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December 12, 2011

All Things Must Pass

I was forwarded a call from a northern reporter representing the CBC. He was inquiring as to why Yamaha has discontinued the Bravo. Appears the little sled with the big heart has endeared itself to the people of the north, many of whom are not happy with its demise. So why is it going the way of the Dodo?

The Bravo was the brain child of Karl Ishima who along with his engineer friend Toshi Yasui challenged the daunting task of building a snowmobile that could be retailed in the USA for $999.99. Karl once told me the story (over a few hot sake’s)  how he failed with the Bravo but Toshi went on to capture the flag with the SV80 SnoScoot.

The Bravo replaced the Enticer 250 in 1981, showcasing some new ideas that Karl designed to keep costs down and durability high on the KISS scale. Wherever he could, he reduced the number of parts by having one item perform more than one function. For example, the motor mount plate is bolted to the cases using the same 4 bolts that hold the case halves together. The air-box and steering gate forms one piece to hold the steering column and electrical connector blocks while handling the air-intake and baffle duties. The cylinder and head is cast as one piece, eliminating parts and any chance of a gasket leak.

The sales success of the Bravo defines it as our best seller ever. In its day, the Bravo was available in three different track lengths, standard 96, Transporter 102 and Trapper 136. For years we requested three things in planning for the Bravo; electric start, reverse gear and greater fuel capacity. The latter was the only one we got and that came by creatively when the engineers installed a second ‘saddle tank’ in the storage box area between the drivers legs, adding 4 more liters to the spec.

The writing has been on the wall for the Bravo for a long time. As time passed, first the US then Europe ceased importing the Bravo. Canada was taking all the Bravo’s the factory built to the tune of about 1500 a year at best. There was one point where we lost our supplier of leaf springs and were about to discontinue the BR when Karl stepped in with a solution. Supersede the parts to the Bravo Transporter leaf springs which were a tad  softer and the supplier had a warehouse full after we discontinued the model. note: Only Yamaha would have changed a leaf spring spec due to the addition of a few inches of track eh 😉 . It was funny to hear the engineers were quite concerned with the effect to ride comfort using a slightly softer leaf spring would have. I can imagine the test evaluations, ‘it just goes doink instead of boink!’

Since then every year there is a point when it appears the Bravo is cooked but then something happens to pull it out of the fire. The USA started importing them again a few years back which had a positive political result, then last year we found out the tooling for the hood has reached the end of its life-cycle and needs replacement to the tune of several million yen. Of course we tried to argue a solution for that but with the latest, impending round of  EPA emission requirements on the table our plea was denied. There doesn’t appear to be any more band-aids for the faithful little Bravo and it’s time to bid it farewell. Not a bad run, 30 years and most of them are still in service. I for one am sorry to see the BR have to pass and with it an entire era of sledding… Karl san its a sad day my friend.

cheers cr


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Posted @ 4:07 pm in Sled History and Links   

November 18, 2010


Well it appears some of you enjoyed the old pics I posted last week. I am a real sucker for nostalgia but more to the point I am a bit worried that so much of our history is slowly sifting through the cracks of time. All the Yamaha snowmobile pioneers have passed the retirement threshold and there aren’t many of us left in the company who have drawn from their first hand knowledge and experience of those days. I do have a meager collection of old photos and film clips that I consider treasures- they need to be archived for the future.

Hans mentioned in a comment that no one ever shows the original red SS440 it’s always the silver and blue… well Hans this ones for you. The gentleman standing with the SR proto and SS is, I believe, Canadian race driver Roy Wall.

I think one of the most famous sleds of Yamaha legend is the factory Sno Pro racer that debuted in Eagle River back in 74/75. The SSR440 entered the open pro class against a field of sleds with twice the displacement… cages were rattled and history made.

Here’s a shot of the first factory SSR before it was crated up and shipped to North America. Low Slung, I think this is the sled you refereed to in last weeks comments, hard to say if that’s a carbon fiber hood but I wouldn’t doubt it.

