July 27, 2009
Viper Story Part 2
Before I start this post I want to thank everyone for your comments on part one, your interest has motivated me to spend a bit more time on this and go into some additional detail, good way to wait for snow, if nothing else. 😉
The time I spent on the mono shocked SXr really opened my eyes to where we were heading. I have to tell you a funny thing that happened to me with it:
I was attending the annual ‘Snow Shoot’ where all the OE ‘s get together with the vertical media to demo ride and hob-knob with all the latest offerings. We were in St. Donat Quebec that year and I had brought my machine, keeping it carefully hidden away from the cameras and inquisitive journalists. One afternoon I snuck away from my duties and headed up the trail into the park (Mt Tremblant) to get some saddle time on the mono-shock. I decided to turnaround at a remote watering hole that was advertising poutine and Labatt 50 (and no I didn’t). I sat down at a table where I could keep and eye on my sled while I warmed up.
As I was waiting for my bill a large group of Americans were walking out (yes you do have an accent 😉 ) and one of them spotted the blue sled off to the side. Next thing I knew, two guys were snappng pictures, one of them laying down with his head in the skid frame. By the time I got outside the hood was open and a group of guys were huddled around. I pulled on my lid as I approached, key in hand. ‘Hey is this your sled?’
… In my best French I responded that I did not understand English, dropped the shroud, pulled the string and took off back to the hotel… I spent the next two weeks searching the web (Totallyamaha and HCS) to see if the photos got posted or linked, luckily, they did not. I most certainly did not want to have to explain how the proto suspension got leaked on my watch…
Prior to St. Donat, I found myself on a jet heading up to Alaska for the OMC joint test in Paxson, where we would evaluate the sled after it’s several weeks of testing and calibration. I was totally prepared to whine about how stiff and heavy the sled felt (assumed) based on my experience with the SXr. I was shocked when I discovered the prototype was a marshmallow. What felt like transfer initially, turned out to be sag and when hitting the bumps it demonstrated bottoming and pitching which I concluded- again based on my SXr mono experience- must have been because I was letting up on the gas trying to time the hits. I remember taking the next run holding the throttle open, standing up and expecting it to eat the abuse. Second bump in and my feet were three feet in the air as I looked down at the headlight. I was flapping like a flag on the end of the handle bars. Luckily I didn’t break anything and returned the sled to Rick (the suspension guy) with out saying a word. I needed to candidly speak to our testing manager Jim Kedinger (whom I always trusted for his honesty and respected his candor), was it me or the OMC? … it flat out sucked!
What followed was not pretty. During the wrap up meeting we were shown the engineering targets for weight, handling , comfort, acceleration, top speed etc., mapped against our evaluations sheets. We had not achieved any of them and when drilling down, clearly we were heading in the wrong direction with only top speed being close to acceptable.
It is always difficult to walk into a situation where a group of people have been working hard on something for months and your position is to confirm what they likely already know, but are hoping is not as bad or apparent to a fresh set of eyes. Jimmy and I put a pretty good dent in the beer cooler that night. Turns out they had tried multiple calibration settings to get OMC in the ball park but nothing seemed to work to get transfer with any kind of acceptable suspension function. Consequently we couldn’t dial in the ride / handling and acceleration was suffering making the new engine appear less powerful than the SX700. There was a lot of frustration and for the second time only in my career, we were faced with postponing the impending release of a new mainstream model.
YMC was most upset with the first failure and the questions soon followed. The suspension calibration tech (an American) returned to Minnesota and quit his job, not sure if it was because of a woman or the mono-shock results, but he was gone like yesterday. We needed some damage control applied to the product plan.
I learned with the Vmax500, which had been postponed from 93 to 94, that the cancellation of new models for the upcoming season opens the door for some ‘bolt-on’ upgrades and maintenance to the existing line. The Exciter SX was a good example, if only we could have built that in 88 and not waited three years. This is something our competitors excel at but I find the Japanese don’t quite get it. The North American builders can slap on some shocks, skis and a handle bar riser during their lunch break and end up spin-marketing the best new machine since the second coming of you know who…
I found this worksheet in my files that was used to spit-ball some thoughts for the continuous SXr models going into 2001 and salvage of the OMC. OMC Worksheet. In the end we grabbed the headlight and a grease zerk then did our best… here is the basic material we used for the 2001 dealer presentations 01 SMB.
Meanwhile it was back to the drawing boards.
…to be continued
Posted @ 1:51 pm in Sled Development
July 21, 2009
Snake Eyes: The Viper Story
This multi-part post is dedicated to Yammerhead, who first called BS on my SRX story titled the “Last Two Smoke’… 😉
The SX Viper, code named OMC started it’s development in 1999 with a target launch for model year 2001. We were looking to fill the void between the SXr and SRX with a highly capable ‘bump-sled’ for the American market which would also offer great agility and handling on our groomed trails.
