Archive for January, 2009
January 30, 2009
Soucy and G-Force
It has been an interesting week. I drove out to Drummondville Quebec, home of the Soucy Group to meet with their engineers on a couple of projects we are working on. You may not have heard of this company but I guarantee you have experienced one or more of their products at one time or another. They are a major supplier within our industry, building parts for BRP, Polaris and Arctic Cat. The Soucy story is really quite interesting.
The founder, Gilles Soucy an avid snowmobiler, had the vision to purchase much of the tooling and parts for all the old sleds back in the late seventies as most of the original parent companies abandoned the snowmobile business. He started a distribution network for these parts (persoanlly delivering them out of an old school bus) which were still in demand and soon after, entered the manufacturing business to replenish and supplement his new business. His wholesale company, ‘Kimpex’ grew quite large and was later sold-off by Gilles as he shifted his focus to the design and manufacture of OE spec parts.
His venture readily expanded with the award of many OE contracts starting with Skidoo and branching out from there. These days the company specializes in metal fabrication, rubber track and UHMW / plastic products. I had the chance to do a full factory tour and was truly amazed at some of what I saw being produced. The rubber division is making track systems for most of the commercial and agri applications (such as groomers, tractors, combines etc…) and more impressive- secretive military stuff.
I have met Gilles several times over the years (unfortunately he was in Florida on this particular visit). He is a very intelligent and engaging man. One thing is clear when visiting his modern conglomorate, he has somehow preserved the essence of a grass roots ‘mom and pop’ family run operation. It’s reflected in all his employees and it’s not uncommon to see Gilles himself wandering the factories floors, speaking to his people, still an active part in the day to day business. I find there is something very ‘human’ about this big company which leads me to my next visit.
A couple of hours to the south and west of Soucy lies a quaint little town called Coaticook nestled in the hills close to the US Vermont / NH border. I made a point to visit here while in ‘the hood’ because this is the home of G-Force and the worlds fastest snowmobile. Gilles Gagne and the staff at Gagne Lessard Yamaha, the local dealership and parent to G Force, have something truly amazing going on in the back of their shop. I have had the fortune (sometimes misfortune) of visiting / working with many different performance tuners and modification gurus over the years. I have learned to never take the performance gain claims at face value without asking a few questions and perhaps performing my own validation. I’ve seen enough to know when something is not transparent or too good to be true and I also know when someone is doing it right and is worth a second look. I can tell you one thing for sure, G-Force is the ‘real deal’. Gilles himself is brilliant and he has surrounded himself with a team who reflect his passion, ethic and vision.
I am thinking G-Force is one of the performance industries best kept secrets but if Gilles dream becomes true this is all about to change. I am going to write a detailed report of what I saw in his back room and include a bunch of interesting pictures of some of the mods including his world record (210mph) slipstreamer. He also has developed some special parts to help dial in the Nytro for improved groomed trail riding and is working on some easy and effective (affordable) bolt on horsepower for Yamaha 4-strokes but more on that later.
I couldn’t help but think of sir Tony and the Worlds Fastest Indian when I had dinner with Gilles. If you have never seen this movie, I highly recommend you rent it, throw a little ‘bean oil’ in a hot fry pan and crack a brew. It is a tribute to all back-yard tuners and motor heads with a dream and the passion to make it real. Gilles Gagne is one of these remarkable guys…
January 22, 2009
Skis – Darting – Carbides
One of the most common product requests we have is, at first blush, a very simple one and one that I hear constantly from friends in the media as well as our dealers. When is Yamaha going to change the ski’s to something newer?
Good question. I will likely raise a couple of eyebrows for trying to address this but I think most of you will understand and appreciate that I am only offering another opinion to the ongoing conversation. Truth be known we have been working on a new ski, off and on for several years… still are. I won’t go into the details but one thing we face at every turn is patent frustrations. There are only so many things you can do to a ski (or carbide) and over the years most have been done and many patents filed. We are splitting hairs to find something that doesn’t come close to someones elses design. Funny thing however, I am not all that convinced we really need one!
