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.
This is the last loose end on my plate before I pull the pin for the holidays and I wanted to wish you all a Merry Christmas and happy holiday!
I am still digesting my recent trip to Russia. the most familiar experience I had while there, was snowmobiling. The culture, the people and the cuisine were unique and pleasantly wonderful, not at all what I was expecting. It’s too bad the economy there is taking such a hit due to falling price of oil. Clearly they have been making some huge strides in the transition from being state controlled towards free enterprise. Our dealers that I met are justifiably concerned but one cannot help but sense their determination and commitment. This passionate tenacity seems to run deep in the Russian people and is fundamental in the success of the new federation. The potential there remains immense for the motor sports industry and, IMO, will play an influential role in the general future of snowmobile.
I no sooner returned from Moscow, then had to fly down to our R&D facility in Minocqua. actually to be correct, I flew as far as Minneapolis only to have my final flight cancelled due to fog and ended up driving the 5+ hours to get there. I was given the daunting task of presenting the background and technology behind the Yamaha Performance Damper system to four of Arctic Cats top engineers. To make matters more challenging, it had warmed up and rained the day before our meeting which also entailed test riding some Vipers and a special guest model, equipped with PD for them to sample.
The test ride itself was not at all favorable to evaluate a snowmobiles handling potential but everyone was able to feel ‘something’ which was a nice appetizer if nothing else. We need to provide them some sample that they can test on their own. You may be wondering why and your assumption that we would like to introduce the PD to the Viper line would be correct. I am hoping to get it on some limited 2016 models and will be going back down the first week after the holidays to discuss the potential along with a few other items in product planning.
I made it home ok with no more travel duress and finished last week with a visit to the legendary Supertrax / Snowtrax lair where I did an interview with Mark on the PD to air sometime in the new year. Unfortunately the timing and conditions didn’t lend to a ride but after a lengthy lunch spent getting caught up, it was decided I need to get back up there for a follow-up, on-trail session at the first opportunity.
The 2016 model pre-production or PVB (as Arctic refers to them) units are due to roll off the line in early January. These will be used to check final specifications, perform durability tests and then cover various marketing activities. Jon and I plan to be there to follow them through assembly with a couple more sets of critical eye-balls to help insure we have no surprises come production. Right after that we have another test scheduled in MQRD for some advanced projects, then its off to Japan for our product planning kick-off. I’m beginning to think I might be getting too old for all this…
With that peaceful thought – my mind turns to the cabin where my snowmobiles await. I look forward to being disconnected over the holidays and hitting the trails with my kid who has just received her official operators permit that allows her to ride the OFSC trail system this winter. There truly is nothing more important in this life than our loved ones (and that includes your sled). I hope you get to enjoy the holidays with your family and appreciate everything that is good in your life. All the very best to you and yours from all of us here at Yamaha.
Returning home from a ten day visit to Russia. I can’t find the words to describe the experience with any justice but I will say my perceptions of this country prior to being here were far off from the reality of the Russia I now appreciate. This same comment applies to the snowmobiling. Our first day riding saw minus 35c and marginal snow conditions. There are no trails here save for those you leave behind and there are no rules and regulations to abide save those of common sense and survival. We beat the crap out of our sleds yesterday to gain access to some elevation but was well worth the price of admission with a tremendous 360
view of the Urals.
Our hosts made sure we experienced what our Russian customers like to do with their sleds. And we in turn, made the point of the great potential here in the new Russian federation for organized snowmobiling based on establishing a trail system and supporting infrastructure.
Ill organize my pictures and post some more background to this story when I get home and caught up, if you like. Until then… Do Svidaniya
I’m sure you all well aware of the early lake effect snow we have been receiving in the east. What a way to kick off winter, especially following the season we had last year. Snowmobile sales in general are up over last year at this time, for the whole industry. Our numbers are particularly good, some of that is due to late production of our SRV models last fall but interest in the Viper remains strong. The early snowfall in the mid west is also a blessing for our development team. The Minocqua crew have been packing their test course and have got an early start on durability and validation. Considering the amount of work they have ahead of them this year, it is a real bonus.
MQRD not only is responsible for the model testing, they also play a major role in our accessories development. Everything from Tuner skis to Dupont hy-fax have gone through their rigorous development programs. Brings me to another point I’d like to drop in here and yes, it is a bit of a solicitation but sometimes I feel our marketing guys really need the help
The Dupont Hyfax, even though its a little pricey, has proven itself to be an extremely good product with a lot of value. Not only does it improve the lifespan of normal UHMW hyfax dramatically, especially in adverse conditions, it also increases top speed and fuel economy by reducing friction. I am confident to write this having seen so many positive results and comments coming back from the riders who are using the product now for multiple seasons. We have received quite a few requests from our dealers for more application options of the slippery stix and decided to cut some for Skidoo and Polaris rails. Currently we have two versions available, both are cut to 49 inches length and will fit most late model short tracks of MXz / Rev / GSX and IQ / Rush / Indy skid frames. the same T-cut applies to many of the older rails as well. Thinking about it, you probably don’t want to give your competitive brand buddies a good tip to gain more performance but on the other hand, Christmas is coming and its the season to give…
I am packing my bags for an overseas trip departure next week for what I thought would be my first sled ride of the season. Now it looks like this weekend at the cottage is going to require a bunch of trail breaking (and shoveling) with rumors of 18 inches to 2 feet of white stuff on the ground. A bunch of us have to make our way to a club maintained bridge to install a span which is removed during the summer for boating. Generally we would use ATV’s but this year it will be snowmobiles. What a great problem to have! Our club president is planning to host a shore lunch afterwards, featuring buffalo chicken sandwiches. For the record, they are really just regular chicken sandwiches, only with 9 feet of snow on them…
It has been a very busy week with our North American Snowmobile Team Yamaha (aka NASTY) assembled here in Toronto for two full days of meetings and discussion. Our agenda covered a wide variety of topics as each group leader reviewed the issues and progress of their respected projects. This team is comprised of 6 working groups, essentially responsible for service, accessories (sales, marketing and development), product planning, testing and development (R&D), unit sales (dealer development and distibution), unit marketing and communication. Each group is led by a manger selected from the pooled resources of both YMCA and YMUS. Sprinkle in some Japanese ATP’s (assistant to the president) and some VP’s, engineers and YMC guys. This ‘collective’ which also includes some of the key players from each group, is quite unique within the whole Yamaha organization. We definitely are not; ‘business as usual’.
