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Archive for October, 2010

October 26, 2010

Ethanol-Exercise-Shootouts

I got an e-mail this morning from an old pal living in So Cal. It had a link to an article in Cycle News featuring Ben Bostrom (Yamaha AMA Superbike pilot). Turns out Ben finished third in a field of 850 riders at the world mountain bike single speed championships in New Zealand. Single speed mtn bikes are really catching on with dedicated classes in cross county and endurance racing. Many incorporate the new large diameter 29 inch wheels but the biggest difference between a geared bike and the single speed is simplicity.

The single speeder doesn’t shift gears going up hill, instead he stands up and hammers, when things point the other way, he doesn’t up-shift to maintain cadence – he spins like a crazed hamster on a cage wheel for more speed. Bostrom, a motor head, besting this field is pretty amazing and speaks volumes of his physical conditioning, which leads me to another bit of information you might find interesting… snowmobilers are athletes!

No kidding, it’s true; burgers, bevy’s and bellies aside, medical studies have proven that sledding qualifies as an intense physical activity with prolonged periods of raised heart-rate requiring upper body strength and endurance. This is important stuff to know. You aren’t going out for a pull with the boys on the weekend, no sirree, you are heading out for an ‘exercise class’. A life enhancing work-out that is sure to increase your productivity, longevity, vitality and overall health. What loving spouse would not want their significant other to regularly partake in such a wonderfully fulfilling activity. Heck this should even justify postponing that bathroom reno in lieu of a new sled.

Here’s the official media release on your new found athleticism: PRESS RELEASE – 3 Motorized Rec Health Benefits.

A topic that is heating up (again) within the industry: the effect of ethanol fuel on motorsports and marine engines. The writing is on the wall and soon we will be running even greater percentages (E-20) alcohol in our sleds. I have been working on a lot of background research on automobile development opposed to motorsports with an eyeball fixed on the impact to fuel and oil. Think about it for a minute. Car marketers have had to address the demand for bragging rites at the pumps since the early eighties. The MPG data hi-way / city is the key to many new car sales. One of the main considerations given to increasing fuel mileage is reducing friction, be it air, ground or mechanically induced impedance.

Oil companies have worked hand in hand with auto engineers to come up with new motors that run on special lightweight oils full of friction reducing modifiers to get the best fuel range. On the other side of the coin we have the EPA sniffing tail pipes and busting new standards to ensure that what little fuel we do put through an engine is burned most efficiently. At the end of the day, all of this science and regulating is a direct result of automobile usage, not snowmobiles, bikes or weed-wackers. But – and this is a biggy – the gas and oil that is readily available to us is brewed only for cars with little or no consideration for the tiny percentage of high performance, specialty engines powering our boats, bikes and sleds.

I am convinced that the time has come to re evaluate the benefits of special fuel additives and motor-oils dedicated to motorsports specific applications. I will share some of what I have learned on this subject in another post if you like.

I received another ‘tid-bit’ that should be old news to Ontario snowmobiler’s but might be worth noting if you are planning a visit this winter. The OFSC has placed a guarantee on their early trail permit sales this year. If you buy before Dec 15 and we don’t receive sufficient snowfall ‘in-season’ for good trail riding, they will refund you dough! Buy now and save a few bucks, if the groomers can’t get out just north of town, you get your money back. Not bad.

Jon and I were just laughing about the post I wrote on ‘Reid Between the Lines’. The fact the magazines all exercise varying levels of ‘fairness’ in reporting so as not to upset any of the major players (read advertisers). The reason we were having a chuckle was my suggestion that we do an annual ‘buyers guide blog’ on the magazines. We could do some shoot-out comparisons of the different classes like: editorial horsepower, most article pages displaced by ads in the front half, heaviest cover versus lightest circulation. Maybe get all the publishers together for a weigh-in. First following a five course fiesta (the Supertrax formula) and again after a week of total body cleansing and purging including a round of caffeine enemas (using the BRP template). Don’t worry, it gets worse so I’d better quit now while I still have some friends left in the publishing biz 🙂

Cheers  cr

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Posted @ 2:57 pm in Opinions and Insights,Tech Talk   

October 20, 2010

EPS-HID’s-links

I attended the Toronto Motorsports Show this past weekend and if nothing else it certainly got me to thinking about the upcoming season. We were there with a full corporate booth featuring several unique displays. Jon worked together with Wade and the boys in the States to build us an EPS simulator. My first reaction to the plan – why bother, everyone knows that EPS makes the steering effort easy and you won’t feel the cornering accuracy or isolation from the trail junk without a real ride – in short it’s just a gimmick. Boy was I wrong!

I watched the faces on several customers light up when they turned the Apex bars,  key- on / key-off. ‘Holy (expletive goes here), is that ever cool…’ Marty and Don from Snowmobiler TV set up their camera to catch a current Apex owner trying it out. His reaction was one of astonishment… next came his wife who smiled and  gave ‘the nod’. Grinning, he promptly informed me he had just received formal permission to trade up. Nice!

