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Polaris TerrainArmor test ride

 

Polaris has declared war … on flat tires.

The WV 850 H.O. is the world’s first ATV to feature the company’s innovative new non-pneumatic TerrainArmor integrated wheel and tire, which use a flexible plastic web instead of an inflated rubber carcass to support the tread.

No bolt-on accessory, the WV 850 H.O. had to be specifically engineered to work with TerrainArmor and was originally developed for use by U.S. Special Forces, who don’t have a whole lot of time to fix flats and have better things to carry into the field than spare tires.

Polaris says the TerrainArmor tires can be punctured by something as large as a railroad spike, or pierced by a .50 caliber bullet, and keep going for hundreds of miles. In fact, the plastic web can sustain up to 30 percent damage and still work. Even if you get a couple of small holes in the tread, Polaris says there’s no need to replace or repair them.

Aside from some electronic gear, the civilian version of the ATV is identical to the one used by the troops, including its military-spec automatic transmission, power steering and 77 hp 850cc two-cylinder engine. That’s more horses than some cars. (Well, two very small cars: The Smart ForTwo and Mitsubishi Mirage, but still.)

It needs it. Along with a standard 3,000-pound winch, the WV 850 H.O. has steel cargo racks front and rear that can carry a combined 600 pounds, and a tow rating of 1,500 pounds. The entire package tips the scales at a hefty 1,114 pounds.

So it’s more of a pack mule than a thoroughbred, a hardworking, long-distance ATV that you’d have to put in some serious effort to break, but not to learn to drive.

But if you can put out of your mind that something strange is afoot, you’ll be hard-pressed to guess that the WV 850 H.O. is wearing such radical shoes. The basic dynamics of the vehicle are no different from any other ATV. If anything, it’s better. Not so bouncy. The tires are stiffer, but the suspension makes up for it, and they work together perfectly.

I was surprised at how well it went around turns, especially dirt berms. Looking at those slab sides and that thin rim of tread, I expected it to dig in and get a little stuck, but nope. Get on the gas and it’ll powerslide with the best of them.

The web also stayed clear for the few hours I was riding. It doesn’t compress that much – you can stand on one of the tires and it will hardly deflect – and apparently kicks out any debris that gets in there.

According to Polaris, the only surface TerrainArmor is not ideal for is very deep mud, but that’s pretty much true for any tire. It handles regular muck just fine, though, and was great in a deep, rocky stream, where its lack of buoyancy seemed to help with traction. And it cut through the water without the web causing any noticeable resistance.

Polaris dealer John Costa, who runs Rollin’Fast Cycle Sports in Lebanon, N.J., says interest in the vehicle there is coming mostly from commercial users who have a lot flats at work sites and appreciate its hauling ability. The WV 850 H.O I rode was on its way to a customer who clears trails and often has to deal with punctures. Of course, there isn’t a lot of wilderness in Costa’s territory, and it should find more appeal among hunters and outdoor adventurers out west.

But the WV 850 H.O. is plenty fun on a motocross track, too. Despite the weight, it’s quick and handles jumps well – at least the small jumps I’m capable of. It’s an impressive machine overall, but not a cheap one.

The WV 850 H.O. has a starting price of $14,995, making it one of the most expensive ATVs on the market, and replacement wheels run around $1,000 each. But their near invincibility and long life offset some of that cost, and we are talking about early adopter technology here, so the prices will only come down.

As for the future of the wheel of the future, Polaris is feeling out the market with the introduction of the WV 850 H.O., but is already looking at adapting other models to work with TerrainArmor, and it could end up on much larger vehicles, as well.

The technology was invented by a company called Resilient Technologies, which was absorbed by Polaris in 2012. Back then, it was being developed for use on off-road pickups and military Humvees. As an ATV specialist, Polaris isn’t planning on entering those segments, yet, but it is open to the idea if the commercial prospects present themselves.

In the meantime, it appears there is a new superpower in the war on flats. Air pump companies should start working on their contingency plans now, and hope Polaris doesn’t figure out how to make a TerrainArmor basketball.