Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Iron Horse Trail Review

Whats up? Isn't this the "Sask" Trail Riders blog? Isn't the Iron Horse Trail an Alberta trail System? Yes it is, and no I haven't become jumped ship. The reason I am writing about the Iron Horse Trail (herein referred to as IHT) is because I wanted to experience what a provincially funded, maintained trail system is like, and we don't have anything like it here in Saskatchewan. It is by far the closest maintained ATV trail system, only 363kms from Saskatoon. The majority of which is on double highway.

Heinsburg was our starting point on the trail

The entire Iron Horse Trail in red

So what is the IHT? It is an old railway line that was abandon and turned into a multi-use trail. You are welcome to use almost anything on the trail other than cars\trucks. The promotional videos show people walking, biking, snowmobiling, riding horse and of course riding ATV's. The trail system receives funding from the government, tourism and from the proceeds of ATV license plates which are mandatory in Alberta.

Rig mats being placed over mud holes so that the trail
will not erode. Photo courtesy @IronHorseTrail via Twitter
With these proceeds the trail system is maintained, meaning that the trails have been graveled and that if washouts occur they will be repaired. The longest leg of the trail runs from Heinsburg to Waskatenau, a total of 177kms. There is another leg of the trail that runs North East from the Abilene junction to Cold Lake which can ad another 98kms to your trip if length is what you are looking for.

One of the first things people ask me about the trail is if it is boring? I likely get this question a lot because many of the ATVers I hang around with are hardcore mudders. I am not so sure how to answer that question. It is a very different experience. The trail is an old rail system, so it is pretty level. The trails are covered with gravel, so that even when it gets wet it isn't too mucky. In many ways it is like driving on a gravel road. And there are some part of the trail that are straight trail for kilometers at a time which can get pretty boring. But that is not really the point of the IHT.

So what is the point then? It is about getting onto a trail, with your ATV, away from cars and other traffic. Getting into the heart of nature and seeing some amazing sights along the way. It is about using your ATV as a mode of transportation to get you to where you are going rather than your car. It's about being where the local culture not only accepts ATV use, but encourages it due to the tourism dollars it brings to the communities. There are many trails off of the IHT, and if you search hard enough you may find a couple mud holes but they will be few and far between. Keep in mind leaving the trail is discouraged because the land adjacent to the trail is privately owned. So, if you are a hardcore mudder and that what you are looking for you will likely be bored. 

Embracing the railway heritage is the theme at the heart of the entire Iron Horse Trail
I chose the IHT because I was looking for a getaway for 3 of my close friends, my son and myself. We wanted to explore and have a bit of an adventure. So we rented a tandem ATV trailer (pictured behind us) loaded all our gear into it and set off from Heisburg to start exploring.

I found that one of the most difficult parts of planning this trip was trying to figure out how much distance you can cover on ATVs when you don't know what speed you will be able to travel and what the terrain will be like. We decided that we would camp in St Paul, so we would need to travel 65kms from Heinsburg. We needed to allow time to get there and set up camp which was easily accomplished.

One of the nearly 100 cattle gates we crossed during our trip

Some of my favorite parts of the trip

Heisnburg to Lindbergh

This area was gorgeous. We had the river to our left and huge green rolling hills on our right. Absolutely one of the most scenic areas of the trail
The river is in the background and I am standing on a hill. The trail runs along the center of the picture.

A fun washout to ride through

The Windsor Salt plant in Lindbergh which is right along the trail

Lindbergh to Elk Point

I didn't get any pictures of this part of the trail because it was just too much fun. The trail was a little but wider in this area, so I cracked open the throttle an let the ponies out. Again this area was very beautiful, the deep forest green to either side of the trail blocked the sun and provided some much needed shade from the heat of the day. There were a couple areas of the trail that had been built up for the rail line and had 20-30ft drop offs on either side. A nice little bonus along this section of the trail was a very large gravel pit just East of Elk Point. I imagine that they get much of the gravel they use on the trails. There were large signs saying "do not leave the trail" and "keep out" but the boys in us got the best of us. If you do explore this area, do it with extreme caution and at your own risk as it is not a safe area.