Now I better explain that! From a marketing POV we absolutely need a new ski, simply because of all the negative comments I’ve heard and read both in print and on line. From a performance and handling POV, those who have experimented with some of the latest carbide runner designs will most likely concur with the following opinion:
It is not the ski so much as the carbide runner that needs to be addressed.
In fact, our current ski has changed significantly, since its first inception in 1999. It has seen numerous updates and versions. We still have part numbers for the shallow keel (Vmax style) deep keel (ViperS / early RX-1) mid keel (Apex / Vector) saddle type (original), saddle-less (current), wide (TF / VK) and mountain. Within each of those categories there have been tweaks to keel angles as well as axle mounting locations.
Interesting side bar: Jon has been experimenting with our wide ski on his XTX after trying one at a joint test. He pulled the boards off an 09 Venture TF along with a set of piggy back Floats and bolted it all up. Low and behold the steering effort was terrible, making harder to maneuver but the darting is improved. Turns out the sled he rode in the US had VK skis, not TF skis which appear identical, hmmm, upon closer inspection the mounting hole is not the same (ahead of the VK Pro) consequently the TF boards are pulled back towards the snow-flap effectively changing everything. The lesson in this should be applied to any aftermarket or OE ski-swap. Has the chosen ski been developed for and tested on the sled in question? Slap on a set of Pilots designed for a different chassis and weight bias and expectations are what?
Before proceeding, I must drop in a little caveat: ‘Darting’ is characteristic of snowmobiling. All snowmobiles will exhibit darting under certain conditions, it is the nature of the beast when there are many sled tracks in packed snow.
If you are looking to reduce (eliminate) darting, dial in the amount of ‘push’ or under-steer and or improve predictability, these can all be achieved to a large degree by simply changing the carbide runners. You really don’t need to change the ski to make some significant alterations to the ride character. I am not saying you won’t get similar results from a new set of skis (however there are many types and levels) but the runner, IMHO is at the crux of the matter.
There is an interesting ‘poll’ thread on-going over on TY discussing the virtues of two particular carbide designs. I was able to relate as I began my ski experiments a long time ago. I will only go as far back as the first RX-1 deep-keel where I discovered I was not man enough to hang onto the bars of the beast using the stock set-up. That first year I upgraded the sway-bar to a 13 mill with the new links, changed to the mid-keel ski ( a gift from a friend in testing) and hooked up the rear end with a pre-pro RipSaw track, much better, but still ‘darty’, next came thicker host bar, more aggressive carbides, more ski lift…
The following year I moved to the Simmons ski which was working pretty good until I got behind a bunch of REV tracks which btw, seemed strikingly similar to the Simmons… gave them away to Tom and moved back to a mid-keel and duallies… Things got a lot smoother but a small top speed loss and a few missing chips had me thinking. Along comes the Apex (same ski) and more new players in the dual carbide game, tried a couple more designs then stumbled upon a new single skag out of Quebec which came highly recommended from some respected dealer friends (Irwin’s and Markham Mower) The Cobra Head by Qulaipiece offered some quantifiable benefits with its integrated ‘corrector’ (which I first remember seeing in UHMW form coming out of Quebec when everyone had steel skis, to reduce darting fifteen years ago). I have been running these for a couple of seasons until now, which after reading about the Snowtrackers in Supertrax and researching them, I decided to give a set a try. I am going to save my evaluation for another day but I will say I am impressed and quite satisfied with the handling traits. I have not felt any sled track any straighter than what I have experienced so far with these on my Apex. I am using the semi-aggressive Snowtracker but I still need to try the aggressive model for comparison. (many thanks to my friend Richard (Coyote) for hooking me up.)
Another thing that strikes me, the original corrector, (the plastic shim that was affixed to the front of many ski’s to reduce darting), came out of Quebec and currently (IMHO) the best hi-tech single skag carbides all have built in ‘correctors’ and also come out of Quebec. I conclude that the Quebec trail system which is ranked as one of the best in the world, has led the charge of anti-darting accessories as a result of the smooth, fast and snowy conditions which are their norm.Maybe this is just a Canadian thing but I don’t think so, it is just more prevelant on fast, smooth trails.
