This week will see us finish up testing unless something drastic happens with the weather. We are doing some validation work on the 2016 mountain sleds as well as some prototype evaluation on the 17’s, somewhere out west. I am spending the week getting ready for meetings down at our Atlanta facilities (Kennesaw GA). It’s our annual season end wind up meeting with snowmobile service, sales, planning and accessories development people. I will need to review the direction for MY17 and out, then take a look in the rear view to see how successful our spring ‘Power Surge’ and the limited ‘LE’ models ended up.
At the same time, our designers are meeting in California to examine the latest sketches for the MY 17 line and critique some new styling cues in the form of a one ton clay snowmobile – this is where you bite your tongue and refrain from any references to the RX1 ;). Jon will be heading out to represent the North American team and I suspect our new design leader from YMC may be in attendence.
I had the chance to meet Dezi Nagaya on my last visit to Japan where he presented us with his background, highlighting some of his accomplishments and sharing his vision for Yamaha going forward. It will be interesting to watch as our new products now in development, undergo styling and design influences under his leadership. It appears to be quite a big deal as the new design group has taken over the main floor of the Yamaha corporate center and Yamaha president Yanagi has clearly vested authority for the project in Mr Nagaya.
To give you a better idea here is a short article on the man. I found another article that made reference to Kieth Richards, stating Dezi’s wardrobe and swagger had an uncanny resemblance.
A funny thing happened to me last week on my way down to visit the boys in TRF. I prefer to fly from YYZ to Winnipeg then drive down across the line opposed to playing pinball through two US cities only to end up driving the same distance from Grand Forks. Anyway, I’m standing at the National car rental desk listening to the gentleman in front of me as he happily accepted the offered upgrade to a new Dodge Charger. My turn, after initialing the 27 ‘X’s declining all the up-charges… ‘and what kind of vehicles do you have today?’
‘Well sir we have a wee Fiat whatever, a cute little Chevy something or other and a new Ford Festival’. ‘Hmmm, would you have anything in men’s? Maybe a Dodge Charger or the like?’ ‘No sir, this is all we have left.’ crap!
I should have realized when I plugged the MP3 player in and was given fifty options to click before it would make any noise, that the Ford Festivity- powered by Microsoft – was the wrong choice. Once out of the parking lot I tried to turn up the tunes and I got a message on the screen that my ‘One Key’ volume limit had been reached. Huh? With ZZ Top barely audible in the back ground, I cruised onto the Perimeter Highway. Now maybe its just me, coming from TO and all, but I find driving in Winnipeg really frustrating. Folks there are apparently entitled to whatever lane they like with no regard to speed or flow and no one seems to give a rats behind. So I try to do a little deke around a couple of dicing locals and the stupid car gives me a little Microsoft chime and informs me, ‘My Key’ maximum speed has been attained. I’m doing 105kph in a 100kph zone and it has signed off, that’s it, that’s all you get.
Pulled off into the nearest Tim’s, dug out the owners manual and conclude that someone has programmed this thing for a 16 year old and given me the dummy key that can’t over-ride the system. Microsoft had taken over control of my car. I called National to voice my extreme displeasure and was politely informed it was what it was, so I angrily abused that little POS as best I could for the rest of my trip and swore I would never rent a blue oval, Microsoft enabled vehicle again. Two hours of driving across prairie back road, not another vehicle in sight, so flat and straight I could watch my dog run away from home for two days… at 105 kph pinned. I’m still mad.
This brings me to this week snowmobile related story. We have just released some new technology that will let a computer run your sled! We call it YCCT with D-Mode and although it is not a first for snowmobile. It is the first to bring this level of sophistication. Now it does beg the questions of ‘whats in this for me’ and ‘why would I want it?’
I wrote the following excerpt for our communication platform at YMC’s request and even though I am an old school guy who prefers the world without traction control and computers overriding my commands, I did come to appreciate some of the benefits through this exercise.
