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Snowmobiles I've owned (listed chronologically), and my assessment of them:
|▼ Click the thumbnail images in this column to see a larger version of the picture|
|1968 Ski-doo Super Alpine: 18.5 horsepower, 38 mph, twin tracks, one ski, and classical Ski-doo styling. With little snow, its turning radius was larger than some counties, but on deep snow, it would practically turn on a dime. Its flotation was legendary, able to crest 14-foot snow drifts with only a 4" deep footprint. Side exhaust added an indisputable charm, but did little to preserve one's hearing. Its gas cap was designed to be retained by friction, but gas tank pressure often launched the cap into a snow bank. Curiously, the model shown in the '68 Ski-doo catalogue is also missing its gas cap.|
|1972 Suzuki XR-400: 35 horsepower, 70 mph (77 on glare ice), two skis (when the ski retaining bolts held, anyway). After 2000 miles, several major overhauls, daily carburetor rebuilding, and several near-death experiences, the XR was given the heave-ho. The pain that it caused me was probably just punishment for my sacrilegious decision to buy something other than a Ski-doo.|
|(circa) 1969 Johnson Skee-Horse Wide Track: Notwithstanding any suggestion of stability connoted by the "Wide Track" name, its center of gravity was so high that the machine seemed to be constantly tilting from side to side. This trait made me grateful that its top speed was 25 mph. After blowing its transmission at a rather inopportune moment, I dissected this contraption, using its parts to create an even greater monstrosity (see below). The '70 Skee-Horse shown below is not the same model (I don't have a picture of the '69 Skee-Horse). My affinity toward the newer model is so great that I'd consider marrying a woman if that were part of her dowry. I suspect that such an aberrant opinion is rooted in the fact that I'm absolutely enamored with the turquoise and orange color scheme. Being an inveterate Ski-doo fan, I realize that such an admission is tantamount to heresy—given that yellow & black are emblematic of the rich Ski-doo legacy to which I am otherwise an ardent devotee.|
|(innominate, circa 1981): I never named this "sled," but its 2-second, 40-foot lifespan didn't warrant much attention to naming the beast. Constructed of remnants from a decrepit Johnson snowmobile, plywood, 2-by-4s, and a few pounds of nails, this ill-fated machine was almost as ugly as modern Polaris snowmobiles. The only power tool that I used to make it was a Dremel® Moto-Tool . . . perhaps they should put making snowmobiles in their ads instead of just showing a Moto-Tool sanding and cutting basic things. Incidentally, I've used my Moto-Tools to make everything from bug killers to high-tech medical devices—it's a very versatile tool.|
|1993 Ski-doo Grand Touring: After a long hiatus from snowmobiling, imposed by the demands of medical school and years of accumulated debt, I purchased the GT. Its stability, quietness, reliability, and speed were impressive. Its manufacturer listed its weight as 550 pounds, but this figure obviously didn't apply in the Earth's gravitational field. The GT's flotation was only marginally better than that of a rock on water. After digging the GT out of countless snow banks, I sold it to a man with a strong back.|
|1970 Ski-doo Invader (hey, I'm listing these things in the chronological order of their acquisition, remember?): The "Invader" was the 1970 Alpine 640, sporting 40 horsepower and a bit more weight than the old Super Alpine. The fact that a 1970 snowmobile would still run with spunk when it was 26 years old is a testament to Ski-doo engineering. Although it's in surprisingly good shape, this relic is slated for a complete restoration this summer.|
Sno-Skimmer, a.k.a. Moto-Boggan: If the name doesn't sound familiar, don't
fret—this is another home-made contraption. In reality, it's more of a
motorized toboggan than it is a snowmobile, but it's a blast to ride. Its
5 horsepower engine propels it to perhaps 35 m.p.h. on packed snow, thanks
to its light weight and miniature torque converter. Considering its zero
inches of suspension travel and absence of any dedicated steering mechanism,
that's plenty fast.