Most of the trails I have ridden in the mid-west are so tight and bumpy it’s hard to realize the level of darting because there is so much other stuff going on. My point is, not everyone will experience the same level of ‘darting’ based on the local conditions and perhaps the runner will not be so important to the overall handling. That said however I still maintain that any of our performance snowmobiles can benefit from a high-tech runner to some degree and the vast majority of owners do not need to change out the ski to achieve great handling.
I think of carbides much as I do tires. Most OE tires on cars and trucks are cheap versions that eventually get replaced with superior rubber to yield improved traction and handling. Like carbides, stock tires are a wearable part that will do the job but when it comes time to replace, most performance minded drivers will select something more suited to their conditions and preference.
Whenever I am asked what one thing would I recommend to dial in a Yamaha trail sled, assuming a good PDI (including ski alignment, 0-toe and suspension set-up), I always say a new set of carbide runners. Bake the stockers and try something new. It’s not a one size fits all formula, you have to do a little research considering all the conditions under which you ride , overall sled set-up and riding style. I am convinced the right carbide will negate the need for a new ski and enhance your overall experience and satisfaction.
January 14, 2009
I just came in from the trail having spent the morning riding with Mark and AJ from Supertrax along with Crusty and LMV from Ontarioconditions.
This morning as the sun was rising, the temp was hovering at minus 32C (minus 26F for my southern friends) thanks to a passing Alberta Clipper. I believe it was even colder last night when we came in around midnight after some trail recon and sled break-in sessions. – I can hear Yellowknife chuckling to himself as he reads this… those boys think this is T-shirt weather. – Now I know what some of you are thinking, were your hands cold? Yep. Glad I wore my leather mitts and installed the elephant ear deflectors on my Apex… ‘nough said.
The Six Star Snowmobile club have been grooming constantly for days and their trails are purrrfect. Now, with the advent of the cold temps, they are tightening up really good and the folks heading up this weekend will be in for a real treat. I was leading out our group this morning and had the pleasure of virgin, unmarked, groomed, pool-table, for the whole ride. The only time I felt the suspension move was when landing, after taking a bit of air off some of the drops offered up by the rolling terrain.
I was quite pleased when Mark came off our new 2010 xxxx after riding a 2009 and claimed it was immediately quantifiable as a home run. I was on the 2010 mule the night before and also had some good impressions but I was a little concerned that it’s virtues may not be that readily apparent to our guest riders. But when AJ finished his turn with similar comments to support his dads accolades I knew we were OK.
Here’s the first pic of the new 2010 Yamaha to appear on the web
At this point I figure some of you are wondering just what were we riding. Well as much as I’d like to say, I can’t because the information is embargoed until February 10th. You might want to check out the Yamaha web sites on that date to see all the new sleds. If you are interested in our 4 wheeled products we will also have a big announcement on the 10th. And if you need a little back-up power we’ll also be pulling the sheets off a new generator. Feb 10, noon EST. I’ll also drop a post here on Sled Talk with my own insights into the new sled(s) and I may even offer up a comment on what new sled I’ll be riding next year. Jon and I are currently in a Mexican Stand-off regarding my new ride but I’ll figure things out and let you know… 😉 cheers cr
January 6, 2009
Best 4-Stroke – Retirees
It is the magazine ‘Sneak Peek’ season when the manufacturers load up the grease guns and invite the key players of the print world and to some extent, the video and cyber media to top secret locations. Where they will be overwhelmed with new model presentations and hospitality in a quest for the most covers and editorial praise.
I had a chuckle reading the latest Supertrax where Mark and Kent were bantering about the best 4-stroke in their ‘Best in Class’ awards. Mark was reminded by his brother that he had just chosen the new Skidoo 1200 over the 09 Nytro based on a Sneek Peek ride. I’ll quote Kent’s reply to Mark’s comment:
“Very nicely stated Mark. If I were an idiot, I’d almost be convinced your choice was sensible… Here’s a word I didn’t here in your diatribe, ‘Prototype‘. Now after a few miles on a factory prototype Ski-Doo at 10,000 feet, you’re telling us you want to honor it with our coveted BIC award… with the changes to the 09 Nytro – big changes by the way – it’s dialed in to perfection and is the best 4-stroke sled I’ve ridden.”