Still in triage at the office but want to share an article I have just received approval on from YMC. I was asked to sit with Sawabuchi San, one of our key engine guys and pick his brain. He had just completed an analysis of the ACE 900. We often do this just to compare what our competitors are doing to our own offerings but very seldom (re: never) do we go public with the information – until now 😉
The main purpose I had in mind when taking on this project was to develop an addendum to our ‘communication platform’ which is the bible of information we use to help educate our dealers and staff. It is a bit wordy but I thought maybe some of you would like to give it a read. The first paragraph is typical marketing cream cheese but it gets into some meat in short order…
It’s a large PDF and I wouldn’t recommend reading on a hand held device but then again, I’m old and half blind.
Still feeling the lag from last weeks trip overseas. I had left on the 18th to travel to our test center in Shibetsu, Hokkaido. There was still abundant snow but with temps hovering above 0C the surface was mush and difficult to evaluate on. That said, engineering had prepared a number of interesting ideas for us to sample. I was taken aback by a couple of advanced suspension designs, one could be adapted to just about anything and the other requires a complete re-think of the sled. There were also some engine options that put a smile on my face but more on that later.
I have been coming to this magical facility for close to 30 years where I have seen many hand built prototypes born, with the majority having never made it to production. I have a hunch when you think about Yamaha, you envision advanced technical development centers with state-of-the-art fabrication equipment. 3D printers, laser cutters, robotic welders and a bevvy of engineers n sterile white shop coats, toting around blinking lap-tops. The Shibetsu test center is nothing like this at all.
The shop area is small but well organized and ‘tidy’ for lack of a better word. It can get quite busy there during the peak seasons but for the most part the staff is limited to a handful of visiting engineers from the mother ship and a few local full time employees. Of those there are two guys who specialize in welding and fabricating. They have been there quietly doing there thing during every visit I have made and slowly over the years we have come to know each other as friends, even though they speak no English and my Japanese wont get me much more than a beer and some good sushi.
Haruna-san and Hatori-san are the kind of old school craftsman who can sculpt things out of metal using basic hand tools and a sketch on a cocktail napkin. They have spent countless hours creating machines from simple drawings and ideas, born to give us a taste of what could be, prior to a full on engineering assault. I have seen the beginnings of several snowmobile platforms come from their skilled hands along with various ATV chassis including our side x side vehicles. Yes – they get a lot of direction from the engineering group but they have contributed so much to the DNA of our snowmobiles that I could not let their retirement go unrecognized – not on my watch.
Both men, who happen to be best friends have decided now, in their mid 60’s, to throw in the shop rags and return to their farming roots in retirement. We had a little party for them after our meetings and I was given the honor of saying a few words on behalf of all of us who have enjoyed Yamaha snowmobiles over the last 4 decades. It was a bit of an emotional moment for me as I reflected on how it must feel to say goodbye to 40 years of your life. At the same time I looked upon the room full of bright young engineers, happily enjoying their evening, in celebration of the contributions and accomplishments of these two humble farmers. We are in good hands. Life goes on.
I reviewed the comments that came in on the last post regarding the new sleds and see there are a lot of questions. I’m going to tackle them as best I can.
Mr T. – The new SingleShot skid frame, is very similar to the MonoShock with Mega Float as far as the ride characteristics go. It has better ‘anti-bottoming’ than the coil sprung versions and may be a bit more sensitive to tuning (air-pressure) than the MegaFloat based on the lesser air volume. All in – I think it is very comparable in performance (ride) and offers a significant weight savings both static and in-snow as it clears accumulated snow and ice better.
SnoGuzzler – I don’t have exact fuel data for the Vector with YCCT and fuel consumption is always very condition specific. That said if you select the E-mode there will definitely be a significant reduction in fuel consumption (30%+/-). I have drafted an article on the YCCT for dealer-ed which is currently in circulation for approval. I will post the whole thing here once it gets the green light for those interested in more detail.