So how heavy was this sled you ask? Check out the pic of a very young Gordy Muetz hoisting it up by the ears, the engineer doesn’t look too impressed 🙂

It’s that time of year when I start cruising the forums looking for topics from people  fortunate enough to be riding and dropping comments on the new sleds. This year I have a little more reason to surf aside from idle curiosity, all because of our Apex portal Yournextsled.com

We launched Yournextsled last spring as a repository to drop in all the comments and rich media we could find on the web from people that had a chance to test ride the new EPS Apex’. We intentionally did not go ‘corporate’ on the site and left out any sugar coated ad messages and marketing stuff, keeping it real with riders speaking about their thoughts on the sled. I did do a video blog on the development background and Jon did a walk-around to cover the technical bits but that’s it. The rest are unedited bites of conversation taken from the forums, media, events and various web-sites.

Now we are trying to update the site with new content based on people riding their own production sleds in the real world. If that is you, please hit the link and let us all know what you think. I still stand by my statement that EPS works so well that our competitors must react and adopt the technology as quick as they can. I also figure they will deny the need until they have it ready to go (kinda like they did with performance 4-stroke engines). Time will tell.

On another note, every year around this time Jon and I arm wrestle over what sleds we will be riding in the coming season and why. Jon has generally ended up on the newest model in the line up with a Phazer 3 years ago to a Nytro XTX, then it was a new Vector last year and this year…? Myself on the other hand, let go my 2-season Warrior turbo ride to hop on board a 121 Apex in 06, in 07 another 121 Apex in 08 another 121 Apex, 09 …yep, last year yes, again. Admittedly, I came really close to riding an FI Vector last season and a Nytro the year before, but the 4 cylinder perched on a 121 inch mono-shock is a combination that I have come to love. So what have I chosen to ride this year – drum roll please – a 144 torsion skid Apex XTX.

This is a big deal for me because I have always found the shorter track sleds easier to handle and more nimble on the trail (for my style and conditions). Where it all changed was when I rode the XTX in Wisconsin year before last. The EPS combined with the tipped up rails felt like a shorty and then some. The additional traction and stroke’y feeling rear skid left me in denial but after riding it some more last spring and after stewing on it all summer, I have joined the ranks of the cross-dressing crowd (not to say the Apex is a true cross-over) but I do feel obligated to try to get it stuck once in a while  😉  cheers  cr

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Posted @ 3:00 pm in Sled History and Links   

November 11, 2010

Every Picture Tells a Story

Didn’t have much time this week to pen any words but I have been asked to find the file I did for the introduction of the RX-1 and stumbled across a bunch of old memories. I hope I can drum up a ghost or two for you… enjoy:

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Posted @ 3:52 pm in Sled History and Links   

May 8, 2008

SRX Launch and Marketing Story

Well this week it’s time for me to come clean on some more SRX stuff. Lets start with the name. 81-srxlr.jpgI was dead set against using SRX based on my experience with the infamous 1981 model debacle. For those who don’t know or may have heard the rumors. The 82 SRX production run (or Vmax as some would have it) was canceled in the name of damage control and to cannibalize the crankshafts for owners of the ill-fated 81’s. Reason being an unfortunate combination of clutch / crankcase assembly and carburetors doomed the TSS SRX to a life of broken crank-shafts. The name was dropped along with the engine and styling, to return as the first V-Max 540 in 1983.

I’m not particularly superstitious, but the thought of naming our new performance sled after the 81 cylinder grippin’ graphics.jpgcrank-eater seemed somewhat of a marketing Faux pas . But my thoughts didn’t matter because we could not seem to come up with a better name, plus the US guys seemed quite good with the SRX handle and so it was born. The irony in all of this came to light shortly after the first pre-pros hit the snow. Reports of a nasty vibration in the running boards trickled in, which spread quickly into the handle bars… uh-oh. –Long story short-… a welding booth was set up at the end of the crank assembly line and every new SRX crank was hand checked,crank.jpg trued if required and the end pin spot-welded before proceeding. As far as I know, this was the first (and only) time we had a production crank, welded at factory.

I had a good ‘I told you so…’ over some pints with Rit and Greg, but fortunately our crank woes of the 81 never manifested in the new SRX and the engine went on to prove itself quite bullet-proof.