The other simulator which got plenty of attention featured our new HID headlight set-up. They were blinding even when surrounded by all the other bright lights in our booth. Take this one for whats it worth but after using the HIDs on my Apex towards the end of last season, I will not own another sled without adding them as an upgrade, they work that well. If you do a lot of night riding you owe it to yourself to check these out, ‘nough said.

So I started my day by surfing the forums, looking for any chatter resulting from the show. It was pretty quiet actually but I did stumble upon a couple of links which I thought I would share. First the STV guys have a cool interview with Blair Morgan on the ‘Go Riding’ site. It’s great to see him back in the saddle and hear his positive take on his life at present. There is another link to their blog where I found a cool video of the Miss Teen Canada contestants learning to ride ATV’s at Horseshoe Riding Adventures under the tutelage of Clinton Smout. I know this is Sled Talk but it’s always fun to see ‘newbies’ reactions when discovering motorsports, especially the young lady suffering from visual impairment. Good on you Clinton!

Over on Totallyamaha, the first post I spotted was Yamaha owners discussing the best way to polish their sleds as they prepare for the winter, yeah I know, there are lots of more technical things being discussed but it did cross my mind that having the top thread of the day focused on polishing instead of engine rebuilding wasn’t a bad thing.

I was checking out the magazine web-sites thinking their might be a reaction to what I wrote last week on ‘reading between the lines’. Instead I found a solid video review on the Apex by Supertrax. Mark is not one to sugar coat his comments (trust me on that!) so this one made me sit up and take notes. Then there was a short in the Read Valve column of Supertrax mag talking about the new PUSH turbo kit for the Nytro MTX. The author was quick to point out the press release didn’t mention availability in Canada.

I’ll confirm this by saying we are not going to distribute the PUSH turbo here this season. The reason being, is simple enough. The North American distributor for MCXpress turbo kits is located in British Columbia and has done an excellent job of marketing a similar low-boost product in Canada. They have a well established network of dealers who have pre-ordered kits and are currently selling and servicing them. This is not the same case in the USA and the potential for the PUSH system entering the mountain market there is quite good. From what I have seen and heard the PUSH turbo is a reliable, easily installed system that meets Yamaha quality standards and you can bet we will be watching this new introduction very closely.

Cheers cr

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Posted @ 2:47 pm in Accessory Stuff,Tech Talk   

October 13, 2010

Magazine critique

I picked up a new snowmobile magazine last week and performed my typical scan. First, I read the fine print on the cover and contents then quickly flipped through the pages scoping the ads and photos. Next I went back to read any tests or comments on our new stuff (Yamaha specific) and the bottom line blurbs on the competition. Once satisfied that there was nothing worth ranting about to our marketing guys, I started reading the stuff of personal interest. I generally find the editorial and ‘readers write’ columns entertaining and I never ignore the technical how-to’s, why-for’s and other tuning related stuff. Goes without saying I am always watchful for the mention of Yamaha (too many years in marketing) which is probably why today’s topic struck me as it did.

It’s not really about what a magazine intentionally prints so much as what they sometimes don’t, items excluded simply because they probably didn’t occur to the author. Let me explain; my experience with media relations has taught me there are certain lines that seldom get crossed (at least in our industry) for political correctness. For the most part tech articles and tests are reported with a certain check and balance. Yes there are winners and losers in different categories but they are all subjective considering all the great sleds on the market. There is always a choice to fit an individual riders style and conditions. It is never clearly black and white like the corporate marketing gurus would have you believe.

After all the puffing and conclusions found in comparison articles our sleds do hold one strength above the others and that is in our build quality and reliability. Problem is you can’t put QDR on a scale, bolt it to a dyno or line it up on a starting grid in order to create a fuzzy ad or press release claiming ‘we’re number one’. So keeping this in mind I’ll describe what I read (albeit using fewer words and with a note of sarcasm) leading up to this profound revelation:

… snowmobiles with yellow spark plug caps are quite likely to experience mis-firing at at 2000-3000 miles, happens all the time, get over it… certain model snowmobiles with  green oil and coolant lines should be inspected for wear as one will rub and leak and the other will melt and leak either way it’s going to get messy down there…some 600 cylinders (the kind with ports and direct injection) would do well to be replaced with newer ones for numerous reasons none of which pertain to light weight…it appears a very common problem is found with electronic tether switches which will fail connectivity for multiple reasons so break out the sand-paper and pack a hair dryer if it snows…if you own a particular sled with confusing a-arm bolts you gotta check to make sure they aren’t installed backwards, hey there’s a Monday in every week…some stealthy looking hoods have production specs with over an inch of variance causing some to bulge and not latch properly but it could also just be the air box pushing on it so you better check the bulge and make sure you are fastened up properly before going out with your friends…another warning to perform frequent maintenance and cleaning of the clutches especially on ‘big-twins’ because ‘they are hard on them’, some with fixed arms and swinging rollers were even cited for gumming up before the break-in was complete, makes me wonder how the drive belts are holding up… the final tech tip was, and get this…yellow reconditioned engines for sale when yours goes boom, built by a company who re-build several a day, every day so they are good at it… oh joy!