My point is, the Sneek Peek’s certainly are a valid marketing tool, especially when you can capture an editor with a track record like the ‘Motorhead’ who has a reputation for accuracy and’ telling it like it is’. That’s not to say the new DOO won’t DOO it but I haven’t heard of any with over 50,000 clicks like some of our triples… time will tell.
I remember the spring of 2002 when we pulled the sheets off the original RX1 at the Yamaha Sneek Peek in Wisconsin. That was the same season Ski-Doo introduced the REV and the media had the challenge to decide on their front covers based on what they rode at the ‘Peek’s’ and following Snowshoot press introduction. (ed: for the record, we got the most 😉 )
Greg sent me a cool picture just before Christmas from our 03 model Peek. It made me reflect on a few things including where they all are now.
From right to left: Greg Marier, who before Yamaha was with Scorpion and Cat, has held the posts of managing the original R&D Minnesota facility in Coon Rapids in the 80’s and 90’s, leading product planning for YMUS, then leading marketing and public relations for the snowmobile division to where he currently sits, in charge of the factory race team development.
Beside Greg is Max Aoshima who retired a couple of years ago (but is still hanging around the factory). I first met Max in Alaska during field testing. He is one of the last pioneers of Yamaha snowmobile having worked on the original SL series, played in the hay-day SnoPro era and has had influence on just about every sled we ever produced. He finished up his tenure by taking care of snowmobile testing at our Minocqua facility with Jimmy (hey Cowboy!) Kedinger.
Next to Max is another well known Yamaha engineer, Toshi Yasui who is also a veteran of the snowmobile division, if memory serves me well he was first project leader of the Enticer series then Exciter and for sure he was project leader of Vmax 500/600 back in 92/93. I remember getting quite ‘red’ arguing with Toshi about how the ‘new Vmax500‘ was getting too heavy and the need to put the sleds on a diet. Then there was our TSS discussion, but I won’t go there… Toshi similar to Max is semi-retired and working out of the Tokyo office representing Yamaha with regards to Japan government relations. (Japanese companies are highly government regulated)
Next to Toshi is the father of the RX-1, Takaji (Tim) Nakano. Tim was the project leader for the RX-1 and is now in charge of the snowmobile engineering group. I remember first getting to know Tim as I drove him to Anchorage following a nasty sled crash in Paxson. He was project leader of Vmax4 800, when, on the airstrip at Paxson, he lost vision and flew off the end of the test track into a river. He dislocated his shoulder and bruised his ribs. I was to deliver him to the airplane home. I can still hear his moans from bouncing off the frost heaves cruising down the Denali hiway in an over-sprung Blazer.
Next to Tim is Mike Amano another snowmobile old-timer but more from the product planning side. Funny thing but I remember visiting Mike in a hospital in Asahikawa after he looped an SXR at a very high rate of knots cresting a steep hill up in Shibetsu. Mike is now working within the factories product planning division, governing all products, helping to develop the presentation methodology behind the machine.
Next to Mike is yours truly and I’m still here!
To my right is Ron Ruzewski. Ron is an engineer who came to us with deep roots in CART racing as a suspension guru. It was Ron who designed the A-arm suspension along with Tim and his team. At one point Ron actually had an apartment in Iwata Japan as he integrated into our factory culture. We lost Ron to Penske racing who made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Too bad he’s a good man who loved to ride snowmobiles, I remember trading paint with him on a couple of SRX’s one with the low legs (98 spec) against the less coupled 2000, sorry Ron but I knocked first!
Finally is Stephane Miville from Motoneige Quebec magazine, the official Quebec Federation Publication who assembled our team for the photo-op.
UPDATE; Hot off the press:
New cargo racks for Nytro XTX and Phazer MTX will be available mid January 2009. These racks feature lightweight, durable 5052-H32 Aluminum, with hydro-turf platform for better load stability. Includes exhaust turnout which must be installed with the rack- failure to do so could cause damage to cargo or rack. MSRP 274.95 CDN$
For the record, bloggers: lakercr, Low Slung and snoguzzler are the official winners of my little ABC’s trivia contest… no explanation, just winners! TMDT 😉