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July 21, 2009

Snake Eyes: The Viper Story

Part 1

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 sxvlooking 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 enginetwin 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

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18 Responses to “Snake Eyes: The Viper Story”

  1. Low Slung says:

    Cool story,hard to believe the Viper was going to be the last 2-stroke after seeing the bodywork on the race sled in the 2001 X-games on T.V.Wished hard for a SXR yamaha sled that epic, snowy winter.

  2. Scott says:

    I fell into the hype of this sled when it came out. Only new sled I have ever owned. It was a fast sled but Yamaha drove thousands of customers away with the ride of this sled. After changing the seat foam and a set of ohlins, the sled was ridable without a bottle of pills.

    The motor was OK. What was you thinking taking the best parts of an srx and throwing them out to save 12lbs. I built and ran for a couple years a srx/viper. I installed srx pipes, heads and even the stock muffler in my viper with an 01 cdi box and it worked even better than the srxes I had. It got better gas milage than the stock viper ever did for me as well. All this at a cost of 12lbs.
    Don’t get me wrong I still ride yamaha sleds and probly will for a long time but I can change your problems, most cant.
    Great sled, other than the track, seat, shocks, skis, fuel pump, manifold cracks, stator, 80$ rear idlers with non servicable bearing, coul cracking, slides and no rear cooler.

    It did look cool though

    OK Scott… unlike Charlie Brown, I do appreciate a good sarcasm! cheers cr

  3. Brian welter says:

    Ive been waiting to say this for a very, very long time.. The viper was by far the worst riding sled ive ever owned, and i really feel that yamaha did not take care of us the way they should have from the start.. After they forced me to pay to buy a UPDATE kit that should have been a FREE recall kit. it handled so poorly that i was forced to sell it..

    That sled made me think… WHO TEST RIDES THESE SLEDS? who was the one who actually thought that it rode decent enought to put into production.. I spent many a nights barely able to sleep because my back hurt so bad, and my Cat riding buddys were just laughing at me..

    All said and done, it was a great running sled, but it didnt it was way over played and im sure glat i got rid of it the next year after loosing $3000 on it because everyone was dumping those sleds like a hot potato..

    Sorry for the rant,,, but its been a long time coming..

    No problem Brian, closure is a good thing… you have inspired me to include some of the less than flattering details in the remainder of the story. cr

  4. Northener says:

    It’s great to get to know how the Viper came about! Thank’s for telling us the story! This kind of story’s are allways interresting to read…

    The only thing is… It makes me miss my ’02 SRX even more! I knew I should never have sold it!!! The tripple-tripple growl still makes the hair in the back of my neck stand up everytime I hear an SRX drive by!!! What a feeling to pump the throttle of it! The 4-strokes are ok, but will never come close to the feeling of riding an SRX flat-out across a flat lake! Epic is what the last SRX was/is…

    Mark (motorhead) Lester once penned; the music created by the triple, 2-stroke engine is the national anthem of snowmobiles 😉 cr

  5. Ike says:

    Great story about the Viper. Sadly, that sled was the reason Yammie here in north europe still has bad rep about suspension (or the lack of it).

    Great sounding sled with awesome looks, but still a groomed trail riders sleds. Just like the SRX was. The Viper S was better with the Öhlins allaround, but still lacked the big bump perfomance.

    I hope you guys have learned to test the new iroon more before releading them to the public. How did you test the Viper? Any head to head test with other brand sleds? I guess the REV took you too in surprise?

    Ike

    Hey Ike, I’ll try to cover your q’s in the rest of the story, there was a lot going on in the background that may help explain… cheers cr

  6. thumper says:

    i’ll second the poor suspension issue. Yamaha would have had a lot of converts to their sleds if the suspension would have been better and it actually had 130 hp. i have always thought the rear suspension was over engineered and way too heavy, which would have been fine if it rode at least as good as the competition, but it didn’t. too bad yamaha didn’t put A arms on the viper for a couple years. then i would have swiped the rear suspension out for an m-10 and it would have been a perfect sled!

  7. Ryan says:

    It was funny to see what the original Monoshock looked like compared to the later production built model. They 2 are so totally different. On the viper, I always wished they came with tripple pipes from the factory. It almost seamed like going backwards in technology from the SRX. I also wondered why DCS that first appeared on the 2002 SRX was never put into production on the 2002-03 Vipers. All in all it was and still is a great sled.

  8. Rob says:

    Great story! Can’t wait to read part 2. I was thinking of selling my Viper this season but after reading about it in your story I think I may keep her for another season of riding. All the best!

  9. LeeKo says:

    I love my Viper and still have it. But, like all Yamaha snowmobiles you need to tweak the suspension to make them work well. 1st seson I ran Ohlins front shocks and stock rear. It rode horrible in the rear and only realy seemed to work when pushing it, but then it would soemtimes bottom pretty hard. Put Ohlins in the rear and the sled was flat out awesome.

    I remember when the sled came out and I was excited, but dissapointed at the same time. I really thought they would have the race/mono skid in the rear. I also always wondered why Yami didn’t put the unequal length A-arms they had on the race sled on the Viper. Any answers?

    Anyways.. I still love the sled. I did have to do a lot of mods to get it where I wanted it. Boss seat, handlebar riser, Ohlins, Rox sledtreads, Srx motor mount and engine tensioner, Hood straps(hood kept popping out), studs and C&A skis. I always loved the motor, 3 jugs into one pipe is the best sounding motor in snowmobile history.