Testing out my snorkel system, which unfortunately failed and my CVT was filling with water at this very moment

 Elk Point

Elk Point was the first larger town we encountered. We pulled in, got gas. Beside the rest stop was a car wash where I was able to spray out my mud plugged radiator from a previous ride. There was also a Pizza Hut and other fast food restaurants nearby.

Each major town had these beautiful rest stops with nice green grass and picnic tables.

Elk Point to St Paul

This leg in my opinion was the most gorgeous, even though we had already seen some beautiful areas. As soon as you leave Elk Point you are in the middle of the woods again and eventually down into a valley. This valley had the most gorgeous green rolling hills to either side, sloughs with beavers and again some much needed shade from the sun.

This is very typical of the trail terrain on the entire trail system

One of the many rest stops

A nice couple we met along the way.

St Paul

We were surprised at how large a city St Paul was being that we were not familiar with the area. We expected a small sleepy town but were greeted by a metropolis complete with traffic and large stores and even a movie theater. We got ourselves a map and found our campground, which was on the other side of town from where we entered and a fair distance off the trail. Stranger yet, we had to ride on paved residential streets to get there.

St Paul's contribution to the rail theme

We found our campground which was directly beside the RCMP regional detachment.

Our campsite, RCMP depot in background
 This was not the rustic experience we expected.

Supper at Boston Pizza? Sure
A Timmy's coffee in the morning proved too irresistible for my addicted colleagues
For the most part we felt that our ATVs were welcome in the town, but we did get the evil eyes from some. It was a unique experience to be able to ride on the streets in the towns.

The Trails beyond St Paul

The scenic trails seemed to end at this point. With an entire day to explore the area, we left our trailer at our campsite and were able to significantly pick up our pace. Unfortunately we didn't find that much to explore. As we headed West out of town the trail got very straight and rather than being engulfed in trees and forest we had relatively flat farm land to either side.

Typical farmland to either side of the trail after St Paul

The Abilene junction
We took the east leg of the junction and headed towards Mallaig, Glendon and Bonnyville

The Mallaig rest stop

We continued east and made it as far as Bonnyville, and in retrospect I wish we had pushed further up to Cold Lake to see the Beaver Trestle Bridge. But when we saw the terrain wasn't getting any more exciting we decided to head back to the Abilene junction and head west. We stopped for a hotdog roast in Ashmont and shortly after encountered some minor mechanical issues. We may have pushed further but the terrain was still dull and pending mechanical issues didn't give us enough incentive to push further, so we headed back to St Paul.

The very rustic fire pit beside Ashmont's rec center, where we roasted hot dogs


We had a great time. What we wanted to accomplish on the trip, we did. Heinsburg to St Paul was gorgeous and although the trail was flat and not challenging, the surroundings made it well worth it. After St Paul not so much. It was a stark contrast between the beauty of the valley's, forest and the shade of the trees and then out in the middle the rural farm land without a speck of shade anywhere in sight. But it was an adventure and I do not at all doubt we will head back there again in the not too distant future.

It has been brought to my attention that had we pushed further west, around Bellis there is the Bellis North Natural Area. This is a sandy natural forest area that has quite a few trails and a couple lakes. Looks like some good riding here. I would like to visit this area on our next trip.

Had we pushed on North East towards Cold Lake we would have been able to see the burnt remnants of the Beaver River Trestle Bridge. This gorgeous piece of history was burned in 2012 by arsonists. Before the fire you were able to cross the bridge by ATV. Currently the Riverland Recreational Trail Society and the Municipal District of Bonnyville are trying to raise money to rebuild the bridge.

If you would like to see our route, click on the link below to view it on

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

ATV Review - Can Am Renegade 800

I have been fortunate enough to have owned two Renegades in recent years. My first Renegade was a 2007 800R, and it was actually my first 4x4 ATV. I grew up riding three wheelers and eventually graduated to sport quads but it took me a long time to get into 4x4's. I just didn't see the point. Riding for me was all about going fast and getting air, that all changed when I was in my mid twenties and injured in an ATV accident. It was as I lay on the ground after the accident, my life flashing before my eyes I realized that I wasn't 10 feet tall and bulletproof anymore. The thought of not being able to provide for my family because of my hobby really knocked the wind out of my sails. So I sold my quad and decided to take a break from ATVing for a while.

