A post caught my eye today on the TY forums. ‘Is it the End for EPS?‘ I was eager to see what was being said on the subject as I’m on record as being a big fan of power steering on snowmobiles. The authors logic was pretty simple – with more and more of our sport sleds coming out of the TRF factory, he wondered if Yamaha has given up on the technology as it’s not integrated into the newest Sidewinders. I was just getting into the discussion when things got a little sideways (re off-topic) as another poster claimed no one inside of the ‘big four’ bother to spend time on consumer forums and if they did, would never do anything about what they read. Really? For the record, the latest trend in corporate social engagement is to have dedicated social media monitoring in place, which can take the form of agencies or internal departments with people and soft-ware focused on what is being brandished about on-line; in related chat rooms and forums. They seldom to never engage but they report to management, anything that may send up a red flag. It’s also my understanding that the motor sports industry is no exception to the rule. Anyway, the convo eventually got back to the pros and cons of EPS which segues well to today’s content.
First let’s review the basics of the EPS system. It is electronic and therefore controlled by the ECU. The ECU itself needs to be designed with EPS as a functional component so this is not a simple add-on. The ECU is responsible for adjusting the amount of steering assist based on speed and operating conditions. It pulls power away as speed increases so it is not (as far as the Yamaha system is concerned) a linear assist. On the mechanical side, the power assist is generally applied to the steering shaft through a worm gear system. What some people don’t understand is this works not only to lower the steering effort, it also isolates a lot of unwanted feedback into the handle bars as the skis bite and break on uneven surfaces. EPS doesn’t just lower the steering effort, it reduces the wrestling match of constantly having to correct for inconsistent traction. End of the day the old elbows have enough left to hoist a couple over a nice dinner without reminding you of the last 400 clicks.
Ideally, EPS is best fitted to a new design but that really wasn’t the case with the Apex and Vector. We found a way to place the unit in existing chassis’ then went about developing the electronics (ECU, wiring harness etc) along with the required shafts and linkage. I am a big believer in EPS on snowmobiles and it seems I am not the only one. I can see ‘gram savers’ rolling their eyeballs and deep snow boon docking is about the last place where I would spend a dime on EPS. That said, I’m willing to bet some of the ‘weight weeny’ naysayers may have cause to pause and reflect given the opportunity to try it in their chosen environment. Where EPS really shines is on the trail. The problem is, you need to live with EPS for a while before you really ‘get it’. Its a bit of a hard sell when the benefit is measured against added weight, added development costs (time included) and a higher retail price tag.
I don’t think EPS is dead by any means. However it will take a bit more time and understanding at various levels before we see it on more models. It would be a really tight squeeze on the current Sidwewinder considering all the additional plumbing it includes and the Viper would need to have a completely new ECU design which is a huge undertaking. It’s a no brainer that chassis updates along with power-trains and suspension are in a constant state of evolution and future designs will see change. Whenever the opportunity is presented you can bet there will be at least one old fart at the table with his hand in the air for EPS.
Quick update, just returned last night from 9 days in Japan. It was our annual AWWM / SWWM meetings where we attended to both ATV/ROV and Snowmobile development in a series of product tests and high level discussions. The journey started in the south at a recreational vehicle park near Osaka. It poured rain on us all day providing a sloppy and challenging circuit to navigate, with no one wanting to be ‘that guy’ to toss away a proto-type. We barely had time to rinse the mud from our eyeballs and we were on a train, bound for Hamamatsu and two days of meetings at factory. Next we were off to the northern island of Hokaido where engineering had prepared some future product and advanced proto ideas for us to savor. The weather was much nicer for the test ride hitting a high around +10C. On the down side, spring conditions are never the greatest to evaluate snowmobiles on. But some features are not snow condition specific so it wasn’t a wash and provided one more chance to ride this year.
Getting caught up in the office this morning, I received an interesting comment from a contact in TRF who explained he was getting a lot of negative feedback on their new Yamaha powered turbo’s. Seem’s someone has determined the Yamaha Sidewinders have a different engine tuning / output than the green versions. It never fails to amaze me how these things can spread like wildfire with nothing tangible to support them. I’ll go on record and say the only thing different in the power side of the green and blue turbo’s is found in the clutching. The ECU programs for fueling / timing etc is consistent model for model. Add to that, I don’t believe anyone has done any head to head comparisons unless some errant magazine got a hold of two similar models at Snowshoot to run off, which again being prototypes at high altitude with non final calibration doesn’t mean squat.
