Snowbike Setup & Riding Tips with Reagan Sieg

Published in the January 2017 Issue December 2017 Features Ryan Harris Viewed 3674 time(s)
Reagan Sieg should well be known in this adolescent sport as the Godfather of snowbiking. Sieg, an original Crusty Demons of Dirt star, has been involved with Timbersled and snow bikes pretty much since their inception. Sieg has starred his tracked KTM bike in several snow films, including the 509 and Slednecks series… he’s the one with an orange snowbike 30 feet in the air most of the time. 
We caught up with Reagan for an interview that started out with some experiences on big drops. Then we got into his setup style, ranging from the basics everyone should look at to the specific settings he has honed in on. 

SBW: When you guys go do these drops, obviously there's not a lot of tracks where you are dropping into. What are you scoping out before you drop in like that? Especially when filming?

Reagan Sieg: With the downhill lines and that kind of terrain you can kind of see from the bottom a lot of it, so you're picking things that aesthetically look good and challenging and try to find a way up to the top. Light's a big thing, so we were dealt with a lot of back and forth light.
You pretty much start from the bottom, get everybody ready, get up to the top and just drop. 
On the snowbikes a lot of times, as long as the line is fairly natural, I don't build anything if I don't have to. Just kind of make sure you can see a direction of where you are going to lead off the edge at the top. I normally walk the path or put a couple sticks kind of in the direction, so then I'm not second-guessing when I'm coming at something. I can just kind of flow at something I've already kind of lined up a little bit. Then you've just got to kind of trust what you've predicted from the bottom a lot of times because looking down from the top, when you're getting really steep, you'll lose sight of a lot of things. You definitely need to put that picture together in your mind of what you see from the bottom and what you see from the top, and you've got to just kind of hit your points on where you're supposed to turn, and trust what's below you.

Photo: Gerry Mitchell
SBW: What’s it like landing drops like that?

RS: It all does come down to snow conditions and it always will. To think that you can do any drop in any snow conditions is definitely foolish. It's how people get hurt and spit over the bars consistently. Certain conditions of snow will definitely allow you to go farther or whatever, so when there's not like a heavy ice crust. An ice crust will definitely slow you down, or really weird layers in the snow will make you kind of stick on your landing. If you have a fluffy consistency, you can really get sloppy with how hard you want to land and everything. The snowbike having a little less surface than the snowmobile, the front end doesn't quite bounce off the snow the same. It definitely penetrates a little farther. You have to be on the gas hard and just really brace for it, because if you can't hold on enough and your body starts rocking forward, well then your whole weight is going to go forward and you're going to be eating the handlebars. If you're a stronger guy and hold on tight, you'll weather a harder hit. The cool thing about the bike is you are in control almost immediately after you land down off of a big drop like that.

SBW: Are you downshifting or just shifting your weight back and just bracing for impact? Powering through it?

RS: No, if I'm leaving the cliff from a slower speed, I'll try to still have a taller gear so when I land I don't have to shift as much. I guess really in my mind, it doesn't take me hardly a thought to shift so I just kind of do it on the fly as I need to. It's nice to land with a little bit of track speed. You don't want to be at the high end of second gear landing and wanting to carry momentum. You want to have definitely some room in your gear when you land to pick up your speed and keep that front end kind of feeling light.

SBW: Let’s switch over to bike setup. What kind of a fork setup are you running? Do the forks even move on your bike?

RS: Barely. If you tried to ride those forks on a dirt bike, it would probably feel like they were locked right out. They are extremely stiff. 
I pretty much told my suspension guy after I got through the first year or so of riding a snowbike, I kind of knew what direction I needed to go in. I just said, "Let's just start with the stiffest stuff you could ever imagine making and then we'll work our way backwards." 
I don't want to just add a spring rate and add a shim, and then add a spring rate and add a shim and work our way out because, in the snow, we don't have a round tire that's rolling over stuff. We have more friction and feedback. It's like jumping into two or three feet of mud, right? You're always going in before going forward. You've got a bigger surface area and it's really going to come feeding back at you no matter how you look at it when you're landing harder. The whole key is, we're not looking at tickling the ground now and using the front break coming into corners. We want the front end to be stiff. We want it to always be at a full ride height, and we want it to not go down as easy.
If you ever run a stock suspension set up, even as soon as you head downhill, your whole bike rocks forward. It puts a lot of pressure on your wrists, and then if you hit a bump on top of it, you bottom out. It's forcing you way over the front of the bike and the back end is floating more. As soon as you get the front end stiff enough to where it's actually changing the set suspension from the front going down to the back going down more, the bike starts feeling more like a downhill mountain bike versus a cross country bike. It just let's you ride it harder. It allows you to keep your riding position back on the bike, away from the handlebars. It just really changes the whole ergonomic of how the bike wants to land in the snow.

SBW: What’s your take on these Air Forks?

RS: The Air Forks to date have not been my favorite, and purely because the air has not always stayed inside.

SBW: Have you run the WP 48 air fork yet?

RS: This year I will be running the 2017 WP 48 air fork setup on one of the bikes. I rode the Kawasaki KX450F with the air forks, and it left me stranded twice and that was it for that. I had another bike––my freestyle––that had spring forks, so I just started using those instead.
We did learn stuff as all that kind of came along, and now we run neoprene guards along the fork tubes so you just physically can't get freezing rain on the shafts as easy, or slush from holes and freezing snow to it period. I found the days that we had more problems with Air Forks would be the freezing rain day. If it's sticking to your goggles and you can't see, chances are it was sticking to the steel on the shafts the same way. It would be so minute, but it would be enough for the seals to go over and escape air. My understanding with the new WP design is the air is more contained in a cartridge internally and doesn't rely on those seals for air. With that being said, if they can keep the air inside the fork, it might be okay for the average guy just to be able to pump those pressures out and have a stiffer front end.
A guy like me, if any time you want to make something really stiff by a spring rate in the front, you still have to counteract it with a little valving to slow it down. Otherwise, you are just building a big pogo stick. For me, it's not all in the spring rate. It's definitely a really good balance of having a really stiff, slow shim stack to really slow down the speed that the oil can go through, and then matching it with a spring to keep it nice and tall in the snow.
Of course, you should hopefully find someone that actually has snowbike experience and not just a suspension guy that says he can do it for you.