Heres some random pics: From left,-the product development team from US, Europe and Canada, next- myself and Tim Nakano (Saito in the background), -the first prototype used for CG mock-up, and finaly-a 600 proto-engine in field testing:


I’ll put on my marketing hat for the next story. Spring 97, I was the ‘cover boy’ for all of the 98 SRX brochures. The shot was taken by none other than Dave Bush who is well known in the industry for his photography talents. I guarantee you have seen many of his shots in different power-sports magazines and brochures… but I digress.


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Posted @ 11:25 am in Opinions and Insights,Sled Development,Sled History and Links,Tech Talk   

May 1, 2008

SRX Development Story Pt2

SRX development part 2.

In this second installment on the SRX story I’ll touch on some of the features which we introduced on SRX. First we had to get clearance from the senior directors to proceed. Saito had to go before Hitoshi Nagayasu who was then second in command at YMC and running the snowmobile show. Saito told me he ‘sold’ the concept based on confidence alone. He had no data or test results to refer to, only belief and a deep desire to challenge our people to build the highest performing, production snowmobile ever offered by Yamaha. The magic number being 200hp / liter. It should be mentioned here that the job of the senior directors is not to measure how ‘cool’ a new product is. That is not the point at all. The project has to clearly make sense in dollars and return on investment. We amortize our tooling over two years of production and the model must be able to survive on its own merit. Good thing Nagayasu understood the importance of horsepower and had a warm spot for snowmobiles because he signed off and we were good to go into development. And so here we go…

We were not the first to have power-valves on a sled but we were the first to have electronically controlled, servo driven (instead of diaphragm / pressure actuated) slide valves. see the OW73 (TZ750) GP bike raced by the King. This offered a couple of advantages. One, the slide opening could be regulated based on engine demand and secondly a cleaning cycle was designed in to give the slides a full swipe at start-up to help keep the valves from gumming up. (Yeah I know, it was still a maintenance item especially on the early models).

Another new feature that helped give SRX legs was the introduction of RAM air. The testing data averaged out at 160kph an additional 6mq was achieved which translated into 3hp or 2 kph. This is a small increase but it’s the small details like this that helped put SRX into the top of its class. Saito also concentrated on air management with separate ducts to direct air-flow to help cool the crank shaft and brake rotor.

A new headlight was designed which Saito was quick to remind me also appeared on the Mercedes Benz SL500. Limited by standard DOT approved, 55/65 watt bulbs, the glass optics were designed to efficiently concentrate as much light as possible into the area needed most. I remember after first riding the SRX at night, the Vmax felt like it had a flashlight taped to the shroud.

The triple pipes were nestled into an all new die-cast bulkhead and an unsymmetrical hood. A hot debate between myself and Rit Lefrancois-acting product manager for YMUS at the time- ensued on this unique styling direction. He didn’t like it / I did. In the end the design proved better for engineering purposes and Canada’s vote sealed the deal. The body design moved to the wind tunnel to determine the best combination of wind protection and wind resistance. This was the first sled which Yamaha put a lot of effort into rider position as well as body shape to determine maximum performance.

To make it ‘pretty’, we decided to apply the Yamaha Racing Strobes against a bright Yamaha blue metallic paint scheme which has since become a stable color combo giving Yamaha a distinct recognition in the market. But heck most of you reading this bleed blue right? So you must know when it all started… I also remember some heated discussions trying to get a ‘Scotch-lite’ reflective graphic material for the strobe graphics but if i recall correctly we had to settle for a slightly less expensive version in the second go-round.

Yokohama rubber came to the table with an all new track belt for SRX, which worked pretty well. It was certainly more efficient than past efforts using a poly weave (opposed to the kevlar winding of the Ultrabloc) but in the end our volumes (combined with some durability issues) led us to a new vendor –Camoplast– which marked the end of Yokohama snowmobile track production.

