and rivers is also important.
Let's face it, the rubber ribs and paddles may be great on snow but rubber doesn't penetrate hard ice very well. Studs are as old as the snowmobile itself, and were used for traction on ice long before snowmobiles where invented.
I remember visiting a Viking museum back in Norway some years ago with a couple of snocross racers. In one section of the museum there was a display of horseshoes and other devices used on Viking horses, along with a fully studded device that had been used for racing horse-drawn sleds on icy lakes.
This was a big deal in Norway 1,000 years ago until one of the racers decided to shortcut the racetrack and fell through the ice. Both the horse and driver drowned.
Unfortunately, the racer happened to be the Norwegian Viking King, so this put a damper on racing from then on. The interesting thing about the Viking studs is that they looked exactly like the triangular wedges so popular on snowmobiles a while ago.
How they worked on early sleds
Early snowmobiles with steel-cleated tracks where unstable in most conditions, as the steel cleats acted like dull skates on the ice and resulted in fishtailing.
Rubber and polyurethane tracks weren't much better with just some simple ribs for traction.
Early studs consisted of sharpened steel bolts mounted through the track with a large washer on each side - actually similar in design to today's "push through" studs. This was a big improvement from having no traction aids, and quickly a small traction product industry sprang up.
Early pioneers included Jim Jollife at Micro Bellmont, Chuck Rencurrell in Kalamazoo and Jim Musselman of Woody's. Woody's name came from Jim's partner and on-the-road sales manager whose nickname was "Woody." The products became well known as Woody's studs, and the name stuck. Today Jim's son Robert runs Woody's, a steady innovator in both the trail and racing market.
One of Woody's early pioneering efforts was incorporating a carbide tip in the stud to increase the life and keep the stud sharp for consistent traction. Brazing with a torch was both time-consuming and inconsistent.
Jim developed an induction-brazing machine to automate the process. The carbide and sotter was loaded into the hole in the tip and the stud was placed on an assembly band to pass through an electric field. This heated the stud and finished the brazing.
The carbide-tipped push-through stud, in all its variations, is today's most popular traction product. You can find regular round versions or the mega bite with four flat sides for better bite in snocross racing.
There's also a stainless steel version and one with a flat carbide tip to red-uce wear on asphalt driveways, concrete garage floors and roadway crossings.
Sharpened versions are available, but mostly they're used for racing.
Removing metal from the sides to sharpen the stud weakens the carbide's support in heavy trail use. How many studs?
How many studs do you really need for your riding style? Using the popular unsharpened round carbide-tipped push-through stud as a baseline, one for each rib (48 studs) is the minimum to give you grip on ice patches. I prefer at least two studs per rib on my trail machine (96). This gives a balanced setup without requiring overly aggressive carbides up front.
Remember, the more studs you put in the track, the more the skis will push in the corners if the setup is not balanced with more steering carbide.
Though using 96 is a popular setup, it has its shortcomings if you line up for a friendly drag race on hard lake ice. You'll spin the track on takeoff if you're on anything more than a 100-hp machine. If you ride with aggressive buddies who always challenge you to a friendly drag race for a steak dinner, be prepared to buy a lot of dinners if you don't have 4 studs per rib, the equivalent of 192 on a 121-inch track. On sleds with more than 100 hp, 144 studs are preferred by many for a trail setup.
How long should your stud be in order to be effective?
Oval racers are by rule restricted to 3/8-inch above the rib, while drag racers can run with studs that protrude 3/4 inches above the rib. Trail riders land in between, or even shorter depending on the height of the rib. On a track with a short .58-inch rib, a one-inch stud gives you better than 3/8 of an inch of penetration. Short ribs don't bend easily, but when you have 1-inch ribs you may want 1.2-inch studs. The longer rib usually bends on hard ice and you end up with more of the studs penetrating.
Studs can do serious damage to your tunnel and front coolers. In the 1990s, manufacturers ignored the need for extra stud clearance, and if you didn't install tunnel guards, you could rip your tunnel apart and puncture your gas tank in a weekend.
Tunnel guards usually consist of two plastic or aluminum extrusions mounted to the tunnel above the slide rail windows. They must be tall enough to prevent the studs from hitting the tunnel when the track clip or rubber hits the guard. This can be tricky if you don't pay attention because the clip surface often is below the top of the rib, and you may need a 1-inch guard to prevent studs that only protrude slightly from hitting.
Before you stud an older machine, check out the clearances. On older liquid-cooled Polaris models, the front bulkhead cooler was too close, and when the studs dug through and the cooling water disappeared, you also had a wrecked engine on your hands. All the manufacturers eventually allowed more clearance and installed guards on newer machines.
After you've picked your studs and decided how many to install, the fun begins. This is a time-consuming job, so allow many hours for the task. Here are a few hints:
• If you lay the machine on the side, lay it on the side that puts the oil tank and chain case on top. Remove the battery and make sure the gas tank is empty.
• If you lift the back end up and there is gas in the tank, shut off the fuel valve, or pinch off the gas lines. You may find that a crankcase full of gasoline is an irritating fire hazard in the best scenario, or a hydraulic locked engine with bent rods in the worst case. In our shop, we use a lift that holds the machine up in a level position.
• Holes have to be cut in the track in a pattern that does not interfere with drive lugs and wheels. A studding template comes in handy here.
• Spend a few bucks and get a template with patterns for your machine and save yourself some time in locating the holes correctly. If this is the first time you've studded a track, your idea of ideal locations may cost you a wrecked track or suspension, so take care.
You don't want to put studs in line with each other from rib to rib. Instead you want to stagger the studs to get as many traction lines as possible. Lining up studs makes them run in the traction groove of the stud in front of it and you are likely to spin the track. Too many studs in a row also means that you cut the track cord in many places close to each other, which could weaken the track. Most traction templates make sure you don't duplicate locations for at least four ribs, and this will give you 8 different traction lines if you use two studs per rib.
o Holes should be cut with a rubber drill, to leave a nice clean hole. Basically this consists of a sharpened tube, and can be bought at the same place you get the studs and template. Camoplast and Woody's are now developing a new series of tracks with holes already molded in and ready to take 5/16-inch diameter studs. This makes the whole process easier, but until these tracks are found on stock machines most people are probably not going to buy a new track just to make things easier on backs and shoulders.
o The last item you need is a backing plate, and there are several considerations here. If you're going for looks, you may choose some colorful plastic plates from Fast-Trac. If you're going for strength, the next step up is round or square aluminum or steel plates. For maximum side support, there are twin plates that mount two studs in a longer plate.
For example, I use a track with a 3/4-inch rib, 1-inch push-through gold diggers with a square steel backing plate in a pattern with two studs per rib (96 total) and 6-inch carbide in the skis for balance. This provides a good safety margin and balanced setup for the trail and lakes we visit in Wisconsin and upper Michigan.
One of our customers who does a lot of aggressive product test rides on an 800 REV always goes to 192 studs right away. His advice is to only use every other rib on the outside for a stud, and load up the center instead. This makes the sled easier to turn on the trail.
He's also careful to move the outside studs closer to the slide rail (no closer than an inch), as this prevents the studs from bending out and possibly tearing the track.
Thirty years of snowmobiling has convinced me that good studding is a great thing when you hit glare ice on a long icy river run, or a twisty trail, and I'm convinced that it's made my snowmobiling a safer experience.
This story ran in the January 2005 issue of American Snowmobiler magazine