UPDATE: The Moto-Boggan has been stolen! It was taken by some crook(s) who apparently didn't realize that this thing is as unique as a fingerprint. If you see it, please let me know. If your tip results in the conviction of the criminal(s), I'll give you a $300 reward.
|1997 Ski-doo Skandic Super Wide Track:
Its track is 24" wide and 154" long, notably greater than the 15" x
121" tracks found on many other snowmobiles, giving it flotation
reminiscent of a twin-track Alpine. Fearing the difficulty of
extracting a 750-pound sled stuck in a snow drift, I began lifting
weights last spring in preparation. Luckily, though, it doesn't sink
in deep snow. Its top speed is about 62 mph, which may be limited by
its profligate oil consumption.
The worst feature of the Skandic is its ride quality on bumpy trails. The Ski-doo brochure states that the rear vertical travel for the Skandic SWT is 8.3 inches. In reality, the maximum vertical travel of the rear suspension is 7 inches from fully uncompressed (the rear of the snowmobile lifted off the ground) to fully compressed (the top track idler wheel contacts the lower track). To get the additional 1.3 inches claimed, the top idler wheel would have to be compressed 1.3 inches THROUGH THE TRACK! In short, there isn't much reverence for the truth in the once hallowed halls of Ski-doo's World Headquarters.
My solution to this ride quality problem turned the Skandic from what is arguably the worst riding modern snowmobile into the smoothest riding snowmobile in existence. And no, I haven't been scarfing down LSD! As you might imagine, producing such a transformation required extreme measures. I made a suspended seat with 16 inches of travel (in use, the seat would flatten out). I considered using a standard parallelogram linkage, but decided against it since that mechanism would introduce an unwanted fore and aft motion. The Z-seat mechanism that I conceived could be easily tuned to any desired ride height and level of comfort.
So what was it like to ride on a Z-seat? The isolation from bumps was astounding, and I felt almost as if I were floating above the snowmobile. In fact, I felt too isolated from the sled (decreasing the ride height would have minimized this problem). I think the Z-seat is best suited for riders who want an extremely smooth ride but are content to putt around at, say, no more than 35 m.p.h. or so. People with prior back problems which might be aggravated by a jolt would especially benefit from the Z-seat. I was planning on continuing development of this invention and making a version which could be adjusted while one was driving, but I turned my developmental efforts along another path after I bought my brother's snowmobile (see immediately below).
1998 Ski-doo Formula Z 670: First, pardon me while I take a
gratuitous stab at the vanishing brain trust at the helm of Ski-doo.
Your once vaunted ability to produce snowmobiles with unparalleled panache
is a skill that evaporated in the early years of the 1970's. Your
imagination is so stifled that you cannot even think of interesting names
for your current snowmobiles. The old Nordic, T'NT, Olympique, Alpine,
and Elan names had vitality and liveliness. This verve is sadly lacking
in the names you append to your new sleds. Formula Z? How insipid!
Where do you find people dull enough to think of such an abominable name?
OK, back to the Formula Z 670 story. The FZ 670 was originally touted as a great sled for people who ride the trails at moderate speed. The key to this supposedly smooth ride was the ARC or ARM (or whatever the heck they eventually decided to call it) rear suspension. I couldn't imagine that it would be possible to make a suspension that was worse than the SC-10 suspensions that Ski-doo sticks in virtually everything except their utility sleds, but the fact that the current FZ's incorporate the SC-10 suspension instead of the ARC/ARM suggests to me that the latter suspension was a failed experiment. My FZ 670, alas, has the older suspension and its ride quality leaves much to be desired. So what does a tinker do? Tinker, of course!
I began by noting that the stock seat was far too firm to provide good comfort. The engineers at Ski-doo seem to have forgotten the fact that a foam rubber seat cushion can augment ride comfort only to the degree that it compresses and expands from compression as the rider traverses bumps. If the seat is so stiff that its motion is constrained, then ride quality is adversely affected. To soften my seat I removed the seat cover and used a special tool I made to bore a number of transverse holes through the seat foam (if you want to modify your seat, I can sell you a special drill bit; for more information, see the Drill Bits for Foam Rubber page). This substantially softened the seat and provided a better response to both up and down bumps, but I wish that I'd cored out even more holes while I had the seat cover off.