I suppose it’s a good thing for Yamaha to have a bunch of Cat people making claims that we are faster due to special tuning and parts. So regardless of the above mentioned facts, I’ll leave good enough alone.
This post contains no mechanical details on the new sleds. It is simply dedicated to making me feel better.
When we pulled the sheets off the new Sidewinder I read more than one comment to the tune of ‘interesting sled but whats with the name?’ Well ‘supposen I am more qualified to answer this than anyone at Yamaha and at the end of the day, I quite like the name for reasons I am about to explain.
Whenever we decide a new name is required a process referred to internally as a ‘name chase’ ensues. Now you might think it’s easy to come up with a cool handle but trust me – it is not. First we have to pass international trade mark registrations which are open to interpretation and vary from country to country. Yamaha, being very global minded, has a policy that any name we intend to register must be applicable in every country, wherever in the world we do business. Ever wonder how the NA companies seem to be able to share names with other vehicles? There are multiple vehicle types called Frontier, Explorer, Tundra, Commander, Expedition, Crosstrek etc. Well the off-road vehicle makers on this continent aren’t too concerned with snowmobiles infringing on a car trade-mark in southern Italy. They will use a name provided it clears the TM regulations in North America which pretty much say if its not the same kind of product, you can use it.
The way it worked with the Sidewinder started with product planning (in this case me), sending out a ‘name chase’ notification with some background logic and suggestions to stimulate the creative juices of our development team. The logic was simple enough. We have a snake theme opportunity with the SRViper. The path of least resistance: call it the SRViper T or Turbo. Done deal, we already own the SRViper name. But let me digress – what the hell is an SRViper anyway? It was brought forward because we still owned the trade mark from the original 2-stroke SXViper. It required the SR/SX prefix to distinguish it from the four wheeled Vipers sold here and that, we gambled, would not draw too much attention from Detroit, considering the vehicles were quite different in application. This is what the lawyers and courts consider in dispute. If I recall we did get a letter from a European motorcycle company claiming infringement but that went away in a hurry. We considered using SRX but that was never a family of snowmobiles, it stood alone as a top dog muscle sled and remains pure to its roots. Come to think of it, the SRX 120 kids sled name originated from my desk. Anyway, just think of the acronym soup. ‘How do you like my new SRX LTX LE package?’ It’s got the SRV-T front with QS3R, Gen3T’s / RS2 with QS3’s in back. ughhh.
So, anyway, the sled really deserved better distinction than a Viper with a T but worse case we could use it as default. I went to my good friend Google and searched ‘names of snakes’. Couple of hours later I had a list of about ten that might work for a snowmobile. For the record; Asp, Garter and Boa were not on it. I sent the list to the team for feedback and votes which, in due process, we ended up paring down to three. These names were submitted first to our trade mark attorneys in the USA who quickly nuked one. The final two were sent to our planning group in Japan to seek legal approval globally, which can take up to six months. I was actually shocked when Sidewinder came back as available and even more surprised to find we could use it without the need of a pre-fix. It is almost impossible to find a new name these days.
Next step was to justify the name to internal stake-holders with some background so I went about doing research on Sidewinder’s. I checked with Arctic Cat and at the time they intended to keep the ‘9000’ series with no special names, so no conflicts there The Thundercat came along later in what I think is a really good move on their part considering the power we made.
The more I leaned and thought about ‘Sidewinder’ the better I liked it for marketing. The first analogy came from the product plan to build some new models (B-TX) that were well suited for deep snow riding, carving nice sharp turns with the skis pointed at the sky and winding through the back-country – carving the meadows, kinda like a Sidewinder.
Back to Google and another interesting twist (pun intended) emerged. The latest bird in the F-16 family of fighter jets is the F-16 ‘Viper’, a state of the art, mach 2 plus aircraft. It is often outfitted and deployed with the most advanced infrared tracking air-to air and air-to -land missile in the world, the AIM 9X ‘Sidewinder’. OK so how cool is that? The Viper is used to deliver the Sidewinder, both state of the art, technological marvels that command more than a little respect.
