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March 21, 2007

You can only have two

There is a nebulous world called marketing, existing somewhere between engineering and sales. In sales there are no limits to a product development strategy, save the almighty dollar. On the other hand, engineering must balance sales demands with what can feasibly be mass produced, while surfing the wave of ever-evolving technology. How marketing deals with the results is another post entirely. A case in point:

In 1992 we were working on our answer to the Indy 500 twin which back then, was the benchmark for industry sales.
We planned to release the Vmax 500 in 1993 hot on the heels of the Vmax4 but had to delay one year (that’s another story!) during which time our friends in Roseau raised the bar with the release of another new sled the XLT consequently moving the market center to 600cc. We needed to counter quickly and the Vmax 600 was hurriedly born from a bored-out version of the 500, problem was it wasn’t a triple and the crank pitch wasn’t intended to feed a 600 (read: transfer volume). I remember attending a meeting in Japan. I suggested we should jump ahead of everyone and build a 700 twin with a new dedicated crank-shaft design using an old duck hunting analogy to describe the logic.
A senior engineer was quick to point out; a 700cc twin cylinder, 2-stroke would not be reliable or efficient. The piston diameter and resulting flame front was simply too great to control combustion given any reasonable amount of compression. It simply could not be done. Within a few months everybody but Yamaha produced a 700 twin, and the game was on. Doh!
So what happened? Was engineering wrong? Simple answer, the rules changed. Technology had pushed the barrier. Digital ignition allowed spark timing to be mapped in 3D, FI was applied and stronger, lighter alloy components combined with advanced engineering; all of a sudden bigger twins became a reality.
Funny thing however, we never did develop one larger than 600cc. hmmmmm.

And so I learned; there is a fine line separating performance from durability and our engineers will not cross it. Not if it means sacrificing the latter. I also learned new technology is always in the offing and for a price, technology will move the line closer to performance.

Now, I’m really big into two wheels. I’m not going to digress into my motorcycle background or my years of competitive bicycling suffice to say I have seen how technology applied to weight reduction and component design can totally lead a sport. It’s all about strength, weight and cost. Here is an interesting formula that may help put in perspective where I am going here.
LIGHT / STRONG / CHEAP… you can pick any two but you cannot have them all.
In cycling we don’t talk about weight reduction in terms of pounds, its grams. The difference between my full suspension XC mountain bike at a svelte 23.5 pounds and a 30+ pound pig of a big box store full suspension rig is about $5000 (please don’t tell my wife!). That’s right, I spent 5 large to drop 7 pounds and change off my bicycle. Why, because I want it to be strong as well as light.

Okay, here we are back at the snowmobile planning meeting, pounding the table over the ‘hot potato’ issue of weight reduction. It’s the one area where 4-strokes have a disadvantage over the modern 2-strokes and the marketing teams know it. Based on today’s technology the two stroke engine will always be lighter than a four stroke engine, period. There I said it. Will it be a hundred pounds lighter? Will it be fifty pounds lighter? No, I doubt it. Actually if you equate the number of cylinders to be equal we wouldn’t even have a topic worthy of discussion.
The rest of the sleds are on equal terms.
Any manufacturer including Yamaha can shave grams off the chassis, drive and suspension. The only real tangible difference is in engine weight.
Weight reductions are realized by analyzing every nut and bolt with every component then applying as much technology as you can afford, to make it lighter. The line between durability and performance is still there. If we take short-cuts, if we step over that line without paying for the technology we gamble on losing reliability.
Could Yamaha build a sub 400 pound / 150hp 4-stroke snowmobile with the reliability you expect from us? ‘Darn Tootin!’. Could we retail it anywhere close to a current models price? Sorry Johnny, that’s not realistic.
Our engineers have made significant inroads reducing weight while balancing cost with reliability and we continue to so. But I for one, do not want to cross the line in the quest to have the best print specifications. Not at your expense.
So there you have it. Light, strong and affordable; you can pick any two you like!

