March 30, 2016
I Didn’t See A Thing
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.