We have been pushing the boundaries of the more traditional processes and common practice of the Yamaha culture to improve our snowmobile business. At the same time, removing the borders between Canada and the USA has proven effective in reducing many redundancies saving us time and money as we become more efficient. The synergy of the group improves with every one of these meetings as we continue to gain traction moving towards our targets. Of course much of our discussion revolves around the work and responsibilities on the Arctic Cat relationship. I spent a lot of time reviewing our development process in detail and communications with my counter-parts in TRF, highlighting the advances made over the past year as we approach the introduction of the MY16 snowmobiles.
On a more personal note, something I find really too coincidental if not altogether ‘freaky’ has emerged between myself and my counterpart in TRF. Mike has been assigned the ‘point person’ for Yamaha at Arctic Cat, he has worked at AC for close to 30 years. He knows the manufacturing side extremely well. I was brought in to work along side our point person from factory (Tony) to assist in the model specifications and communication between the two companies.
The first time I had lunch with Mike, I discovered he was a ‘runner’ and had been competing for may years at a fairly high level (think the big marathons). Those that know me, know I have a great love for cycling and still train to compete in various mountain bike races – Well we clicked – The conversation shifted straight to training programs, heart rate max, threshold and lactic testing, age cats and other miscellaneous parallels between the two disciplines. The other guys at the table were shaking their heads as the two ‘old guys’ went off on a tangent. By the end of the conversation we discovered our ages were within two years (me being the younger for a change) and we even shared the same birthday!
They say as you age, your heart-rate drops a beat per year. Mike has a VO Max HR of 170 bpm, mine is 172. Our lactate balance points are pretty much identical along with our endurance. Basically, all the BS and science aside, we are both in pretty good shape for a couple of 60 something, old farts. Well on my last trip to TRF, Mike was walking me out past the assembly line. I don’t know how we got on the topic, but he informed me he was a musician and had played professionally for 30 years having started way back in the early 70’s. I stopped, looked him in the eye and said ‘drummer’?, he answered ‘yes’, bewildered. I then went on to say I also have a long history in music and had played professionally during the 70’s and 80’s right up until I took the job with Yamaha and my travel schedules prevented me from committing to a band. And what did I play? Yep, drums! Mike spun me around. ‘Come with me!’ and back we went to look at some cool pictures of a much younger, long haired Mike sitting behind a huge Ludwig kit with Joey looking on, grinning and shaking his head at us.
I can’t wait to have a pint with Mike on my next visit and find out what other things I have in common with my ‘brother from another mother’. But think about it, here we are, two guys at the twilight of our careers, working for major sled companies, a result of our passion for the same, born on the same day, built with near identical engines, still competing in highly aerobic sports at a ripe age, sharing a near identical history as musicians, now functioning together as main links responsible for the details of the Yamaha / Cat shared agreement vehicles. I find myself shaking my head when thinking about it.
Friday noon, looking out the window at the falling snow. The calm before the storm as my calendar is rapidly filling up towards Christmas. We have several tests planned starting end of November right up until the week before the holidays. I’m looking forward to seeing how the Viper chassis responds to the addition of Performance Dampers. I will also be joining in with some of the project guys from Cat early in December to sample some new sizzle and I have a ‘bucket lister’ journey to add another new country to my tally of weird and wonderful places to ride snowmobiles kicking off the season.
The only ball in the air is how to divide and conquer a conflicting date and whether or not I’ll need (or can arrange) to fly to Japan for a couple of days mid December.
Something occurred to me while discussing this meetings agenda with our engineers. Most people, regardless of their brand blindness, will agree that Yamaha engines rank amongst the very best in the world. This is especially true regarding durability and reliability and if you consider the QDR relative to the performance, one could argue Yamaha is the best in mass production motosports power – marine, motorcycle, off-road, snow… My epiphany was – we have never tried to explain what we do differently, what steps are taken in engine development, to deliver the balance of performance and reliability that the Yamaha QDR reputation is founded upon. We’ve spoken to it in marketing over the years but the engineering detail has never been really been exposed. I sense an opportunity and an intriguing project at hand.
Case in point is the all new R1 and R1M MotoGP inspired bikes. @200hp / liter of normally aspirated power packing a full warranty along with the duty cycle of a flippin Corolla. The on-board electronics controlling this engine and consequent power delivery is incredible. I have mixed feelings about having a computer control how I ride but considering the performance levels being achieved and so few Valentino Rossi’s buying road legal sport bikes, I get it.
We are seeing more sophisticated electronics being applied to our snowmobiles as well and I see this only increasing as we move forward. Having learned from my past ramblings allow me to say this ‘just for the record’ – I did not say that the new R1 engine will be available in a snowmobile next year, an ATV maybe – but not a sled!