Have you got a comment or another point of view? I would like to hear it. CR

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12 Responses to “You can only have two”

  1. Alain Vmax says:

    Hello Chris,

    WOWWW you wrote it, what everybody was assuming but nobody would confirm. In 1993 I bought a Exciter SX it was a great sled, but had to keep it for many years cause I never liked the VMAX series from 1994 to 1996 and came to the rescue the SX 1997… Also, I love what you said about ”So there you have it. Light, strong and affordable; you can pick any two you like!” but I think Yamaha has pick the right two, cause we do have great sled from our favourite company, YAMAHA. Yes, weight is the name of the battle, but we have a good idea of what happens when you cross the thin line you talk about, we just have to look at what is happening at Bombardier… not a bad sled, but forget about reliability, they cross that line with their Rotax Powertek 800, it is a real piece …. My friend has the name ski-doo printed on his heart but after 8 engines blew in two seasons on a REV 800 Powertek Renegade he was thinking about quitting snowmobiling. On a two years period, with two different sleds (2005 and 2006) he ruined almost every trip that he made with us, and the record of the smallest amount of KM he did with one engine was 25 KM and the engine was done. On the other hand, just think of what Yamaha as offered us in the last few years in engine in the 4 cylinder 1000cc, 3 cylinder 1000cc, the 2 cylinders 500cc and recently the newly born 953cc 3 cylinder which sounds like a real cool motor. All of those are great engines and the reliability is there which most of us are expecting from you guys.
    We, most of us, are snowmobilers and like to ride few hundreds of KM in one day (400 to 600 km), so what we need mostly is reliability because you want to come back home at the end of the day, so that pick from the three is dead on.

    Also on today’s sled if I compare my next years sled (APEX LTX 40th anniversary) with the equivalent in bombardier as REV 1000 SDI Renegade, what is the difference in weight…. 20 or 30 pounds!!!!! I think the size of the driver will have a bigger impact on the overall weight!!!!!!! Also, let’s wait and see what will happens with the REV-XP, if the company has crossed the line with the weight on their chassis…. Time will tell.

    As always, excellent article.

    Alain Vmax

    Alain, you mentioned your Exciter SX, the ‘one year wonder’. Truth be known we had been asking for suspension upgrades and improvements for the infamous Exciter ‘bog’ since the 88 model equipped with the ill-fated Mikuni power-jet carbs. Engineering always said no, but when the new Vmax 500 was postponed, we had nothing new to offer. It was then that one engineer stood up and said we could modify the Exciter II with flat slides and adjustable TSS. Had we only done that in 89! Hindsight is easy. I still have a picture of the EX SX on my wall, it really was a fun sled.
    I am not going to address any of the issues you bring up pertaining to our competition aside from the fact we all have our problems and decisions to make. I wish I could say Yamaha is perfect but we’re not. Todays consumers are much better informed because of the internet and the social media that is available on-line. Crossing the line in this day and age can be very damaging to future sales, where once it would have only been a minor set-back, as you say, “time will tell”. Thanks again cr

  2. George says:

    First off thankyou for this blog site, I feel now we really have a voice at Yamaha and it is up to them if they want to listen or not.
    I totally agree with your thoughts on the performance, weight, and durability at a price issue, the company has to make money! What really bothers me is that what wins on Sunday sells on Monday and after watching Robbie racing this past weekend they could have put the exotic and expensive materials into the race sled to make it competitive. You can tell the design is there, it is just to heavy, you can see this going in to the corners and going through the whoops. The consumer knows that the sled they buy won’t be as light as the race sled, but they will sit up and take notice. It will also make us Yamaha faithful proud.
    Thanks again for listening.