Tyler – Short answer – will there be another track option for the M-TX 141 this year? – No. That said, I think you are really on to something. The 1.75 BackCountry is an exceptional track in both performance and durability. I have put over 2000km on one this year on an L-TX mostly on trail and its still perfect. I agree the 2.25 is more off-trail and you will have to consider that when you trail ride with one. I think there is a market for a 1.75BC in both the 141 and the 153 with a 40 inch stance and vertical steering post. This would do well in the east where the trend to true cross-over riding is on the increase.
Rsilk – The internal changes to the Vector motor do not yield any change in its performance or durability. My understanding is the reason for the new parts (crank, rods etc) was due to suppliers and assembly. The engine design has not changed but some components are procured from different sources causing the updates. No big deal. The significant update is realized in the electronic throttle control (YCCT) – D-mode selective mapping and the Trailing Control for smooth operation.
Justin – I do like the 129 R-TX LE. I rode one again last week only this time it had the MPI turbo installed. My own sled this year is the L-TX LE with the 1.75 BC track. I have a lot of carbide on it and it is really hooked up. Bump absorption is excellent and handling is surgical but the steering effort is high. The R-TX I rode had the rail pulled up a bit, even more carbide and less track with the 1.25 Ripsaw (no nails). That said it took the bumps as comfortably which it’s not supposed to do if you listen to all the marketing stuff – Tucker Hibbert I am not – and it handles even more predictably with less effort due to the ‘looser’ rear end, add in the extra horsepower and all it needs is a windshield to be a winner in my stable, (oh and a gas can rack 😉 horsepower comes at a price)
TK – The new VK10 is built in Iwata and is all Yamaha. I had the opportunity to ride this machine last fall in Russia. If you read my post about the trip, that is the real reason I was there. Our friends in Moscow had a lot of input on this sled and they did a great job. Their attention to detail and ability to communicate with our engineers was excellent and when riding the two machines (old and new) back to back there is very little comparison. It is the next generation of pure utility from Yamaha. Note the following example is for educational purposes – do not try this it home:
Anthony – the S-TX 146 has a second fuel tank, located behind the seat. It has 4USg / 15L capacity and is plumbed into the sealed main tank and vents to atmosphere. This causes the fuel to be pulled from the auxiliary tank first before drawing on the main fuel load. I was serious when I said the S-TX146 is a sleeper. The sled seems to do everything really well and only complains if you hammer it in the bumps where the softly sprung front end finds its limit. The guy who buys this sled is not likely going to complain when the trade off is great ride quality, easy steering effort and plush comfort.
Scott – What can I say. We need to sponsor you in next years Iron Dog aboard an 81 Indy Cross Country 340. It may be the only way to cure you of your obsession with Polaris snowmobiles 😉
I depart for Japan next Wednesday for a couple of weeks to talk more about our future. And, you know what? At this point in my career I would not do this to myself if I did not think it was well worth every jet lagged, deep veined thrombosis threatened minute. Guys – thanks for all your questions, comments and support! I appreciate it.
With the launch of the new 2016 models complete, I’ll focus this post on some of my personal findings and thoughts on the hardware side.
Thinking of the Viper line and what strikes me as notable (in no specific order)… The S-TX models – these two new models were spawned from last years 141 version. The 141, based on the X-TX cross-over had an uncoupled skid frame which favors off-trail, transfer character with some compromise to bump comfort and pitching. The positioning of the S-TX is more a hi-miler, long distance, performance touring ride. Last spring the AC Pantera 7000 came to light exhibiting some excellent features encased in a 2-up package. The Pro-tour chassis with coupled skid frame along with the longer track was adopted to create the new S-TX 146. What struck me immediately when riding this machine was the plush, planted ride at speed. It handles predictably and requires much less effort than one would think. Its a real ‘sleeper’ and I would consider this sled for my own if I had the time to ride the big miles where it would shine. The secondary gas tank increases fuel capacity significantly and the wind protection is excellent. All in, it is a better long distance weapon for the rider looking to put in the big miles.
