With the growing popularity of mud riding, sinking the quad of your dreams into the bottomless bogs and creeks can be as simple as buying a factory-assembled unit or as hard as working countless nights in the garage. Having built many mud-capable units in the Georgia ATV laboratory I was dead set on creating a machine that would ride like a thoroughbred on the trail and twist like a caged beast in the muck of South Georgia. I called some friends over to the garage and with a wink I said, "You gotta see this one!"
The crisp fuel-injected throttle of the 2009 Polaris Sportsman XP 850 was in my grasp, and with the nod from the editor I was on a mission. The first and most important item to figure out was tire size. The tires I chose were High Lifter's Outlaw in the very large, deep-lugged 31-inch trench-clearing rubber saw blades. This tire was born into the dirt and mud with a dual purpose in mind, and I intended to use them to their utmost potential. Then it occurred to me, what do I put the high and lifted-up tire on since getting the largest tires on the market meant I had to step into the 14-inch wheel arena from the usual 12-inch low rider? Well, SuperATV.com had the answer to my question, and after the boxes had been cut open the excitement rolled through the shop like a cool breeze. The realm of 14-inch tires has brought on many challenges to the ATV world, and SuperATV.com came to the game swinging with a beadlock wheel that has interchangeable centers to fit any bolt pattern. Although interchangeable centers are nothing new to our industry, the size of 14-inch big ones is. Mounted up and ready the tire-wheel combo would have to wait for a few suspension mods before taking their position on the battlefield!
The ground clearance as well as tire clearance was the very next order of business. I wanted a simple bolt-together kit that I could install in just a couple of hours with simple hand tools, and the Gorilla Stage One lift was in my sights. The front shocks get a bit of a push from custom brackets stretched across the front of our 850 XP. The rear was changed a bit more dramatically with new suspension arms and a great reinforcement bracket to tie it all together. This gave the Polaris approximately 2 more inches of height and a stout appearance. Gorilla has many cool products, but the new age of lower lifts is greatly accepted by those who still want to trail ride the swamps and dive into the bog without hesitation. The tough part of this lift was getting the spring stiffeners under the springs of our shocks without tearing an eyebrow off! I suggest that if you do not have a spring compressor, just take the shocks to the local garage and chances are they can put the spacers on cheaper than you can.
Our stock 850 XP tranny is tough, but I just wasn't sure if it could pull the 31s without some type of CVT upgrades. Twisting the tires with 70 horsepower wasn't the concern, more like how long would the belt and CVT last in the grip, no grip situations of mud, and we knew it would at the very least affect our Polaris's get up and go. So we turned to the experts at EPI. Installing the Mudder Kit from EPI had us changing not only the weights in our primary but both springs as well as adding a performance helix in the secondary drive. The whole job isn't a cakewalk, and it can be done with moderate tools in any shop. However, we opted to get the best tools for the job right from the guys at EPI themselves. The clutch puller and clutch compressor tools made this job less of a headache. The Mudder Kit made our Polaris roll with ease on the huge 31s, and the power seemed to be a bit more responsive with no loss in acceleration, all things considered!
Power is at a premium on the high and lifted quads these days, and with huge tires and added weight I wanted to at least boost what power Polaris had already built into the 850 XP. I put on an HMF exclusive Swamp Series XL with a mild snorkel to keep the decibels down, add power to the wheels and to keep everything above water in the deep stuff. Some cool things about the slip-on pipe from HMF is that it's made of 304 stainless steel and gives power to the quad without being an annoyingly noisy pipe like others I've seen and heard. HMF claims this pipe is only 1 to 2 decibels above stock, which is nice in OHV trail systems. When you open the throat and back end of a machine you really need to make fuel adjustments accordingly, and that's where we found the HMF electronic fuel management system worked for us best. This device, called the "Optimizer," is a plug-and-play unit that is set for the Swamp Series XL right from HMF. The unit adjusts the amount and timing of fuel delivery to make the machine run with the best performance possible. The only concern we had with the unit is that it is water-resistant only and cannot be submerged for prolonged periods. Tucked under the plastic right under the bar seemed to be the best place.