The SRX had hit us a home run in the top performance field taking on all comers including the T-Cats and emerging big twin 800’s from Skidoo and Polaris. What we needed to do was update the aging SXr with some fresh styling, new suspension and more power with emphasis on the suspension. YMUS research led planning to chase the holy grail of mid-west snowmobiles: the ultimate big bump sled, (something that we always struggle with here in Canada, but more on that later). We proposed the idea of an 800 twin but engineering convinced us a hi-tech triple would yield equal or better power with greater reliability and efficiency. It was around this time that the advanced group was investigating the potential of 4-stroke power and so it was decided to evolve our SRX engine base into a lightweight, single pipe trail burner.
My old pal Masa Saitou was appointed ‘project leader’ for OMC based on the success of his most recent sled, the SRX. Aggressive targets were set for both engine and chassis as engineering began the minus prototype development. Meanwhile the design team at GKDI in California were fast tracking the body and styling. One of the most exciting developments came in the form of an all new rear skid frame that had a large single gas-shock with a floating coupling-point between the two arms. The ‘mono shock’ made its debut on the prototype Viper but would never make it to production on a 2-stroke sled…
Yamaha USA had reentered the snowcross game racing modified SXr’s in the pro open class under the guise of product development (sound familiar?). Gordy Muetz took on the challenge of building and managing the team which was run out of our short lived Minneapolis based snowmobile headquarters with support from Minocqua and factory. Ron Ruzewski (click on ‘Race Team’) was the engineer who designed the new front suspension and chassis working closely with YMC engineers. By the time things were race ready, Ron had come up with a ‘race kit’ which was adaptable to the SXr and pointed squarely at the new SXViper. A small number of these kits were made available to supported race teams. 0u58a suspension
I could not resist the temptation to build my own project sled in 2000 with Ron’s help, based on the SXr with triple ‘Power Inc’ pipes to make the equivalent hp target of the Viper. It incorporated the early mono shock and long travel front end with rack steering and a smattering of other goodies, (roller secondary, tunnel reinforcements and special one-off, Yokohama track to name a few).
It’s important to add this to the story because it has a lot of bearing on what was to come for the Viper. There was a lot to like about my mod sled but one characteristic emerged rapidly in the form of weight transfer (or lack there-of). Chris Vincent was racing a very similar sled in the pro ranks and the shock package we had was about as plush as a fire hydrant. The sled would only work well when held WFO. There was no timing the bumps and blipping the throttle for lift. It was a ‘mash fest’ only- if you lifted at speed you’d auger in- and if you ever watched Vincent muscle his way around a snowcross course you know what I mean. We finally had a true big-bump sled, the question was who the heck would want to ride it like that in the real world.
…to be continued
Posted @ 11:06 am in Sled Development
July 2, 2009
Steve Brand Tek Rider
Yesterday, July 1 ‘Canada Day’, was a good one. It felt to me that Canada as a whole, is showing more pride and patriotism than years past. Perhaps this is somehow related to our resilience to the current global economic downturn, or perhaps a result of some collective realization that we do live in a great, independent country and should be damn proud of it.
Based on this muse, I thought it would be appropriate to remember an old friend in this post. Steve Brand has been involved in motor sports as long as I can remember. He is an avid snowmobiler, dirt bike enthusiast and more recently a ‘wheel chair’ (ATV) pilot spearheading the annual invitational Brando rides held in Haliburton county.
You might not know who Steve is but I bet you are familiar with his acclaimed body amour, Tek Vest . He designed this exclusive product and established his company Tekrider shortly after retiring from a long stint with BRP Skidoo. I first heard of Steve when he was involved with the Canadian ISDT teams back when CanAm was a competitive dirt bike and ATV’s had only three wheels. He went on to resurrect the Skidoo snowcross effort in the early nineties as their factory race team manager before banging heads with someone who was too dull to realize a good thing when he had him…
What many don’t know about Steve– he is also a lieutenant colonel in the Canadian military reserves and currently deployed in Afghanistan. I received this Word Document, update from Steve [ Brand Afgn ] with a few photos included which I thought I would post for download as a tribute and salute of support from the home team, smack dab between Canada Day and Independence Day in the States.
A couple of background notes, Steve is known as V-man these days for his affection towards Yamaha touring sleds which he rides the wheels off, surprising many of his ‘X-man’ pals. He still competes gregariously through his sons Jeff and Kevin who race yellow sleds for Northland Rec on the CSRA circuit. The photo with Steve standing beside the pasty civilian is our Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper (closest thing we have to Obama). Happy July 4th to my American friends and thanks to Steve and all our troops!
‘Keep rockin’ in the free world…’