The S-TX 137 strikes me as more of the ‘adventure bike’ approach, for more mature riders who like to really go the distance. Again the coupled skid but a bit shorter track and front Floats, giving it a bit sportier feel, it retains the same wind protection as the 146 and adds storage in the form of semi hard saddle bags and trunk. We also opted to run the 8-pocket rear bumper that accepts a bunch of good seating and storage options.
The M-TX sleds all got the new narrow stance and a new ski designed to maximize the evolved geometry. The objective was to make the sled more nimble and easier to throw into a carve, hold a side hill and fish-hook back uphill at will. The shape of the new spindles really help this by eliminating drag and controlling the ‘porpoising’ effect, keeping predictability high. The LE’s get the new 3 inch paddle track which I have heard a lot of good things about from our nose bleed crew. We thought it more logical to move last years X-TX LE with the 2.25 inch track to the M-TX family as it is based on the mountain chassis with vertical steering and unique 40 in stance. The M-TX 141 is a good choice for eastern boon dockers.
I quite like the performance and simplicity of the new Fox piggy back coil-over clicker shock. It has only three clicks of adjustment and is easy to turn the big knob with gloves on. The beauty is each click makes a significant change that I could clearly feel, so in application it will be really effective to dial-in to trail conditions without having to think or count clicks. Personally I still prefer a well set up coil spring over air up front for bump compliance, but that’s just me.
These shocks are used on the R-TX SE which brings me to another anomaly. I keep expecting the R-TX LE to rattle my fillings in the stutter bumps but thing is amazingly smooth and, I hesitate to say, comfortable. Jim explained to me that the 129in LE skid has low center shock tension so the bumps go through the front of the rail with the rear end taking most of the hit. Idea being to keep the sled more level in a cross country ‘ competition’ type environment, where riders are not ‘playing’ in the bumps. They need to carry speed and drive through the junk with as little pitching or kick back as possible. Whatever they have done, this sled is impressive. I also rode this model with the Performance Dampers installed and it was my pick of the litter for the day.
Tuner Ski – We have released a new version of the Tuner ski for the SE and LE trail sleds. It’s a bit lighter and shares a common axle, spacers and saddle rubber with the single keel green skis, our supplier can only produce a limited quantity for next season using the current tooling thus the application selection. Performance wise there is no difference between Gen2 and Gen3 models but one thing I have learned is carbide selection is key to any application. All our Tuners come with a basic carbide set. 2-inch inside and smooth bar outside. This combo gives the lightest steering feeling but has a tendency to ‘push’ or under-steer more in the corners. Aggressive riders should consider adding carbide. I have found the 6 inch square host on the inside and 4 inch round bar out is about perfect for my style. The steering requires a bit more effort and I get some lift when I set it hard but the sled carves well and holds the line much better on groomed. We call them ‘Tuners’ for good reason…
SingleShot – new mono shock rear skid-frames on Apex / Vector. This is a completely new rear suspension designed to drop weight and maintain track tension through its stroke. It uses the X-tra volume Fox air shock which is a bit smaller than the Mega-Float it replaces. My butt tells me the skid resists bottoming better than the old mono but may have a small compromise to small bump compliance. I think the air pressure is key and can dial the sled in to whatever you are looking for. The original mono had a tendency to extend in length near mid-stroke which added tension to the track. This energy is released near the end of the suspension stroke as the track tension actually pulled into the skid frame as it released through the tightest point causing a bit of a snap into the shock. The end result amplified the digressive nature of the suspension. I think this is one of the reasons the Mega Float worked so well to control bottoming, it ramps the spring rate up a lot towards the end of the stroke. The new skid addresses this quite nicely. Another limitation of the first mono design was track length, we could not exceed 136 inch but with the new layout we can go well over 144. Some have asked why no tipped rails on the long track mono? That is due to the fact the tipped rails would limit the stroke upon full compression. The straight rail allows maximum travel.
I’ll keep it to this for now as a first installment and see what questions may arise going forward. Our YCCT deserves some explanation as does the new VK10 Pro. Let me know what if you have anything specific to ask on what you see and I’ll do my best to answer.