Check out my article Renegade vs Outlander

It was still in the back of my mind even though I couldn't ride. I missed the freedom, the nature, the excitement riding gives you. Little did I realize that I didn't have to give up riding, it was how I rode that needed to change.

One day, as I was on YouTube and I came across a video by a guy named Ostacruiser and decided to watch it. Osta was and still is big into Can Ams, which was a new brand that I had heard about but knew nothing of. I sat there and watched him and a couple other guys ride into a swamp with only their handlebars out of the water and this intrigued me. But what really got me was the noise these things were making, I had never heard anything as beautiful as the low rumble of these V-Twin engines.

So I started researching Can Am, reading every review and watching every video I could get my hands on. I was concerned about their build quality, we had just had a bad experience with a Chinese brand ATV I bought for my son and I was skeptical that this was possibly just another Chinese re brand. Besides, I was a dyed in the wool Honda guy, the brand that is all about quality, craftsmanship and reliability. But I couldn't leave those Can Am's alone. They excited me like I had not been excited in a long while. I wanted that engine rumble, I wanted that power. So I discussed it with my wife, convinced her that I needed this bad and the hunt was on.

I decided that the Renegade was the machine for me, I loved the aggressive style which still had the sportiness of the sport quads but with all the capabilities of a 4x4. I also decided that I wanted an 800, a 500 just wasn't powerful enough even though a 500 still would have been more powerful than all the machines I have owned. Problem was a Renegade 800 isn't cheap. I already knew that buying new wasn't an option but even the used were quite a bit out of my price range. $5000 was the limit my wife and I set but most were selling for $7500 and up. I obsessively scanned Kijiji and every other ad source I could find for weeks finding nothing. I schemed how I could come up with another $2500 but I couldn't.

Then a month later, while scanning Alberta's Kijiji ads, I came across a 2007 Renegade 800R, only slightly over my price range. It was at an Alberta Can Am dealer which gave me confidence in making a long distance, sight unseen purchase. It had 6000kms but I had seen many Honda's and Yamaha's with much higher and so I didn't think it would be a problem. Besides, it already had a winch, skid plates and a pipe which were things I wanted and would have to buy later. So this was a good value.

Ugliest homemade bumper ever!

I made arrangements to get the dealer to crate it and get it shipped to Saskatoon (approximately 500kms) and I wired them the money.

I was on pins and needles and the day it arrived I was like a kid at Christmas. It was everything I had hoped it would be, it was cleaned and detailed and looked awesome. I started it up to hear that amazing exhaust note and was not at all disappointed. I even took a video.

It was the middle of winter but that didn't stop me, I had a large parking lot at the place where I was storing it and would frequently go for short late night rips. They had to be short because there was an apartment building very just to the other side and I knew they would be calling the police about the noise that HMF pipe was making.

With the snow on the ground I couldn't get enough traction to really see what kind of power it had but I could tell it was far beyond anything I had rode. Switching on the fourwheel drive gave me amazing acceleration on the snow and make sideways drifts possible.

I stripped the factory decals and bought a wrap off of eBay

And that bumper....well it just had to go.

Eventually the snow melted and on the May long weekend we headed up north so I could give the Renegade its maiden voyage. It didn't disappoint. The other guys I was riding with were amazed at the power, but not more than me. We have a trail that goes along the East side of the lake at camp, this trail follows the telephone poles and is reasonably straight. I opened up the throttle along this straight away and literally scared myself. Every machine that I have rode in the 20+ years I have been riding I could out-ride it, meaning that even when it was giving me all it had I wanted more. The Renegade on the other hand could out-ride me. No matter how I pushed its limits, it always had more. More power, more speed, more acceleration. It was amazing.

Later on in the summer we went to a camp and I was able to try mudding for the first time.

As the video title suggests, I was indeed a mud virgin, I had no idea what this machine was capable of. With my sport quads I avoided swamps and water, it was a huge eye opener to see what a 4x4 ATV was capable of going through.