The last analogy was found in the layout of the turbo on the Sidewinder. It is side mounted and the vanes of the compressor and turbine can be described as winding up to create boost – ok, its a bit of a stretch but it does work. It’s a long story to justify a simple comment but considering the number of models and what this new engine represents to our company, securing the Sidewinder handle was a bit of a coup IMHO and one that I believe will grow on people in time. Thinking about it creatively, between jets, missiles, fire breathing turbos and venomous snakes, there is potential for some wild and crazy artwork here…
I’m off to the airport in the morning for a grand tour of the Islands. In case you missed it, Amsnow got the hole-shot and has published an interesting article on the Sidewinder’s bite. I only point it out because its all over the web and Sled Talkers should be in the loop. I wasn’t there and have no comment on their findings but I will say my jaw is getting sore from the spit eating grin I’m sporting. Thinking I’m ‘due’ for a large ‘hoody’ with a tracked ‘missile’ on the chest.
Thinking now is a good time to address some of the questions I have been getting on the Sidewinder and also elaborate a bit on our new 2-stroke – The VK540V.
Steve inquired this morning about SRS gearing so here is what I have (insert disclaimer – ‘specifications subject to change’). RT and LT 129 / 137 inch track, XT and BT 141 x 1.6 /153 x 1.75 all use 9T drivers with 21/41 gear ratios. XT and BT x 2.25 Power Claw uses 8 tooth drivers with 24/50 cogs and the MT uses 7 tooth driver with 21/49 gears.
I’ll save you the math and give theoretical tops speeds for these ratio formulas: 21/41 9T = 120mph / 24/50 8T = 105mph and 21/49 7T = 82mph.
The new YSRC roller secondary increases the overdrive to .91 : 1 where the old secondary fully shifted out, offered .98 : 1. this can be added to the top speed equation to explain why we were seeing over 120 mph on the LT version in testing.
Now the chain case has also been questioned – is it the same as the Viper? Yes and no. The chain case received a major redesign for the Viper to meet our QA. The spring loaded tensioner was changed to a fixed bolt adjuster, the jack shaft was changed to accept our secondary, the gear / chain supplier was changed to Borg Warner and various bearings, faces and bits addressed. For the Sidewinder, further upgrades have been made. The top gear material has changed from a powdered metal to forged machine sprockets for additional strength and the chain width is increased to 15 link (plate) from 13 link. We have had no failures during our durability and calibration testing. Zero. I didn’t attend the recent Arctic cat dealer meeting but a little birdie told me a slide was presented that showed some very significant decreases in their warranty costs since 2014. Make of that what you will.
The maximum boost pressure in the system is limited to a conservative 12 lbs. and surprising to me is the fuel range has not suffered significantly compared to Viper. I am waiting for some actual data from testing to elaborate on this before you cry foul, but the general consensus is the consumption throughout all testing combined is significantly less than what I was personally expecting. That’s good news!
I have been asked directly and am still reading speculation on our supply agreement with Arctic Cat and future model development. I met some guys at a watering hole on the weekend that told me we are done building snowmobiles as of 2019. Only one word to say to that. WRONG. There is a big ‘meeting of the minds’ this week between Cat and Yamaha top management and a few of us are heading to the airport Saturday to attend another series of meetings in Japan. Our product plan is already extended well beyond 2019 with plenty of blue and green dots on the matrix.
And now for a quick break. I spotted this very impressive edit by Rick Dobson shot at Snowshoot. The filming, riding and production are all top shelf.
Getting back to the present, although far from being the ‘belle of the ball’, the new VK540 holds great significance for certain people in certain market areas. The sled went away from North America due to the cost of meeting EPA regulations but lived on as our best selling snowmobile due to high demand for Yamaha quality in the Russian markets. We never gave up on our request to clean up the engine and finally convinced our friends in Moscow that a more efficient motor would also use less fuel, make less smoke and offer greater dependability which are all good things in their market. Combined with the many features that were improved there while in hiatus here, it’s safe to call the VK540V a new model. Here is the background document on the vehicles history and evolution.