Reading a comment that came in today from Scott, I was reminded of a post I had written a while back but never published. Not sure why not as it doesn’t read negative to me now, guess I’ll find out soon enough, here you go:
Day three holding down my desk, getting re-familiarized with the office while digging down to the less urgent items buried in the in-basket. I’m staring at my computer screen hoping some brilliant idea will come to mind which I can elaborate upon for you without second guessing myself and weighing the potential ramifications. This used to be pretty easy, sharing old sled development stories , passing along snippets of current events and carefully hinting at what was to be. Now a days, the rear view mirror isn’t providing me much more than a trail of snow dust and peering out the windshield I can only see up the trail a short distance.
I am continually reminded of things I have written, implications of new things to come, which have yet to make production. Some are projects still in the works, some are plans, delayed and some may have simply fallen into the abyss along with all good intent. There are reasons for everything; however explanations are not always possible. The thing that disturbs me most when reminded of past iterations – not realized – is personal and somewhat selfish. It’s a fear for my own credibility, manifest in my desire to defend the integrity of the statement. Problem is, I often can’t without jeopardizing the greater plan . And it’s frustrating.
Its always a bonus and appreciated when one of you rises to my defense with a subjective counter or rebuttal to what some may perceive as a negative viewpoint, thus proving the notion that a credible blog will ‘self police’ without need of censorship. Hence I have published every pertinent comment ever posted here, regardless of how critical the intent appeared. I believe most of you having read my ramblings over the years, understand the best laid plans… well, you know. I truly hope you believe that what I have written here has always been in the spirit of transparency with complete respect for your intelligence and passion for Yamaha snowmobiles. But enough already, fact is, some of what I once thought was clear became opaque with time. It wasn’t my intention to mislead or blow smoke. I won’t revisit any particular examples now that would be pointless. You will just have to sit back with me and watch as the future unfolds knowing I am not all that far in front of you when it comes to my point of view.
Spent the whole long weekend in a battle with the elements. Minus 30 C average temps and many of my ‘seasonal’ neighbours showing up at the lake for family day had me feeling like a cross between a tow truck driver and mobile mechanical service. Gotta love people that run their sleds once or twice a year and don’t touch them otherwise…’it was running great last summer when I started it last’… Spare belt? Uh, no, don’t have one of them. But I pulled the spark plugs out and blew on them. My 800 2 stroke doesn’t have a recoil back-up… Whaaaat?
Weekend before, my old friend Steve Brand dropped by on his SR Viper. He was celebrating his 60th with a ride from his home in Minden ON to Thief River Fall MN to see his son Jeff who is now working for Arctic Cat as an engineer. The original idea had Steve racing the I500 in the vintage (driver) class but that all changed when the race got cancelled due to no snow. Anyway we had a good visit and I rode out with him Sunday morning to point him in the direction of Sudbury. The latest update – Steve is still rolling after a week and a bit, scratching through the farmland south east of TRF. Our crew in Minocqua hosted him for a night and Jim V led him out of town, freshly serviced. I understand the sled was doing pretty good as well.
Today I am once again stuck in Chicago O’hare on my way to Minocqua, delayed flights. SNAFU. The annual ‘joint test’ is scheduled for tomorrow where we get together with far too many people, to ride a representative sampling of the MY 2016 spec sleds. We then do a ceremonial evaluation and round table discussion on the results. It’s a nice ‘feel good’ opportunity for some of the guys but the reality is the work is already done, the specs are decided and it is what it is. Not being negative as I am fully confident that the results will shine. I just don’t have the patience any more for the ‘dance’.