As you can see in the video it did ok, I was running the factory wheels with factory Holeshot tires. They really are quite horrible in the mud, but they weren't designed for that either. The video also brings up one huge drawback of the Renegade, and that is fender coverage. The Renegade is a sporty looking machine but fender coverage is minimal. I had to get used to getting both muddy and wet pretty much every time we went riding.

After getting completely covered with mud and seeing my friends who ride other ATVs completely dry, I decided I would buy some fender extenders. I was very torn, I liked the functionality of them, they kept some of the mud and water off of me but I felt it took away from the aggressive look.
The next mod was some Maverick wheels\tires, these were a 12" beadlock rim with 26" Bighorn tires and they substantially increased my traction.

The last modification I did was a Rubberdown Customs rack adapter which allowed me to put an Outlander composite rack onto the Renegade. I never did use the rack to hold anything, just liked changing the look.

I sold this machine in the fall of 2012, after owning it for nearly a year. I had it in a shop and discovered that the bearings on both the input and output drive shafts from the transmission were worn and needed to be replaced. This required removing the engine and splitting the engine engine/transmission. A job that would have cost $1500 at a minimum and potentially more than that if other worn parts were found in the engine.


Even though I sold this Renegade, I did purchase another shortly afterwards. That in itself should tell you a lot. The Renegade raised the bar, and made me as a consumer want more.

I still love Honda and always will, but I feel that they and the other Japanese brands have fallen behind their North American counter parts when it comes to raw fun factor. That being said, if I was a farmer, rancher, surveyor or oilfield worker and required a workhorse ATV that would work all day, 365 days a year I wouldn't look at anything other than Yamaha and Honda. 

It was a great machine and a great introduction into the Can Am brand. In the future I would stay away from higher mileage machines.

If you are looking for a sporty, fast ATV that will give you years of enjoyment I highly recommend the Can Am Renegade 800.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Tiger Tail Tow System Review


It's about time that I give my report on the Tiger Tail that I received from the boys at Team Tech Engineering back in the early parts of summer. Many of you have heard of these as they have been talked about quite a bit, but for those of you who have not let me fill you in on what it is. To make it very simple, it is a retractable tow rope that attaches to a hitch on your ATV. The retractable part serves two functions, one is that it is easy to pull out and put away, the other is that you don't have to worry about running over the line and getting it twisted up in you axles as there is never any slack on the rope.
There is another version of the Tiger Tail made by KFI, which to my understanding bought the manufacturer of Tiger Tail and retails it under their own brand. The products are identical other than color.

Product comes in a very nice retail package

 First impressions were that the product looks good and rugged spoiled only by plastic cap which presumably covers the spring retractor. This cap does not have the same rugged look as the rest of the product.

Price is a big factor in purchasing the Tiger Tail for most and I will get into that more later but one of the things that causes the price to be as high as it is, is the mount. Pictured here the mount is in two pieces, all three are then bolted together. The mount is heavy, very rugged thick still with big carriage bolts. This assembly, once built to fit your machine stays together in one piece and easily slides in and out of your hitch receiver, held in by a hitch pin.

Even though it may look like you can still use the hitch I can tell you right now that you can't.

 If your machine already has a hitch receiver you are lucky and this will reduce your cost substantially. My Renegade did not come with one and therefore I need to buy and install one before I could use it.
This is just a picky thing that my OCD would like changed, but because of where the rope attaches to the spool it is impossible to get the rope to wind nicely on the spool. Purely cosmetic and picky.

 I had mixed reactions to the final result. As much as I liked the functionality the Tiger Tail would give me I thought it made my machine look funny, rear end looked bulk and the florescent orange made it so your eyes couldn't miss it. I also felt like it somewhat made my Renegade look like a tow truck.
 Once dirty it was nowhere near as noticeable. If that is a factor for you you may want to buy the KFI version as it comes already black.

So what about using it?