Having made all the motor modifications we felt we needed for our trail- and mud-bog-busting 850 XP, our focus went straight to the airbox and CVT venting and fresh air intake. The snorkels for this Polaris were very important, but I had already become exhausted with the typical snorkel systems on the market. While walking around the vendor area at the 2010 Mud Nationals I discovered a company called Mud Industries. These guys have taken classy to a new level, and with the most exotic-looking snorkel on the market I knew I'd found what I needed. The finished piping, or risers, on the kit had been modified into a smooth single-piece look and then hydrographically coated with a carbon fiber weave. Talk about finishing touch! The kit had, of course, all the right fittings, and Mud Industries uses a rubber semi-flexible hose in tough areas instead of typical hard PVC. This is the new standard for a good-looking machine and happily has a price point that meets my wallet halfway!
With any mud machine you better have a way to pull yourself out, and after installing the new Master Lock 1,500-pound winch mounted in the front bumper, I know I'm safe if I get in a bind. From locks to ATV winches Master Lock has you covered, and where we ride, this has to be the most important part of our build. Steel cable and tough electronics work together on this winch to bring a lightweight package to an already overweight quad. The Pure Polaris extreme front and rear brush guards make the XP stand out in the crowd and add a bit of race-rubbing ability for the times when my buddies need motivation in the mud! These products come straight from the Polaris factory, so fitment was a breeze. With the tough Rhino Linings-type finish on these they should last awhile, too. I had a few items in mind to finish off my looker, and one was a set of Acerbis hand guards. These universal hand guards simply bolt into the end of my bar and keep the tree branches and vines from making a mess of my fingers. Finally, I had ATV journalist extraordinaire Jorge Cuartas design a simple graphic kit that we sent to the great staff of G4 Graphics to be printed. These kits come in thick wear-resistant vinyl and make my 850 XP a class act.
Finding a good deep mud ride here in north Georgia is difficult to say the least, but it is not impossible. Getting the 850 XP unloaded for our ride was almost as exciting as the build. The machine looks tough, and when twisted, the engine fires with the sound of brutal power. The trail sections of our location really helped me understand why the Outlaw is such a popular mud and trail tire. With smooth trail prowess I felt comfortable all day. The 850 XP handled like a dream even at higher speeds, and I always felt connected to the trail. Thanks to the SuperATV.com beadlock wheels I had no worry of rocky trails where a typical tire could be ripped from the wheel. The machine had a power range that was incredible even though the top-end was restricted just a bit by the sheer size of the tires and clutching. That didn't bother me, though, as I wasn't planning on setting a land speed record with my machine. The EPI Mudder clutch kit seemed to get the Polaris 850 right into its sweet spot of power delivery all day. These guys have their technology really dialed. Once I found a respectable mud section it was time to let the machine do its thing. The broad low-end power and snorkel system performed like champions as the Outlaw 31s swept away the mud in the front up high, the rears dug deep to push me forward through the slop. I feel like the Gorilla Stage One lift is just about right for the average consumer, and I'm sure they will be a huge hit. The machine is still very much controllable and not so high that it gets tippy on off-camber trails. This lift also allows me to straddle most trail obstacles because of the added ground clearance. I'm not sure if we will get a chance to use our Master Lock winch, but it's good to know it's there for when that time comes, and you know it will.
Overall this machine has a budget-minded rider in its sights. The build was simple and inexpensive plus it lets you have two times the fun in both mud and trail ride-ability. I can say this is probably one of my more favorite projects, and I'm sure it will not be the
HMF Swamp Series XL: $369.95
HMF swamp snorkel: $79.95
HMF EFI Optimizer: $279.95
Mudder Clutch Kit, part No. WE436902R: $259.95
clutch tool, part No. PCP12: $34.95
clutch compressor tool, part No. CCT510: $89.95
Stage One lift kit: $397.75
|POLARIS SPORTSMAN 850 XP
||Excellent overall performance on trails and deep bogs.
||Weight of total parts held back the motor just a little.
||Built for conquering the deep and having fun—mission accomplished.