The next step was to replace the seat cover and staple it to the plastic seat frame. This was a more daunting task than I'd imagined since standard paper staples wouldn't penetrate the plastic. I solved this problem by making my own staples (one of the least exciting things a person can do, by the way), but you can save time by obtaining them from your snowmobile dealer. After finishing this I realized that the FZ 670 could use some more cushioning, so I sculpted a seat cushion to place on top of the current seat, then covered it with a standard vinyl seat covering material. If you try this, be sure to leave an adequate vent in the seat cover for it to breathe. Foam rubber expels and sucks in amazing amounts of air as it is compressed and expanded. The seat cover is essentially impervious to air, and a totally occlusive cover would act like a large balloon. Incidentally, air seats (yes, I tried making one of those, too . . . surprised?) are sometimes ballyhooed as being the epitome of comfort. If you think so, dig out your college physics text and take a gander at gaseous pressure/volume curves. A relatively small change in volume can lead to a surprising change in pressure. There are other problems with air seats, too, but suffice it to say that I abandoned this approach.
So how did the modified seat work? So well that it renewed my love of snowmobiling. I used to dread hitting bumps, and the notoriously bumpy trails in Michigan used to decimate my enjoyment of this sport. With the modified seat, however, the apparent magnitude of the bumps was substantially lessened and the experience of hitting a bump was totally changed. The new seat provides such a cushy ride that hitting bumps was actually enjoyable; I found myself eagerly awaiting the next big bump and even speeding up when I spotted one. I think the reason why this seat adds so much fun to riding is that it replicates the feeling of riding on a thick blanket of virgin powder even when the trail is harsh. Like most snowmobilers, I love the sensation of riding through snowdrifts but spend most of my time pulverizing my spine on less pristine surfaces.
I have more ideas on making comfortable seats, but I'm so thrilled by the performance of my current seat that I probably won't work on this until the summer.
If you're intrigued by seat and other modifications to enhance ride comfort, bookmark this page and check back in the months and years to come as I add some exciting new developments. Or, to be automatically notified whenever I develop something new, contact me and I'll let you know.
|1997 Sno-Skimmer: You guessed it—another home-made snowmobile. Not an updated version of the '96 Skimmer, this 22-inch long, 5-pound radio-controlled (RC) single ski, twin-track snowmobile is bright yellow, as all snowmobiles should be (with the notable exception of Johnson snowmobiles). Its top speed is probably 5 mph (which is anemic, even for a scale speed). Hankering for an RC snowmobile, I was surprised that no one is marketing an RC snowmobile in the United States, so I decided to make my own from scratch. The biggest challenge was the body, which I eventually made by vacuum forming plastic.|
Videos of the Sno-Skimmer in action, ridden by The Bear (your kids may
want to see this!):
You will likely need to use Internet Explorer unless you already downloaded the plugin to view WMV videos in Firefox.
Click here to view it.
Format: .wmv (Windows Media Audio/Video file)
File size: 3.33 MB
to view it.
