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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. 😉

SXVfThe 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 waEXSXs 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

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10 Responses to “Viper Story Part 2”

  1. parepadarappa says:

    Part 2 was much better than Part 1, and is really starting to tie things together. The dual beam headlight was the best thing to happen to the SXr BTW, and the dealer presentation almost makes the no-action rear skid look like something really good. I’d like to meet the guy who wrote that because he sure was able to put a hell of a shine on that turd.

    Now be nice it was quite shiny in 1996… it was a slow and painful transformation from top to turd 😉

  2. Northener says:

    Hahaha… I’ll bet you were sweating a bit browsing through the net, searching for pictures of your mono-SXR… LOL

    Great stories, once again! Keep them coming!:)

    that was right about the time the web started to really mess with the traditional marketing of new products, we’ve had more leaks than an old Norton since then…

  3. Yellowknife says:

    wow, awesome article…so many things come to mind. I compare it to a food recipe, or a science experiment…the disappointment when after all that work – you don’t get it right, and the consequences that follow! Very intense. It makes me think of BRP and their engine’s. Maybe they had the same scenario as you guys with a new release but decided to put it out on the market anyway – SDI’s come to mind, not that PowerTEK’s were much more reliable. As for the numbers on sale and satisfaction, you guys were on the cusp on those graphs, and then i’m reminded of BRP’s release of the REV and their move to the top. It tough. You hold a product back because you want it to be better, but you lose all perception of ‘keeping up’ when nothing new comes out. It’s like people need to know there is something coming – they need to know enough about it to wait to purchase, and they need to know it isn’t out yet because it isn’t perfect yet. I certainly prefer that approach to just shoving product out the door that falls apart! The power point was neat – I was picturing myself in a room looking at that with a large crew for the first time. Feels like corporate plans and directions from CBC! Only other thing – I liked those hand warmer knob controls. Bring ’em back! (or at least the heat – which I hear you have for 2010)

    Great article Chris!!

  4. DoktorC says:

    I love to hear about all the behind the scenes development that goes on with these sleds. It gives a lot of perpective on how these aren’t just a handlebar riser and shock package slapped together and then marketed.

    I LOVED all my “no action” sleds…the most fun sled I had was a 136’d SXR that was an ex-snoX sled. There is NOTHING meaner sounding then a 700 red-head with a set of GYT-R (power inc) end dump pipes!

    The Viper, although basically the same chassis was/is so much more refined then the SX/SXR…that is what impresses me the most about those sleds…you could actaully feel the difference.

    More please :).

  5. Low Slung says:

    Lots of drama in this saga,by the way what sled goes by the code name OMP in the OMC worksheet?

    OMP, hits a nerve with me. I was project leader challenged to work with my old friend Karl Ishima to develop a new multi-purpose (utility) snowmobile that would resurrect the Enticer line in a new chassis. The project was terminated around the time of the Viper release due to rising costs and a change management.
    In hindsight had we built it it would still be selling good numbers today and probably be on the books for a 4-stroke replacement… c’est le vie… cr

  6. billey100 says:

    Keep it coming Chris…

    What’s crazy to me is how far things have come in ten years since this sled came out. When looking at all the documents and listening to your story it just doesn’t seem that it was less than ten years ago that that was the hot sled? I hope someone like you keeps up these behind the scenes stories for the current sleds in a few years. It would be cool to know these same details for the FX Nytro and Phaser!

    I have a tale to tell about the Nytro (as well as the Phazer and the RX) I just don’t know how dependable my memory will be in a few more years, at least the sleds will still be running and they have a pill for everything else I’ll need 😉 cheers

  7. Brian welter says:

    Good read.. Very interesting..and funny too.

    Its crazy to think you guys were working on the monoshock suspension way back in 2001 before the viper came out.. IT also brings alot more questions to my mind..

    #1 why did you guys use a strait rate spring in the mono shock verses something that gets progressivly stiffer as it compresses.. (which is something i feel the mono lacks) but companys like Hygear have fixed..?

    #2 We know the viper never got the mono, so how did the viper end up with such a stiff suspension and how(or why) did anyone let it go into production being that stiff?

    Just think.. if the viper had gotton the mono that we have NOW…it would have sold even more sleds the next few years after the first year.. As you can tell, i liked the looks and performance of the sled (even thou it should have had a tripple tripple in it from the factory) but was very dissapointed in the rear suspension and how Yamaha delt with the complaints..

  8. thumper says:

    not to pick but the Exciter SX came out in ’93, so isn’t that more than 3 years? and yes, that was a great sled at the time. yamaha should have released it again for ’94; cause ’94 through ’96 was some bad trail sled years for Yamaha. a hydraulic brake would have been nice on the ’96 XT to help slow that thing down better.

    You are correct Thumper… my bad! The sled that was postponed creating the SX was the original Vmax500, which was targeted for 93 not the Vmax4…just a little brain-fart here 😉 cr

  9. Bob Hogg says:

    Well 2 things…

    The PP shows the skid was purposely designed to have all the weight – push down – at the back. Huh…

    Bob Work said Yamaha Japan had some mono shock sleds testing in the 70’s? Did it start then???

    Talking about handling….

    Keep good notes on the Nytros…should be some interesting info there.

    Can’t wait to read the test reports on the new Nytro handling..if it’s anything close to the front end I saw working at the last sno- x race…yikes…it was the best handling sled there.

    I think the US designer has a two year contract…..can he make it better yet?

  10. Netefrog says:

    Good read, both part one and two. I personally wish Yamaha would have kept going with 2stroke powered snowmobiles. Imagining what could have been is mind boggeling. A direct injected, single piped, high output 800cc 2 stroke triple in the Nytro chassis. Now I’m dreaming, but until then I will keep riding my SRX…

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