  10. parepadarappa says:

    I can’t believe what I’m reading here! After making me wait for nearly two years (I don’t know if it’s really been that long, but it sure feels like it) for this story, it’s FINALLY HERE!!! Now that I have read it, I hope there is more to the second part, because this one left me feeling confused. Being the proud owner of both the bitchin’est boondockin’ 01 SXr and an 02 viper, I have to say that these sleds are way more similar than they are different, so who dropped the ball? BTW, my biggest complaint about either of my sleds isn’t the lack of suspension, it’s that it isn’t stiff enough. I I’d much rather have a sled that you need to hold WFO to work, because that’s how you are supposed to ride, right?
    And as for the other guy who mentioned having to do a lot of mods to his sled, that’s part of the fun of sledding, making it YOURS. My 9″ risers and white windshield on the SXr make it stand out for sure.
    And on AC’s plow thing. I’m putting my money on Dumb-A$$.

  11. snoguzzler says:

    I had an 2003 Viper. It was the fastest trail sled I ever owned. Not to mention the best looking. When my wife sold her Venom I switched out her seat with mine and it made a world of difference. Believe me if the trails got rough my back got sore. I’ve told my riding buddies more then once if you could ever be guaranteed on trail conditions I would take the Viper on smooth groomed trails and my Attak on the rougher ones. can’t wait to hear the rest…..

  12. Dan Cochrane says:

    Chris, you have to love sledheads!!! It is the middle of summer, hot weather has finally arived and here we are on the sled blog. Great post and I also look forward to part 2. As a field staff member, we usually don’t get the juicy stories about product development. Keep them coming!

  13. Bryant B. says:

    I love reading about the stories of “behind the scenes”. The parts that the rest of society doesn’t know about (probably never will unless someone, like yourself, writes about them). But what about some of the parts and specifications, are you able to talk about those? For instance, for mechanically inclined individuals it would be nice to try to replicate some of the ‘prototype’ parts that Yamaha attempted (i.e. – the rack steering, the front suspension geometry for better long travel handling, etc.)

  14. Yammerhead says:

    Hey Chris, thanks for the post! I have been up at the lake with limited connectivity, so I missed out on all the action! So the Viper motor really was based on the SRX motor, with a few tweeks. After the home run from the SRX, the Viper had a tough act to follow. Interesting to note the dissapointment of the Yamaha faithful even after all these years…

    I notice nowadays the Viper is either loved or hated depending on the experience of the rider, I plan to stay the middle ground in my detailing of the story, personally I have some pretty fond memories of the Viper riding season (and still harbor some frustrations on the development / maintenance side)… enjoy the lake it’s worth the slow connection! cheers cr

  15. scott says:

    This is a great set of articles! I was never into the Viper but I really enjoy seeing the behind the scenes development and race information.

    Reading through OM58 parts book makes me wish Yamaha offered something similar for the Nytro. I’ve personally inspected one of the prototype front ends that Yamaha has been testing. I wish they would release it as a limited build kit so privateer racers like myself could bolt them onto our sleds. It kind of saddens me to see the race program Yamaha had 10 years ago as opposed to what currently exists.

    Maybe when the economy gets better Yamaha will developed a renewed interest in snowmachine racing?

  16. Kevin says:

    I have read many complaints about the suspensions on the Vipers but I have heard that yamaha makes a reliable sled. So, what should I buy? (under $2,000)

    Can the Viper be a nice sled if I change the shocks and seat? I bought a 96 Ovation at an auction 2 years ago and I did not know what I was buying. That sled beat me bad on trails. I don’t want to ride something like that again.

    Thanks

    The Viper is a great sled and most Yamaha dealers know how to dial in the old Pro-Action skid. The original Viper got a bad rep from being oversprung with too much compression damping, there were updates. No comparison to the Ovation what so ever. cheers cr

  17. luke says:

    I own a 1998 V-Max XTC and a 2003 Viper ER. Here is the deal everyone. Do this and the sled is max-out.
    Remove the start have to remove the engine it’s not fun but can be done, get your clutch alignment correct. Remove the stock exhaust can and put a after market can on it this will free up 10 pounds but with the reverse its a about a wash to a non reverse viper.
    Buy from Hauck Motor sports the clutch kit it is a number 3 kit.
    Buy improved reed over stock they sell them for $159.00, note you don’t need the V-Force reeds just the ones they sell at Hauck for $159.00
    Put all this in and your sled is max-out.
    It will lift your horse power about 7 horse power and it will do very well on the trail.
    Do this for both a V-Max or Viper.
    Suspension yes, you must contiune for about a day of constant cause and effect relationship dial in the rear suspension and it will ride very well.
    Also last but not least skis, buy a set or CA Razor skis and put good carbides in 8 inch is fine.
    This set up will beat the new sleds out of the box on the trail and will be very reliable and you will get about 10.5 miles per gallon riding like a pro racer.
    Good luck.

  18. luke says:

    I own a 1998 V-Max XTC and a 2003 Viper ER. Here is the deal everyone. Do this and the sled is max-out.
    1. Remove the starter motor from down underneath the engine removing it is not fun but can be done, get your clutch alignment correct when reinstalling the engine.
    2. Remove the stock exhaust can and put a after market can on it this will free up 10 pounds but with the reverse its a about a wash to a non reverse viper for weight.
    3. Buy from Hauck Motor sports the clutch kit it is a number 3 kit.
    4. Buy improved carbon fiber reeds from over stock they sell them for $159.00, note you don’t need the V-Force reeds just the ones they sell at Hauck for $159.00
    5. Do all this and your sled is max-out.
    It will lift your horse power about 7 horse power and it will do very well on the trail.
    Do this for both a V-Max or Viper.
    6. Suspension yes, you must continue for about a day of constant cause and effect relationship dial in the rear suspension and it will ride very well.
    7. Also last but not least skis, buy a set of C&A Razor skis and put good carbides in 8 inch is fine.
    This set up cost about $1000.00 it is a very reliable and you will get about 10.5 miles per gallon riding like a pro racer.
    Good luck.


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