    …Thanks George, There is a lot going on behind the scenes of the Boss Racing Yamaha Team. Our racing manager, Greg Marier is an old friend of mine and I need to get caught up with him after the season to get a better understanding.
    There are two reasons for a factory to go racing. One is marketing, as you said “what wins on Monday” the other is development, to build a better mouse trap. My understanding is; our effort is long term and focussed on the latter. If we win (like in Brainard) it’s a huge bonus, but regardless of the immediate outcome, you are the ultimate winner when the production Nytro benefits from all their efforts. I’ll see if Greg is willing to share the behind the scenes story and will post his comments after the snow melts. cr

  3. Yellowknife says:

    Hey Chris

    Very good write-up. Once again I find you being up front with consumers and getting some facts on the table that most manufacturers would dodge and come up with great political responses for.

    These days we start to find less brand loyalty out there and more riders looking for the sled that best suites their riding style, regardless of the sticker on the side.

    When the Rev platform came out, the bar was set extremely high. I’ve ridden over 24,000 km’s on this platform since its release on their two top X package models, a 600 SDI and an 800 PowerTEK.

    In comes durability. I have a stack of papers next to my computer in a binder that contain every single warranty claim over those 24,000 km’s. One failure that stands out is 4 motors. Yes, 4 motors.

    I run snowmobiles hard, but I don’t abuse them and I maintain them by the book. Our terrain is demanding in that the RPM’s tend to be higher than average riding in the south on groomed trails, and our -40 degree cold starts also have their contribution to wear and tear. But when you are a 10,000 km + per year rider, it is no fun sitting on your rear end for 30 days every time your motor blows after 5000 km’s of riding.

    4 motors isn’t cheap, combine that with 1 completely new rear skid, 3 electric start motors and ring gears, a primary clutch and the list goes on (and on) to accumulate to well over $25,000 in warranty claims, parts and labour. That is no joke. With a warranty that has no mileage limitations I have had more claims than I actually paid for both sleds. Credit is due to BRP in that they have never said no to warrantying my sleds, but there’s only so many times I can stand around for 30 days waiting for back ordered parts to arrive so I can get on the snow again.

    Fast forward to the introduction of the Mountain Lite. A sled that can suit my riding style, but still had key things missing like a hitch and a rack…but everything else was too good to say no to, like the test of the engine.

    Durability? Well, I’m only at 5,100 km’s on it so far this season. I’ve also had a handful of warranty claims so far on non-engine related matters. Bottom line, the Rev was down 28 days so far this year with 20% less mileage on it compared to 14 days that the Phazer has been down so far this year for warranty repairs.

    That’s good, but with 5,100 km’s I’ve got a raft of suggestions to help improve the Mountain Lite so its durability factor can continue to climb.

    Thanks YK must be nice to have winter 10 months a year :-). I feel your pain on the warranty issues even though both makers are taking care of the costs, we can’t give you back the riding time lost.
    I’ll continue pushing for max durability from the Yamaha camp. cr

  4. BR MOORE says:

    Chris, This is a great idea here what you’re doing with Sled Talk! I have a couple things that I want to ask. One being on the subject you are on. Why doesn’t Yamaha give the people the choice of lighter-more money or normal? It cost a lot to be in this sport already, whats a couple more thousand to have the best of everything? Make it Snow Check only orders & see how many people really care about what something cost! Second, Why, and I really mean “WHY”, did Yamaha come out with a sled that is going to be very important to Yamaha’s success in the next few years [Nytro] & not make the 136″ skid available? What are they thinking with a 7 gal fuel tank in a 2008 model sled? In 1990 I can see a bad move like this, but not for a 2008. If this sled gets 20 mpg running hard, it won’t be a issue. I’m real positive it will fall in the 14-16 mpg range & thats not near enough for a real trail rider! Noone wants to start looking for gas in 70 miles. Third & last is the head lights on our Apex-Attaks. They are a big problem for using both the high & low beams. You in no way can aim both to work for you!

