When I sat on the seat of the 2009 Polaris Dragon 800 SP I felt giddy. That feeling of child-like playfulness welled up inside me and I knew the minute it got running that I’d be tearing up the trails that afternoon.
Keeping right along with the aggressive looks is the factory-installed race-inspired handlebar with stylish molded-plastic hand guards. This bar is set up on a 13cm riser to help accommodate the constant up-and-down riding style of this machine.
The seat (in the rare event that you use it) is a lightweight freestyle seat which has improved ergonomics for easy stand-up riding. It is shorter and is designed to flow into the newly-designed 43L fuel tank which has been lowered on the frame to bring down the high centre of gravity and stay out of the way of the rider.
Staring back at the rider from under the low 20cm race-inspired windshield is an analog and digital instrument cluster featuring fuel gauge, tachometer, and speedometer. All these features are great for an aggressive rider - if the machine starts.
One problem we had with the 800 was getting it running on a -28 degree morning. After fighting with the rip-cord, we eventually had to drag the machine down and leave it in the sunlight for a few hours, just to get some heat in under the hood. Once this “monster” started up, though, we finally got to play with the power of the 800.
The 154-hp Liberty twin-cylinder engine is a very effective drive system when connected to the P-85 magnesium-case drive. The liquid-cooled Cleanfire Injection motor can be run smoothly on the trail with the confidence that when you punch the throttle, the response will be instant and explosive.
Putting all this power to the snow is the Dragon’s 307cm RipSaw track with its 3-cm paddles. I found that even when traveling at speed, this track would still hook up with the trail and pull away at an incredible rate.
The RipSaw track is wrapped around the sled’s lightweight IQ rear suspension. This rear-end chassis features a high-performance Walker Evans Needle adjustable shock absorber which offers 35cm of rear travel, perfect for soaking up bumps and jumps.
The front suspension is an A-arm style which allows for 25.4cm of ski travel. This range of motion is available thanks to the Walker Evans Needle Piggyback adjustable shock absorbers. High-performance factory-installed shocks make this a mean machine right off the trailer.
So you’ve got an impressive hole shot, but what are you going to do when it’s time to slow the machine down? The Dragon utilizes a Phantom hydraulic LWT disk brake system to curb its power.
I had a moment where that brake really showed its usefulness. One afternoon when my group and I were cruising down the Magpie reservoir just north of Wawa, Ontario, we encountered a fault in the ice where the water level below had dropped, creating a literal “hole” in the ice. I spied the problem coming up and got on that brake hard. Feathering the pressure I brought the machine down from my cruising speed of 80 km/h to 0 in quite a hurry (much to my relief!)
Looking beyond the performance of this speed demon, we get into some of its other attractive features for less aggressive trail riders. The Dragon’s dry weight sits at 216 kg which is not exactly light, but the machine still feels very nimble when you are manoeuvring it in tight trails.
Most of the typical power and touring options are also available, including side rearview mirrors, rear gear rack, a 12-volt DC outlet, and electric start. All these features add weight, so the standard base model Dragon does not feature them.
Getting back to the performance of this machine brings us to one very prominent standard feature. The handlebar “J” hooks are not kidding around on this machine. They extend almost five centimetres below the line of the handlebar. This allows the rider to really lean into turns on the trail or carve powder when you get off the beaten path.
We came across a large field after a particularly blowing snow storm one morning of our test ride. With 2 or 3-metre snow drifts looming before us, we promptly dropped off the trail to put this machine through its paces.
The Dragon 800 has the power to carve the powder with plenty to spare and the IQ suspension really ate up the shock of those jumps and drops we were getting into.
One drawback of the sled’s ergonomics is that if you don’t ride it aggressively, it really has a high centre of gravity. Wearing down near the end of the day, some riders start to lean into turns less and less but you cannot do that on this machine. I found myself up on one ski more than once late in the first day of our ride. I found it was even more prone to tip than its direct competitors.
Riding the Polaris Dragon 800 SP is truly fun because you know there is no terrain on the trail that this machine can’t take, but it was not designed with novice riders in mind.