I really want to get out with Jon for a rip on his MPI equipped Turbo Viper. We are distributing a low boost trail version as an accessory and I haven’t been on one since the development phase. MPI had some issues with them in the mountains where they’d drop oil if laid over on the left side. That’s behind us now with an easy update to the plumbing. The next order of business is getting the best clutch and gear specs to take advantage of the extra power. There are lots of good reports coming in including some very positive words from the Supertrax crew who wrung one out for a few days, so I am looking forward to see the results first hand… If I ever get out of this airport!!!! Cheers cr
To paraphrase the big guy on Pawn Stars; “one thing I’ve learned after 30 years in this business is: you never know whats going to walk through that door!”
I had diligently applied myself to writing a comparison article on our Yamaha sled engines for marketing. Several hours invested, produced the first draft. It wasn’t particularly easy trying to make sense of the interview I’d done with a brilliant young engineer. I had to communicate through a translator whose aptitude for the subject matter wasn’t necessarily on par with what was being said. Figured I was well advised to run it by a few of the guys for a proof read and so the email went out with the .pdf files attached to a simple request for input.
What returned was completely off-topic and rapidly evolved into what I could only describe as a ‘love-in’ focused on a pretty amazing series of achievements by an even more amazing man. Nick Keller has been riding the wheels off his 2010 RS Vector GT since the winter of 2009 when he smashed the distance record for 60 days riding just under 20,000 miles. Nick still averages over 200 miles a day and applies much of his spare time to raising funds for the Keller Family Community Foundation to help support the battle against cancer.
Nick’s story has been told over the past few seasons in many of the mainstream snowmobile publications and a quick Google search produces a surprising number of articles. He is still riding the same Vector GT he started with in 2009. I remember being impressed when he hit the 50,000 mile mark a while back but I was completely astonished to learn he is rapidly approaching 100,000 miles. Folks that a big 1 with 5 zeros behind it!!
So here’s the deal. No one in product planning or engineering saw this one coming. The first call to action came through as ‘does anyone know if the odometer has a sixth digit beyond the decimal point?’ The question being, what will happen when the odometer rolls over the 99,999 miles mark. Nick has been dreaming of the day he will see that magic 100K, in all its digital splendor, displayed beneath the speedo. The answer back was not so encouraging. The significance is not lost on us how Nick will feel when the magical moment turns to naught and the odo resets itself to zero zero zero zero zero zero.
I have seen first hand, the talents of some of the members over on TY and I know there are some pretty smart guys that read this blog. Wondering if anyone has any good suggestions on how we could help preserve this ‘trophy gauge’ for Nick. Is there is a ‘hack’ or some way to re program the LCD display to record this feat? What other ways could we capture and preserve the moment? Anyone got anything?
Here’s a little blast from the past, you’ll have to tolerate the little snake oil ad but Meisha is always worth the wait 😉
Sitting in the ANA lounge in Hanaeda on my way home. I have been in the office only three days in the last 2 months and I am ready for a little break! Upon our return from Russia, I was in Thief River Falls then at our R&D facility in Wisconsin. Christmas break then back to TRF, again to WI and direct to Japan. In the process of all this I was afforded the chance to ride some cool sleds some of which were simple experiments designed to answer the ‘what if’s’ of stick this engine in that or put that suspension in this… Really cool stuff that will never be justifiable for production but dam cool nonetheless.
And then there were the meetings. Technical briefings on some new- less than earth shattering but significant – features we are working on. Planning updates with our engineers, then more planning updates with Arctic Cat engineers and lots of what the Japanese refer to as ‘nemawashi’ more commonly referred to as ‘spit-balling’ in our culture.
I am getting to know the Cat team better and really enjoying the time we get to spend together. At one point a couple of weeks ago, we jumped on a mix of sleds and took the long route to Muskie Jacks for a trail burger. Just riding. It was good.
Our meeting in Japan this week held a couple of surprises for us and I’m still contemplating the opportunities that lay on the horizon. One thing is for certain in life and that is; things change.
But now I’m really in need of that little break, a lot of exercise and low calorie food. Time to do laundry, hug my girls and put some miles on the Viper (not necessarily in that order). I hope the conditions are good where you live and your dog doesn’t bark at you when you arrive home… it’s saddle time.