    Hey BR that’s more than a couple of things U’R askin ;-)… I touched on the 136 topic earlier we simply ran out of manpower and time to build more variations, one problem, we don’t have a 136inch twin shock skid. Would you accept the monoshock? We are discussing track length options and where we should be looking for the future. Would be good to hear some thoughts on the subject, how long is too long? how deep a lug? what is the best skid choice, what are the expectations and application? % time spent off-trail etc… Factory is always resistant to a ‘limited build’ especially if it would require a lot of time and expense which a really lightweight hi-cost sled would be, it would still need to go through all our testing and QA programs, that said, the new racing program has opened the door, you never know where that is going to take us.
    I have made a couple of responses to the fuel capacity already if you check the posts. We need to see what the real range is in production. I believe we’ll be OK if the pre-pro testing data proves correct. Personally I vote for a bigger tank on all our snowmobiles (made that comment about the very first RX-1) no one says you gotta run them full if you’re in a ‘weight weeny’ situation. Thanks for the questions.. cr

    oops I forgot about the headlight question. I personally brought the comment up earlier this year after trying to find the ‘sweet spot’ on my own Apex. I’m also not really happy with having to remove the panel (4 Zeus fasteners) to get at the adjustment screw. I’ll be sure to remind everyone to consider this in future designs. We are limited by law to 65 watt bulbs so the game is to grind ‘optics’ to maximize the available light, personally I think the SRX was better with a more vertically focussed beam, appears we went more horizontal (wide angle) on the Apex… cr

  5. Bob Hogg says:

    Interesting – one of Yamaha’s top employees’s heavily involved in a sparkplug less sport? I understand you make good use of the exotic equipment.

    A part of Yamaha’s manufacturing ability, not mentioned is geography. I wonder how its remote location affects design and development. We are talking snowmobiles only here.

    We were heavily involved, in Canada only, with Yamaha sleds until the late 70’s. In 81 we went on a no engine sabbatical and came back into the sport in 99 – a terrible return entrance; that fateful evening as some may remember – ahhmmm. This return gave me a different perspective on sleds, as I was not morphed with small changes.

    You might relate it to coming out of an 18 year coma. After the initial shock of the sleds size and weight – they looked pretty much the same. Ski pressure, clutch theory –the works.

    Short Note: Big Bore Cylinders
    The engineer, was probably involved with the motocross 400CC single (or was it 500). The MX race team finally took a file and gouged the side of the piston to give it more lubrication, as it locked up on a regular basis.

    I can remember a Yamaha engineer telling me (many) years ago how they tested and tested, making sure everything was perfect. They would send the sleds to Canada and we would break them and complain about performance– he had no idea how that could be!

    We raced a GPX back when there were about 8 heats to make a final. It’s funny to read the vintage forums about all the unnecessary GPX mods done today. Yamaha engineers designed that sled to win. It almost seems like the designers got it perfect but final production made a few changes on the assembly line. In short, with a few legal changes the STOCK 340 GPX sled was fast enough to easily win 340, top 3 in 340 mod, top 3 in 400. The 440 GPX was equal and won many races for us, but we never found the true core of performance.

    You may remember the Mercury or Thunder Jet of the time. Thanks to localized engineering, the design of those sleds was such that one just raced it and it was fast. The Yamaha required slight changes, not a good thing for the masses. We never tried to improve the engines – they were right!

    I remember my race mechanic telling me of his trail sleds in the 80’s. On one he simply moved a suspension bolt ¾” and it was a brand new feeling sled. On another model (he jets well) he switched pipes from another stock Yamaha sled – and the performance and gas savings were outstanding. NOTE: I just read another reply – the bog in 88? – it wasn’t the carbs, it was the pipe that my mechanic found out.

    OK..this is getting too long, shades of 99. This year, for the first time in my life, we played with a non-Yamaha, a 05 MXZX. You just get this sled and it’s fast for the masses and is dependable. Our 07 season ended the first day so we didn’t get to test much.

