Still feeling the lag from last weeks trip overseas. I had left on the 18th to travel to our test center in Shibetsu, Hokkaido. There was still abundant snow but with temps hovering above 0C the surface was mush and difficult to evaluate on. That said, engineering had prepared a number of interesting ideas for us to sample. I was taken aback by a couple of advanced suspension designs, one could be adapted to just about anything and the other requires a complete re-think of the sled. There were also some engine options that put a smile on my face but more on that later.
I have been coming to this magical facility for close to 30 years where I have seen many hand built prototypes born, with the majority having never made it to production. I have a hunch when you think about Yamaha, you envision advanced technical development centers with state-of-the-art fabrication equipment. 3D printers, laser cutters, robotic welders and a bevvy of engineers n sterile white shop coats, toting around blinking lap-tops. The Shibetsu test center is nothing like this at all.
The shop area is small but well organized and ‘tidy’ for lack of a better word. It can get quite busy there during the peak seasons but for the most part the staff is limited to a handful of visiting engineers from the mother ship and a few local full time employees. Of those there are two guys who specialize in welding and fabricating. They have been there quietly doing there thing during every visit I have made and slowly over the years we have come to know each other as friends, even though they speak no English and my Japanese wont get me much more than a beer and some good sushi.
Haruna-san and Hatori-san are the kind of old school craftsman who can sculpt things out of metal using basic hand tools and a sketch on a cocktail napkin. They have spent countless hours creating machines from simple drawings and ideas, born to give us a taste of what could be, prior to a full on engineering assault. I have seen the beginnings of several snowmobile platforms come from their skilled hands along with various ATV chassis including our side x side vehicles. Yes – they get a lot of direction from the engineering group but they have contributed so much to the DNA of our snowmobiles that I could not let their retirement go unrecognized – not on my watch.
Both men, who happen to be best friends have decided now, in their mid 60’s, to throw in the shop rags and return to their farming roots in retirement. We had a little party for them after our meetings and I was given the honor of saying a few words on behalf of all of us who have enjoyed Yamaha snowmobiles over the last 4 decades. It was a bit of an emotional moment for me as I reflected on how it must feel to say goodbye to 40 years of your life. At the same time I looked upon the room full of bright young engineers, happily enjoying their evening, in celebration of the contributions and accomplishments of these two humble farmers. We are in good hands. Life goes on.
I reviewed the comments that came in on the last post regarding the new sleds and see there are a lot of questions. I’m going to tackle them as best I can.
Mr T. – The new SingleShot skid frame, is very similar to the MonoShock with Mega Float as far as the ride characteristics go. It has better ‘anti-bottoming’ than the coil sprung versions and may be a bit more sensitive to tuning (air-pressure) than the MegaFloat based on the lesser air volume. All in – I think it is very comparable in performance (ride) and offers a significant weight savings both static and in-snow as it clears accumulated snow and ice better.
SnoGuzzler – I don’t have exact fuel data for the Vector with YCCT and fuel consumption is always very condition specific. That said if you select the E-mode there will definitely be a significant reduction in fuel consumption (30%+/-). I have drafted an article on the YCCT for dealer-ed which is currently in circulation for approval. I will post the whole thing here once it gets the green light for those interested in more detail.
Tyler – Short answer – will there be another track option for the M-TX 141 this year? – No. That said, I think you are really on to something. The 1.75 BackCountry is an exceptional track in both performance and durability. I have put over 2000km on one this year on an L-TX mostly on trail and its still perfect. I agree the 2.25 is more off-trail and you will have to consider that when you trail ride with one. I think there is a market for a 1.75BC in both the 141 and the 153 with a 40 inch stance and vertical steering post. This would do well in the east where the trend to true cross-over riding is on the increase.
Rsilk – The internal changes to the Vector motor do not yield any change in its performance or durability. My understanding is the reason for the new parts (crank, rods etc) was due to suppliers and assembly. The engine design has not changed but some components are procured from different sources causing the updates. No big deal. The significant update is realized in the electronic throttle control (YCCT) – D-mode selective mapping and the Trailing Control for smooth operation.
Justin – I do like the 129 R-TX LE. I rode one again last week only this time it had the MPI turbo installed. My own sled this year is the L-TX LE with the 1.75 BC track. I have a lot of carbide on it and it is really hooked up. Bump absorption is excellent and handling is surgical but the steering effort is high. The R-TX I rode had the rail pulled up a bit, even more carbide and less track with the 1.25 Ripsaw (no nails). That said it took the bumps as comfortably which it’s not supposed to do if you listen to all the marketing stuff – Tucker Hibbert I am not – and it handles even more predictably with less effort due to the ‘looser’ rear end, add in the extra horsepower and all it needs is a windshield to be a winner in my stable, (oh and a gas can rack 😉 horsepower comes at a price)
TK – The new VK10 is built in Iwata and is all Yamaha. I had the opportunity to ride this machine last fall in Russia. If you read my post about the trip, that is the real reason I was there. Our friends in Moscow had a lot of input on this sled and they did a great job. Their attention to detail and ability to communicate with our engineers was excellent and when riding the two machines (old and new) back to back there is very little comparison. It is the next generation of pure utility from Yamaha. Note the following example is for educational purposes – do not try this it home:
Anthony – the S-TX 146 has a second fuel tank, located behind the seat. It has 4USg / 15L capacity and is plumbed into the sealed main tank and vents to atmosphere. This causes the fuel to be pulled from the auxiliary tank first before drawing on the main fuel load. I was serious when I said the S-TX146 is a sleeper. The sled seems to do everything really well and only complains if you hammer it in the bumps where the softly sprung front end finds its limit. The guy who buys this sled is not likely going to complain when the trade off is great ride quality, easy steering effort and plush comfort.
Scott – What can I say. We need to sponsor you in next years Iron Dog aboard an 81 Indy Cross Country 340. It may be the only way to cure you of your obsession with Polaris snowmobiles 😉
I depart for Japan next Wednesday for a couple of weeks to talk more about our future. And, you know what? At this point in my career I would not do this to myself if I did not think it was well worth every jet lagged, deep veined thrombosis threatened minute. Guys – thanks for all your questions, comments and support! I appreciate it.