Photo: Red Bull Content Pool

SBW: So if a guy just takes his 450 motocrosser and puts the track kit on and doesn't change his forks, what's he going to experience?

RS: Probably half of the potential of the ride quality. You're not going to ride it as hard, especially like if you're riding on crustier snow conditions. You're going to feel that front end bottom out quite easy. Then you're not going to ride it as hard. You know, you can only take so much of an impact with your wrists. Like I say, once you start minimizing that impact on the front end, you really start riding it harder. 
Since I've been in this industry for a while, and I was selling and being a rep and everything, I watch guys right from the beginning, almost like me. They've been riding snowbikes and they've blown through forks in the front and they’re kind of pushing it off like, “Yeah, maybe we don't need it right now.” They ride for a few years, then they're riding with me and one year they're like, “You know, this year we're going to do the forks right.” Well, their whole riding ability changed 100 percent. They were all the sudden on the gas more, riding it aggressive, because they just can. It just physically allows you to trust the machine when it counts.

SBW: Let’s talk about your bike specifically. Which bike were you riding on that Red Bull shoot?

RS: I was riding a 2015 KTM, so it was the older motor versus the new style. Then working with Riderz up in Edson, Alberta, for getting new bikes. I was working with Brewster West Motorsports in Turner Valley for the big bore setups. We did a 520 big bore on a 450 engine.

SBW: So what is the ultimate setup? Do you prefer the 520 over anything else you could do to it, turbo included?

RS: For my style of riding, yes, the 520 big bore. You can just ride it sloppy like a dirt bike. On the gas, off the gas. Just pin it, clutch it, whatever. 
You get into a turbo bike, you actually have to ride it a lot more finicky. You can't override it because you just have to find the power and stay in the turbo, so it's great for a bigger guy. It's great for a long track in deeper snow days. I just found, for one, it wasn't a jumper because my setup was a rear mount so I would have to have the lockout rod. I couldn't use the SX suspension in the back. For me, it was more of a deep powder machine. You know, get out there and have some fun and pull some good lines. I wasn't about to go fly off a huge cliff and try to override that thing.
It's tricky because the turbo is more of a high maintenance machine no matter how you look at it. When you have to shift gears all the time it means you have to stay in the meat of the power. If you're pulling a hill with it in the power and your track comes off the ground, it’s going to hit the rev limiter immediately. If it was an auto clutch and you could just put that power to the ground continuously, it would be really good but since you have to kind of tickle the throttle to find the boost when you're shifting gears, it's a little bit more of a machine to figure out. You'll learn that it's just better to sit back and enjoy it and just get in that meat power. It will go everywhere, but if you try to over ride it, you're just going to find the rev limiter and in the long run you could do damage to something if you're running it too hard in that rpm area.
The turbo has also put a huge smile on my face some days. You know, riding with 174 Ski-Doos and stuff. Riding my 137 turbo snowbike and I didn't get stuck in snow that you couldn't even walk ten feet through.
But this year I'm going to do two big bore bikes. The main focus for me is to be able to have a really light, nimble bike for all the weird angles, jumping and downhill descents and everything that I do. There's obviously good placement, good times to ride long tracks and stuff like that, but if I have to choose one bike for what I do, it is going to be the short track kit with a big bored 450 motor.
Basically going from a 450 to a 520, it allowed me to be a gear taller everywhere so I could at maximum pull fourth gear on jumps. I can get into fourth easy and into fifth even when I hit little G-outs when I was carrying speed a stock 450 will kind of fall off the power a little bit and it won't recover it as well. The 520 just gives me that extra little bit. I can just generate more speed coming at stuff, which is just allowing me to be more creative. Then I’m doing jumps at the amplitude of what a sled does.

SBW: What do you find the biggest difference is between the long track kit and the short track kit?

RS: The Timbersled SX 120 kit is just a little bit more nimble. It lands better. You have a ten inch wide track and a ten inch wide ski, so it just handles a little bit better. It just feels more like a dirt bike, so you can just kind of pretend that's what you're on and ride it accordingly. You have to get a little bit smarter on line choice, but when you get onto the long track, you can feel the extra traction. You can be a lot more sloppy on your line choice, because it is way harder to get stuck. I just find if you try to ride it too hard, it can push the ski around a little bit. Really, at the end of the day, for the average guy that doesn't want to jump all the time and they're driving in deep snow, the long track just so predictable that you can just go almost anywhere without caring.

SBW: Have you had any time on like a 300 2-stroke on snow?

RS: Very little, and to me, it's not the right bike for me. I just like the predictability of the big torque on the bottom end of 4-strokes, and that's how I ride it. I just really use my clutch a lot and I just know how to predict that power. I'm just not much of a 2-stroke guy anymore. I got on Randy's 300 on hard packed snow and I had to give it back right away. Had I been in soft snow and stuff, I might have liked it better being able to keep it on the pipe, but not having that bottom end and having lots of traction, it just didn't mate with what I liked. Definitely seen lots of people on them, especially lighter people. If that's your bike, you know, you're definitely going to still enjoy getting out there on it.
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