Next week I’ll be back in the office and will start scanning some of the old docs and images I have collected so the next installment will be quite visual. I’ll also start penning some of the testing stories and insights on the final development and marketing. Stay tuned… cr

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Posted @ 9:44 pm in Sled Development,Sled History and Links   

April 23, 2008

SRX Development Story

SRX Development Story: Part 1

I’ll preface the following by saying I’m splitting this development story into several installments. I have dug up quite a few related documents and will scan them then scatter amongst the pages to add some funk. For example here’s a little history for you- history-remaster.pdf– I am relying on memory here and apologize if some things don’t ‘gist’ 100% with your own recollection. I’d be happy to post your comments or any additional information. I hope you enjoy the read as much as I am enjoying the writing. It’s stirring up a lot of old memories for me.

cover-boy.jpgBefore I get into the nuts and bolts, I think it’s important to remember where we were living back in 95/96. We had been a good two years in developing our light-weight Pro-Action leading arm chassis (code name OMD) and new 3 cylinder, single pipe engine. Ole Hayata, was head of engineering and had done an amazing job to deliver us nine new models in the die-cast, chassis platform, in time for the 97 model year. It was during this same time period, our competitors took their next step in sled evolution with the release of the 600 triple / triples -three cylinder-three pipe rockets- based largely on ISR Formula 3 racings, popularity of the day. The F111 Skidoo, ZRT 600 Cat and XCR600SP Polaris set a new benchmark for displacement performance and were gunning for top speed honors against the bigger sleds of the day.


Apparently we needed a triple-triple, 600 version of our new SX. And so it was we set out for Japan to convince engineering to shoehorn some pipes into a sleeved down package. Well it didn’t take very long to discover the SX 700 engine would not survive our bench tests using triple pipes. Further more the body shape and die-cast bulkhead sub-frame of the OMD did not allow the required clearance for proper air management and cooling, given the real estate required for the tangle of pipes. It could not be done. I clearly remember my old friend Gary from Prince George Yamaha calling me shortly after the release of the SX 700 to quiz me about triple pipes before he took on the Canadian distribution of one of the leading after market exhaust brands.

‘Don’t do it’, I advised, ‘The engine will grenade. If you push it, the crank won’t live…’ Man- was that bad advice, but as it turned out Gary didn’t listen to me and went on to help modify hundreds of 700 triples in mountain chassis with many running reliably to this day.


We did our homework with YMC and decided our next machine would have an all new 600cc 3 into 3 engine. It was also decided to build a 700 variation for a no holds barred assault on the muscle sled segment. The Vmax4 engine was stuck with a TSS chassis and had been max’d out at 800cc (small pun intended). We set the target for OMH to be the lightest (500lbs), fastest top speed and quickest accelerating muscle sled on the market. We had witnessed the 500 class (representing the greatest sales volumes), evolve into the 600’s and it didn’t take a duck hunter to figure out the 700 class was where we should be aiming.


A bright young engineer (and notorious after-hours disturber) was given his first kick at ‘project leader’. The parting gift of Mr. Hayata who was moving on from snowmobile group to motorcycle development came in the form of Masayasu Saito. Masa-san understood very well the competitive mentality as well as the snowmobile lifestyle. When he was a young buck, he purchased a Phazer in Japan and traveled north every weekend to ride it (and chase girls). I had known him for many years as a field testing engineer and durability rider previous to that. He was a great choice to head up the OMH project which would eventually come to market in 1998 as the SRX 600 / 700.


SRX would establish many firsts for Yamaha. For starters the clay modeling and wire frame work was performed in thegraphic.jpg USA to reduce some cost and speed up development. I was asked to travel down to the GKDI offices in Torrance CA where we worked closely with the designers on the shape and dynamics of the new machines. Prototypes were built based on the SX chassis and targets were established using the SX 600 plus ZRT in the 600 category and SX 700 plus Mach 1 in the 700 niche. We decided to build a modified version of the lower 8-inch SX chassis to house the new power-plants, because the sled was intended to handle better than any lake racer before it. Initial testing results were quite promising.

The SRX would be our final two-stroke snowmobile development project and it seems quite fitting it would crown 30 years of Yamaha in the sno-mo biz and mark the one millionth sled to run off our lines japan-media-remaster.pdfmore to follow.

cheers cr

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Posted @ 2:20 pm in Sled Development,Sled History and Links