    Ok – the MXZX is fast and dependable but it looked to me, like it was built in a garage. Every major part seemed to be an afterthought. There were pieces and spacers and brackets, odd bolt sizes and nuts – nothing really engineered into it. But, it is fast and dependable out of the box. Having input from a mass of people locally and the ability to quick change production, produced a fantastic performance package.

    In closing (yeaaa at last) Yamaha has the stuff and always has. The competition geographically, has the advantage with quick change, small size and better in touch with the right people.

    One more point performance wise, which I am sure, is only a small part of the market. The new race sled. From my experience, the sled should dominate. The first video I saw of it was what I predicted, a 70’ rooster tail. They fixed that and can win when the track conditions come to the sled. They did a good job and worked hard and looked good. They complained about weight, which I don’t believe was the problem. It’s there; they didn’t quite have the depth to find it this year. They will.

    For me – we still have our raced 99 Phazer with the 0.75 track, good clutching, and goes 130K on the dream meter with great mileage. Nice job on a nice sled, but required a slight change – we still have the same belt on it, but carry a spare.

    …Hey Bob! it’s been a long time, thanks for your comments. Buddy I think we’re getting old!!
    On the Exciter pipe we’re both right: the carbs, combined with the pipe (we had to cut 20mm out of the Y-pipe) still resulted in some baahhh at times….I still preferred the butterflies of 87!! cheers cr

  6. jmp2204(totallyamaha/hcs) says:

    chris ,there is some very good reading on here!the weight debate isn’t that big of deal, yamaha has done a tremendous job on these sleds.It’s obviously showing in market share.the quality is second to none and there isn’t much of a debate on that.i think if yamaha puts a major focus on handling, the weight won’t matter much (they will be easier to drive fast)nobody lifts them into trucks anymore do they?they hit a home run with the sx/srx and i believe they are still batting 1000 but i haven’t heard “handles like it’s on rails ” for any of the manufactures since the sx/srx years….i always use to lowered my sled (pogos) so they would handle better……i had an 87 exciter and it worked great(with the oval bores) , the update(yammy spec) porting /y pipe cut really brought it to life and made the 650 indies shy…. I am not really a sno-x fan but i’m glad to see yamaha back into the sport the owned in the phazer/sr-v years (i really miss seeing tim bender dominate the ovals too) …….looking to the future,i have a 7 year old daughter and a 5 year old son and they have a kitty cat (and an 81 et 340) i sure would like yamaha to come out with a 125cc mini nytro….how are the future sledders gonna become brand loyal ?(have you seen what a sno scoot goes for these days) i know it’s likely not a money maker for yammy but it could help them in the future….if our sport lasts.

    Interesting comment. The ‘bump-sled’ trend by virtue of the suspension, has created a taller breed of snowmobile. Engineering has done a lot to compensate, working geometries and lowering / centering mass. I am actually surprised at how well the long travel models do handle considering… but you are right, if trails are groomed pool-table having the sled dropped and handling like a slot car is awesome fun. (what’s ski lift??). The market right now is really being driven by US conditions and requests due to the rough trails (too many sleds not enough trail) and poor snow. Not sure how effective the state grooming is in the south 48 compared to the volunteer driven / user pay systems here in Canada, but listening to the American planning requests, it appears that the bump sled market is far larger than the ‘handles on rails’ groomed trail market. I think this subject deserves a dedicated post, which I’ll attempt in the near future. The kids sled request is always there, it just keeps getting pushed back due to development priorities and resources, (I want one for my 5 -year old too!!) cr

  7. jmp2204 totallyamaha/hcs says:

    thanks for the response Chris .So there may be hope for a mini????? I realize yamaha is entertaining the bump crowd majority and are trying to keep the handling good too(motor placement on the nytro). Precision handling on these bump sleds could make a big difference with some of the nay sayers on weight issues?making tall sleds handle very good may be a good direction for yamaha to go in….imho

  8. bullhead says:

    want a performance 80cc or 125cc two stroker for your jr rider or a sweet pit sled? just hang tight…they are on their way. (as is a larger, much much faster one this fall, but this one isn’t for the kids)

    Stay tuned.

    well now bullhead, you seem to know something I don’t!! suggest you don’t hold your breath…lol

  9. bullhead says:

    I responded yesterday but see it has been moderated to the bermuda triangle….what gives? I am sure it was in error…right?

