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January 20, 2013

Set My Ponies Free

Steve Janes Blog

            This past week a startling truth was presented that caused the entire foundation of my snowmobiling knowledge to become discombobulated. There are no tiny ponies powering my snowmobile; i.e. horsepower does not mean actual horses.

            That’s right, horsepower doesn’t literally mean the power of horses. It’s a mathematical formulation that consists of “work over time equals force times distance over time which equals 180 lbf and 2.4 times 2 pie symbol times 12 feet over one minute equals 32,572 feet/lbf/minute” … or something sort of scientific/mathematical like that.

            Okay, some maybe the original formula for horsepower was based on how much power is required to equal the pulling power of a horse. But at no time did these great minds figure out how to actually put a tiny horse inside a combustion engine to turn the power wheel. (They did figure out how to put hamsters in a cage to turn a wheel … but then the hamsters union got involved and required so many breaks per hour plus benefits and made this advancement in technology cost prohibitive.)

            So now, rather than little tiny horses causing our snowmobile to climb tall mountains, we actually have math geeks powering our sleds. This mere knowledge in itself has caused me to second-think the next time I look at a death-defying vertical climb. What would happen if I’m nearing the peak of the mountain only to have one of my math geeks lose his inhaler? This is definitely a formula for disaster.

            This has also caused me significant concern when I ponder the fact that those engineers who are designing snowmobile engine technology actually rely on this horsepower formulation to determine the power output of any given engine.

            Now it makes some sense why snowmobile manufacturers for years have tried to keep horsepower ratings out of print. They don’t want their customers cracking open a cylinder only to find that all their tiny ponies have escaped … when in reality those ponies were never actually there to begin with.

            So now, the next time you hear someone boasting about having a 300-horsepower turbo, you can simply smile and pat them on the head and say “that’s nice.” Likely, if they still believe this horsepower myth, they also believe in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy.


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