Looking at the extended weather forecast in Ontario, I am saddened to kiss this season good-bye. By the time I get back from Japan there will be nothing left. I hear there is lots of snow in Shibetsu so that’ll likely be the last ride of the season for me. I hope you get some more saddle time wherever you are – this year has definitely been one for the books!
I am writing this 24 hours out from the official 2017 snowmobile launch. At this point in time the thread guessing about the new Yamaha sleds on TY has grown steadily, now sitting at 1,861 comments and 224,187 views… holy smoke!
I may be well advised to ‘get a life’ as I believe I have read at least 1,200 of those comments over the past month. Now having squandered the time, I’m pretty happy to say that we have not had any serious ‘leaks’. Of course there are lots of guesses that called for a factory turbo but I haven’t read any that led me to think the author was truly in possession of inside knowledge, so hats of to my colleagues who have managed to keep a lid on this thing. It was no easy task.
UPDATE: I spoke too soon. Last night someone stumbled upon a link to our web-site which was in the process of being loaded with the 2017 information. It was posted on the forums and removed shortly thereafter in an attempt to limit the viral spread. I’m curious how this happened as it certainly wasn’t the ‘hack of the decade’. Instead, from what I can tell, some of the documents were not handled properly by our staff who left them unsecured, just begging for Mr. Google to find. It was not intentional but very well could have been by nature of the non existent security. I’m left with a big WTF and an apology for Tom at TY and our friends in TRF. Oh well, just another log on the fire! ed.
Now, in full anticipation of the fall-out that rains from clouds of conjecture over any new launch. I would like to toss out a few random comments to help with the digestion, knowing full well it will take more than a handful of Tums to pacify some of the forum pundits.
The 998 Turbo project had commenced before the AC joint venture was a handshake. We pitched the project in planning multiple times over the years and YMC finally began official development over three years ago. The new boosted engine is nothing like a traditional ‘add-on’ but you won’t really get it until you have a chance to pull the trigger.
When Arctic bought in, we were able to work much closer with them than on the previous Viper project, which really was a ‘short block’ supply agreement. The Sidewinder is the result of both engineering groups working side by side from the get go. But the Sidewinder will speak volumes to this all on its own.
There is a lot of cyber banter essentially citing ‘turbos are cool but Id rather be blown’… supercharging at sea level is the only way to get pure, instant, response. And for the most part the guys were right – Until now.
Guy Hache – Interview
We (I) hope that the Sidewinder has what it takes to move our 4-cylinder Apex faithful. I know there are some who were hoping for a cross-plane NA R1 engine upgrade in a svelte new carbunobtanium chassis direct from the land of the rising sun. I get it – The Sidewinder may surprise you.
Then there is the camp who are still holding out for a big Y 2-smoke. I tried to snuff this with my post on engine development requiring multiple platforms (SxS, ATV, SMB, Waverunner) with which to share engines. It’s pretty sound business; but then our friends in Valcourt introduce an all new 2-stroke 850 dedicated for snowmobiles, as if to spite my logic. Befuddled; why they would invest all that money to develop an engine with near identical features and performance? After a good head scratch, it’s really pretty obvious. I’ll let you ponder that one.
There is no doubt a hole exists in the industry for an inexpensive, sporty, cool, lightweight, mid-size, entry platform. Many folks have described their vision of same in the forum conversations along with ownership intent if it becomes available. Regardless – the Sidewinder is the ‘antithesis’ to such a sled. It is far more machine than anyone ‘needs’, which is an entirely moot point. For a true motor-head, one good pull leaves you in a dizzy state of ‘want’ and desire.
To give you some idea on what went into our new engine, here’s a document I put together last summer. This ‘Communications Platform’ is the basis for a lot of our marketing and dealer education material. It came as a result of interviews with key engineers on the project and many hours of research and internal discussions.
I haven’t seen final pricing yet so I’m guessing when I say the price of admission will be a deterrent to some. On the other hand this is truly a flag ship model that commands respect. For those who want the fastest, most sophisticated production snowmobile ever built; it may be time to time take someone special out for a nice romantic dinner! 😉