    Sorry bullhead but your comment was off topic. I understood your first post was in reference to rumored new products forthcoming from Yamaha, not another company. You’re going to have to seek a different forum if you are actually looking to market your own products.
    I certainly welcome any of your input with regards to my posts provided they remain on topic and within our terms of use …cheers cr

  10. bullhead says:

    roger that. and cheers to you.


  11. Wayne says:

    Hey Chris we all want the 136″ but the mono is not good for anyone above 190 pounds, its too soft, ok for groomed trails but if a heavier guy gets it you have to buy a stiffer spring $200 and revalve the shocks. I ride lots of off trail and leaving the ground results in bottoming. Most guys buy the 136 to ride off trail its kinda pointless otherwise. I have an 07 Attak and am trading it in on a Nytro RTX because its too soft. I am 210 lbs. Bring on the dual shock 136 Nytro!!!!

    Thanks Wayne, we hear the request loud and clear. Thinking about it ‘conceptually’ a mono-shock 136 skid in Nytro would be pretty close to the current Vector LTX and if we were ever to put the FI triple into the RS LTX (cough)… it would be too close. SOOO the twin shock, aggressive set-up skid, would make the most sense for an LTX Nytro version.
    The next point, which needs to be confirmed is length and lug height. It may well be that a track longer than 136 may work better, especially off-trail but the only way to know is to build a couple of protos and head for the hills with a box of shock shims, springs and selection of tracks.
    For giggles, Jon and I had Rick at YMP build us a project sled using an Attak, we installed a 144 Venture skid frame with a Ripsaw and turbo-charged it. Guess what? It makes for a great handling trail sled and still maintains the advantages of long track off trail and stutter comfort… stay tuned… cr

  12. Richard Hume says:

    I have a serious bogging issue with my 1991 exciter II. I have changed all the gaskets and seals, I have cleaned both carbs, I have put in two new pistons and rings and I have lent my coils to a firiend to try on his 1991 exciter (they seemed to work fine). The sled will run like crazy for a short while and then all of a sudden it will bog. Usually after you let off the throttle for a few seconds or from take off. The plugs look great when it is running good and I have it leaned out as much as I think it should be. I did notice a small kink in the choke cable and thought maybe this might be a issue but would it run fine at high speeds with the choke stuck on a bit with one carb? I heard that all exciters until 1993 are famous for bogging but mine is definately worst than the two my friend owns. What else could be the issue and could I put carbs off a 1993 onto my machine with out modifying it too much?

    The Exciter II did not have the bogging issue nearly as bad as the 88-90 models. Actually if the enrichener circuit was stuck slightly open the sled would still run great on top. The enrichener is a separate circuit that depends on a high pressure draw which happens when the slides are closed causing a vacuum in the circuit to pull fuel. The system doesn’t work well if you open the throttle which can been seen if you try to start a cold engine with choke on and throttle open… I’d take a real close look at the choke cables first, pull the plungers, clean em, make sure the cable is slick and has at least an 1/8 free play.
    If that doesn’t do it you’ll have to start at the beginning: Fuel / electrical or mechanical. I could write a short manual on how to trouble shoot but not today.
    Make sure the bog isn’t electrical, connect a timing light and watch it carefully when the motor bogs, does the light keep strobing? If not you have an electrical issue, if so, pressure test the engine and dig back into the carbs, make sure the fuel pump diaphragm isn’t split, get out the bend light and start reading your pistons… man I don’t miss the 2-smoke days, best of luck cheers cr

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