What I didn’t find in this column were any related tips for a Yamaha, instead there was a nicely placed short article on an RS Vector with the bottom line commenting on how refined, comfortable and reliable it is. There were a couple of interesting comparo’s elsewhere in the book, where the big power and unique torque curve of the new Apex is described using the actual dyno charts but off-set with a comment on the horsepower to weight ratio, and the reliability of our 4-stroke engines was applauded but offset with a comment on the higher than average retail price. As I said above all nicely balanced so as not to show any clear favoritism and that’s fair.

Please understand, I am not dissing the magazine (in fact it ranks in my mind as one of the top two sled publications).  I was simply struck by the thought if you read the words as I do, knowing that the author is being very mindful of the companies represented within their pages (balanced) then look between the lines for what is not being said, you may discover some interesting facts that do cross the line of vetted correctness…  cheers cr

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Posted @ 9:27 am in Opinions and Insights   

October 6, 2010

Suspension Engineer Ron R

I had a surprise phone call from an old friend this past summer which I thought would provide a good blog post.

Every year the IZOD Indy car series comes to town, taking over the streets of Toronto. It was the week prior the big show when I got the call. On the other end was Ron Ruzewski, an engineer I had the pleasure to work with back in the late nineties and early years of our 4-stroke development leading up to the Nytro. Ron’s specialty and main contribution to Yamaha snowmobiles, is found in our suspension. He was deeply involved in the front A-arm project development, the leading arm snowcross layout of the Viper open sleds (remember Chris Vincent? Ron was in the race trailer) and much of the mono-shock design. He made a tough decision and amicably left Yamaha for a new challenge before the actual launch of the Nytro.

Driving to work this morning I spotted a Penske rental truck sporting the line ‘dedication at every turn’ on it’s bright yellow, front quarter panel and it got me to thinking about Ron. It was Roger Penske who lured Ron away from our snowmobile division and I had not spoken with him since, not until I got the call.

I remembered the voice immediately, ‘I’m in town for the Indy and was wondering if you would be available to hook up for a couple of pints and a bite?’ Heck yes! We spent a pleasant,  hot summer evening at one of the trendy downtown restaurants talking about snowmobiles, race cars, careers and family. Ron has done very well within the Penske organization. He originally signed on to work under wraps as a suspension designer but this quickly changed when he demonstrated an advanced ability to translate driver feedback and data acquisition programs into effective vehicle set-ups. Check out this ESPN interview with Ron for a little more perspective.

He laughingly told me at one point they were stuck on a suspension design issue and he ‘winged it’ applying something quite radical to the car by falling back on his sled experience, ‘it worked on a snowmobile so why not a race car?’ …and it did.

He is now the chief engineer for the Penske open wheel team (all 3 cars) plus he is the lead engineer for the number 3 car driven by his good friend Helio Castroneves. All glamor aside, he spends half his life away from his wife and two little girls, attending testing sessions, meetings and events where ever he’s required.

I know many of you like to tinker with your sleds, tweaking the suspensions, massaging the drive train trying to get that extra bit of oomph out it. Let me tell you something I learned from Ron, the best tuners in the biz aren’t even close to the level of precision and detail that the winning Penske team has developed. As Ron succinctly put it, his whole world is measured to three decimal points. Practically every part they use is hand-made and in a constant state of testing and refinement in the quest to improve another thousandth of a second.

On the human side he made a comment that impressed me a lot regarding the driver / engineer relationship. Before he and Helio became a team there had to be a deep trust established. Simply put, Ron will make changes to the car after practice, sometimes big changes, then put the car on the start line where Helio must immediately commit to speeds well in excess of 200mph driving on blind faith that it will perform as expected. That first corner must be a real rush 😉

So how does this connect to you and your sled? Well for starters, you can rest assured that much of our current suspension design was brought forward by one of the most progressive and capable minds ever to shine in our industry. And if you come across a ‘magic-spec’ claiming to improve your performance by out-thinking the engineering, you might question the source and look for the compromise, as there most often is one.

But more than the depth of our design it’s about the people working behind the scenes within the snowmobile industry, most of whom share the same passion and excitement that gets you out every frosty opportunity. Ron still likes nothing more than to pull on his helmet and go for a snowmobile ride… come to think of it; me two!

cheers  cr

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Posted @ 8:52 am in Yamaha People and Communication