|I will soon make another radio-controlled snowmobile that will be substantially faster than the Sno-Skimmer. Stay tuned!|
|1998 Ski-doo Mini-Z: Since I do not have any children, one might reasonably ask why I own a children's snowmobile. First, it is a Ski-doo, and a yellow one, at that. Second, I thought the children of my friends Bill & Jenny would like to ride it. Anné and Shannon do seem to love it, but I think Anné likes it more than Shannon. Since this is a Ski-doo, it is difficult to believe that it isn't perfect, but it isn't. The choke cable is snaked at such an angle that the choke can't be disengaged by simply pushing it in (it has to be repeatedly tapped), and the original safety tether came off every minute or two of operation. I fixed the latter problem by substituting the tether from my Sea-doo (yes, another Bombardier product!). This fix was suggested by Anné; I originally doubted that it would help, but it did—the tether's cap is molded of plastic for the Sea-doo & just rubber for the Mini-Z. (Good idea, Anné!) The top speed of the Mini-Z is 8 m.p.h., but that is limited by a governor. Sans this, it would probably go at least 15 m.p.h. Annoyingly, there is a fixed-ratio chain drive which limits its top speed as well as torque. A traditional belt-driven torque converter (such as the one on my Moto-Boggan, see above) would solve both of these problems, and give it a smoother engagement. When the Mini-Z takes off, the clutch grabs, and it goes! Another shortcoming is its half-gallon fuel tank. Granted, it doesn't have the same appetite for gasoline as, say, a Yamaha, but its range is perhaps 8 miles. Notwithstanding any of these imperfections, it makes Arctic Cat's Kitty Kat look like, well, an Arctic Cat. Need I say more?|
|1998 Jell-O® Special: OK, this isn't a snowmobile, but it looks like one. I made a three-dimensional plastic mold for Jell-O®, from which I've molded an edible snowmobile-shaped dessert. Well, semi-edible . . . it's Jell-O®, after all! Add some whipped cream for simulated snow, and you have an artery-clogging treat that's virtually devoid of nutrition. After viewing the picture (see below), you may be wondering why the ski is disproportionately large. Ah, such an insightful mix of culinary and engineering acumen you have! Well, Jell-O® isn't noted for its structural strength, so I made the ski larger to lessen the chance it would disintegrate during the demolding process. Incidentally, the block of Jell-O® is resting on a sheet of aluminum foil, which accounts for the trapped bubbles and strange background coloration.|
|Snowmobile Mugs: I made several mugs, three of which are pictured here. The first shows my behemoth Ski-doo Skandic Super Wide Track. The middle mug is from the cover of the 1968 Ski-doo catalogue (one of the greatest snowmobiling pictures of all time, in my opinion), and the mug on the right shows another classic photo, this one from the 1969 brochure, showing the T'NTs. If you want to make your own mugs, you need a dye sublimation printer, a thermal mug press, and an hour or two of time, depending on how finicky you are with your photographic software.|
|This Ski-doo clock is adorned with—what else?—images of Ski-doo snowmobiles. I made two of these clocks, one of which I gave to my brother, Ray (another Ski-doo fan . . . inexplicably, my other brother, Jeff, likes Polaris snowmobiles). The clock is housed in a tree slab (which you can probably see from the picture) coated with a thick layer of epoxy resin. Substantiating the notion that there is not always a correlation between price and quality, the $7.95 clock mechanism in this timepiece is far more accurate than some of my digital "quartz crystal" clocks.|
Bump Generator /
Prototype of Active Suspension for Snowmobiles
If you've seen my accelerometer page you probably think that I'm obsessed with improving the ride quality (i.e., ride smoothness) of snowmobiles. If so, you're correct. While snowmobile suspensions have dramatically improved over the years, trails have become noticeably bumpier (attributable in part to the reaction characteristics of modern suspensions; hence, as conventional suspensions improve they're fighting increasingly large bumps—a never-ending battle).
Passive suspensions (e.g., a spring and shock absorber) are inherently limited in their ability to mitigate bumps, and as I just mentioned their reaction (rebound) characteristics worsens the problem. The obvious solution is to use an active suspension (that's a suspension system which uses energy to counteract bumps). Such a suspension would not only be far more comfortable, it would also be inherently safer.
I've constructed several active suspension prototypes, one of which is shown in the above picture perched atop my bump generator. I made the bump generator to simulate bumps of varying size and magnitude. My "next-generation" bump generator will be programmable to allow customization of bump shape and repetition pattern.
I'm now working on a full-size active suspension that I'll put into one of my snowmobiles for testing in the upcoming winter. If you want to be kept abreast of my progress, contact me and I'll e-mail information, pictures, and test results as they become available.
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