I will tell you that this product performs exactly as promised. That being said, I didn't use it as much as I thought I would. Your going to use the Tiger Tail either to pull yourself out, or someone else.For pulling out a buddy it works great, just like the video you back in, hook up, pull out and retract. So fast and simple. For getting unstuck I am less likely to use it when given the option between it an my winch. My winch is slow and controlled and I like that, especially when you see the gumbo I get stuck in. The other factor is that you need a buddy to pull you out (which mean you have to suck up your pride and say "hey, I need help") where as you are still independent with your winch...even though it will take you at least 10 time as long to get unstuck.

When I first introduced the product to my group I was amazed at how critical many were without knowing much about the product. One of the main criticisms was that the recoil mechanism would break. I am happy to report that after many tugs and submerging the until in water repeatedly as well as being covered in mud, it has never had even the slightest issue recoiling. 

When I was at camp I used it along with my tree save to yank deadfall out of the bush and it worked great. Very strong, I never worried for a minute that the rope would pull off the spool.

The cost

This is the biggest reason most people will not buy it. The Tiger Tail and the mount retail for $230 USD when buying directly from their website (, add shipping, duty and conversion you are looking near $350. I believe the shops around my area are retailing the KFI version for $299. There are not many people I know that will pay $300 for a tow rope...even if it looks cool and and is super convenient to use. I had to add a hitch receiver to my quad which jacked the price up another $150.


Quality construction, heavy built, professionally marketed. Works every bit as well as promised. Great product, I will continue to use my Tiger Tail for many years to come. Team Tech Engineering was kind enough to give me special pricing on the unit so my investment is lower than what the average person who buys this will be. I am not sure I would have spent $300 on it.

Chinese ATV Experience

My son on his New-To-Him Baja 90, his first quad
My first experience with a Chinese brand was back in 2009 when I was looking to buy an ATV for my kids. I found a used Baja 90 on Kijiji for half the price of the brand name kids ATVs. Baja was a new brand carried by one of our large retail stores here in Canada called Canadian Tire and the Baja 90 was basically a Yamaha Raptor 80 clone.
I was skeptical of this unknown brand but I figured that if Canadian Tire sells them they must be good. My bad.
We got probably four good rides out of it until and was reasonably impressed with my purchase. That was until one day when  I was teaching my son how to cross a ditch, he approached it at an angle as I instructed him and when he came to the bottom the wheel snapped over in the other direction. I watched him struggle with the handle bars but they looked like they were stuck. Frustrated and figuring he was just too weak I got off my machine and attempted to turn them, I couldn't. This blew my mind becuase I saw how slow he was riding when this happened, it really defied logic to me that some was wrong with the machine. Eventually I put it on its side and with all my strength I tried to straighten the wheels but they would not budge from the full lock position they were in.
As terrible as this machine was, it did survive our father son camping trip
I ended up having to pull it out of the ditch while lifting the front end and dragging it to the road. I rode my machine home which thankfully wasn't that far away and drove back with the truck and loaded it up.
At home I tried a prybar still with no luck. I eventually pulled out my tools and pulled it apart to find that the tabs to prevent the wheels from turning too far had bent and gone over top of the bump stops essentially locking the wheels. I pulled it apart and bend the tabs back into place but when the handle bars were straight, the one wheel was slightly toed out but the other wheel was completely toed out. This meant there were more components bent.
So I called Canadian Tire and asked for their local Baja service center, after being on hold for a while they have me the name and number of a guy, not a company. Confused I called the number and spoke to the gentleman and described my problem. His first response to me was to ask how I got his number? I explained that I got it from Canadian Tire and they they told me that he was who they recommended for repairs. He thought that was rather humorous but sure he would take a look at it.
He pulled the front end apart and tried to bend some pieces back but said that these machines had such soft metal that even if he could get it perfect it would likely bend back the first time it got hit. It looked a lot better but was still toed out pretty bad. He priced out the components that would need replacing and told me that IF he was able to get them that with labor it would likely amount to the value of the quad.
The first ride afterwards revealed that it was basically unrideable, the toed out front wheels would grab and pull the quad to either side without warning.
The baja sat in the shed for a couple years before I finally sold it for parts for $100.

My son is now 15 and rides a full size machine. Last year we bought a Raptor 80 for my girls to experience ATVing for themselves. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that this machine is build like a tank and has had no issues and is all the machine that the Baja had hoped it would be.