Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – As its name suggests, Christini All Wheel Drive Motorcycles specialises in off-road motorcycles with drive to both wheels – but without the weight and complexity of the hydraulic system developed for experimental competition machines by Yamaha and KTM.
Instead, founder Steven Christini perfected a dual shaft-drive system that runs down alongside the fork legs (with long splined sections to allow all the suspension movement you could ask for) to the front hub.
He’s been modifying standard Gas Gas motorcycles – both 300cc two-stroke and 450cc four-stroke singles – to accept this simple (in principle anyway!) system since 2002, and now even offers a street-legal AWD 450 supermotard that is apparently a total blast to ride in the urban jungle, as well as supplying all-terrain, all-wheel drive motorcycles to the US military.
Allen and Natasha Mangum, on the other hand, live in Sandpoint, Idaho, where for almost half the year the snow is too deep to ride a motorcycle. Rather than swap to heavy, clumsy snowmobiles, the Mangums adapted the snowmobiles’ treaded belt technology to create a fixed swingarm with two laydown dampers in tandem and a long, narrow drive belt, and put a simple pivoted ski on the front axle in place of the wheel to create the Timbersled snowbike.
They now supply a ‘fit kit’ that can turn almost any late model off-road bike into a snowbike, including the same Gas Gas models on which the Christini AWD is based.
Can you see where this is going?
Snowbikes are, however, difficult to steer on hard-packed snow and they have no front brakes whatsoever – so Steven Christini set about adapting his dual-shaft front wheel drive system to power a very narrow treaded front belt, which steered well on well-packed surface but sank into loose powder like the proverbial lead balloon.
To provide the necessary flotation, Christini then built a split front ski with the belt running in the middle. To make it steer, the belt has to protrude much further on fresh powder than on hard-packed snow, so the ski mounting had to be easily adjustable – but once that was perfected, Christini was able to ride, steer and stop accurately on any snow surface – and go straight up the face of any ski run!
He called it the Christini II-Track, and it’s now available as a complete machine, or as a kit for your existing Christini AWD motorcycle. It’s not cheap: Christini bikes start at $8395 (R133 000) and a Timbersled rear snow-track setup runs about $5000 (R67 500) so you’re looking at about $14 800 (R200 000) for the complete II-Track.
But what you’re actually getting is two bikes because, when the snow’s gone, you can put the wheels back on (it takes about three hours, apparently, as long as you know enough about spannering to do your own basic maintenance) and tackle the trails on an all-wheel drive motorcycle – just like the US army does.