Keepin' The Rubber Side Down

November 2007 Feature Mark Bourbeau Viewed 1750 time(s)

If you've been involved in the sport of snowmobiling for any length of time, we're sure you have heard the phrase "keep the rubber side down." This is spoken with the same intent as "keep it between the ditches or lines" when you're headed out on a road trip in your car.

After a one-on-one with Dan "The Track Man" Lochnikar last spring, it became rather apparent that at Camoplast (the world's leader in all aspects of track manufacturing) this phrase "keep the rubber side down" doesn't fit into the company's vocabulary, literally. Camoplast has taken the rubber track from a standard pieces-part on a snowmobile to one of the, if not the, single component most influential to the dynamic performance of a snowmobile, regardless to whether you are haulin ass on hard pack or floatin' like a feather in the fluff.


Knowing The Lingo

Before we get too carried away with tech talk, let's do an insider jargon check to make sure that everyone's up to speed with the track industry's terminology. It's obvious some jargon could most definitely be confused with things other than making a track.

Some of the more common words or terms you'll find in a track tech's dictionary include:

Low profile-a track that has a traction/braking molded-in surface of less than 1.5 inches above the track surface.

High profile-a track that has a traction/braking molded-in surface equal to or greater than 1.5 inches above the track surface.

Lugs/paddles-the molded in traction/braking device, usually at a right angle to the track surface

Full block track-a track that has a solid traction/braking molded-in lugs the full width of the track. The full block track is a perfect example of a low profile track.

Paddle track-a track that has broken or sectioned traction/braking molded-in lugs that look like little scoops or paddles. A paddle track is a perfect example of a high profile track.

Finger track-a track that has paddles resembling your hand laid flat with your fingers tucked tightly together.

Profile-the lug/paddle pattern or configuration.

Drive lugs-molded-in nodules providing a surface for the drive sprockets to work off of on the inside surface of the track.

Rods-evenly spaced fiberglass bars that are molded into the track for support of the traction/braking devices and structural strength. The rods are the rib cage of the track, keeping inner things in and outer things out.

Guide clips-metal clips with a right angle tab that provides a solid guiding support along the outer edge of the suspension hifax, while the clip itself provides a smooth, hard surface for the hifax, reducing rotating friction. The guide clips are crimped onto the track over the rods.

Window-an opening in the track or belting surface between the guide clips, providing snow infusion for hifax lubrication and reduced rotating friction.

Pitch-the distance (measured in inches and fractions of) between the rods molded in the track which is a direct reflection of the spacing between the lugs/paddles, drive lugs and guide clips fore and aft.

Ply-refers to the number of fabric layers that are molded into the track belting (2-ply means two layers of fabric and so on).

Durometer-refers to the compound (softer meters out lower; harder meters out higher) of the track and lug/paddle rubber. A track's durometer is measured with a Durometer. Porting-Swiss-cheesing a track with extra openings above and beyond the guide clip windows.


History 101

Since 1958 Camoplast Track Systems Group has been in the business of manufacturing snowmobile tracks. In that period of time, CTSG boasts the development, designing and rolling out of more than four million snowmobile tracks. Crunch those numbers and that's an impressive 224 plus tracks per day. That pretty much explains the fact that CTSG is the world's largest snowmobile track supplier with 98 percent market share, including OEM and aftermarket applications. There was some competition earlier in the game from Yokohama until CTSG bought out Yokohama's molds. The most recent nano challenge has been from Kimpex, now known as Soucy.

Camoplast's home base test facility for research and development of all divisions (blow mold plastics along with tracks) is located in Sherbook, Quebec, Canada. There are manufacturing plants in the U.S and Finland as well.

As we alluded to earlier, the snowmobile drive track was just another standard component on sleds until 1992-93 when Camoplast changed the world of snowmobile tracks forever. This was when the mind-trust at Camoplast realized the machines the manufacturers were producing could have an exponentially greater performance capability with more traction and flotation.

This brought about the introduction of more aggressive, higher profile tracks, designed to tread more snow. This trend started out with the intro of 1 inch and 1 3/16 inch full block profiles with nifty names such as the "Wiper," "Deep Wiper" and "Lightning" tracks. Even with the market being seemingly satisfied with these taller than before tracks, Camoplast was not.

In 1994 Camoplast dropped the big one on the snowmobile world with a 1.5 and 2-inch, staggered profile (paddle) track that gave the mountain rider the potential to go higher and further on their ponies than they ever dreamed of. The acceptance of this new track was not immediate, but within a year was considered the best mountain track on the market.

From the original 136-inch length, Camoplast continued to stretch its tracks on a nearly yearly basis to the current 174-inch long track (the longest track available to date) with a multitude of track lengths in between.

The next big innovation came in 1998 when Camoplast introduced an extremely aggressive 2.25-inch paddle track. This new finger track with cone-shaped lugs gave the mountain riders the best of both worlds-improved traction on hard pack and snow pushing power in deep powder snow.


Dan Who?

A little background check on Dan "The Track Man" Lochnikar shows he is a Colorado native and has resided within the high altitude state his whole life. Lochnikar's parents exposed him to the sport of snowmobiling at the nose mining age of seven and has been actively involved ever since, even to the capacity of working for dealers/shops and doing some racing.

Other experience that may have been instrumental in his association with Camoplast is his operation and technical knowledge of Sno-Cat type groomers (read: tracks, really big tracks), even though he didn't expound on this. The upcoming season of 2007-08 will be Locknikar's fourth year working with Camoplast Track Systems Group.



SnoWest: What is your job title with CTSG?

Lochnikar: I am the research and development test rider for mountain tracks and ATV track kits.

SW: How many of these western facilities does Camoplast have?

Lochnikar: I am the sole operation for the mountain tracks and ATV tracks.

SW: How about grunts?

Lochnikar: I am a one-man show other than when my wife, Faith, helps me out as needed.

SW: Tell us about a typical testing season.

Lochnikar: I will test snowmobile tracks for seven months straight, three days a week. On an average-to-good snow year, I will rack up around 6,000 miles of testing. Even though most of my testing is completed in the Colorado Rockies, I will travel to test in other western states and areas to make absolutely certain that the testing is completed in all types of environments, elevations, atmospheres and snow conditions.

SW: Fill us in on your testing procedures.

Lochnikar: Each year we acquire two of the same machines from each manufacturer and tune them to run identical in stock trim. This keeps the base line straight for when I swap tracks out and then back to do the run comparisons. I do very little controlled environment testing. My focus is real world, seat of the pants field testing for performance and durability.

On the performance end of my testing, I start out with doing actual snow density sampling and recording so I know all the conditions I have tested in from the heavy stuff that is nearly water to the lightest and driest of fluff. My performance parameters include acceleration and braking characteristics not only in all snow conditions, but all riding situations or disciplines such as trail riding, open parks, sidehilling, hillclimbing and boondocking through the trees. Thorough testing requires that I take the machine to the bitter end. Like if I am hillclimbing or sidehilling, I don't have the luxury of bailing out as I am losing momentum. I must keep the sled pointed into the hill until it spins out. Needless to say, I spend more time stuck than most greenies. I have to be very precise with my testing procedures to be able to see the certain gains and/or differences.

On the durability side of R&D, we have our own specifications and procedures to meet that I feel is a bit more extensive than the manufacturers. As I am performance testing, it is also my job to intentionally run through dirt and gravel and race down hard pack, not to mention climb over rocks, logs, staubs and stumps to test each track's durability. Our MO is that durability does not take a back seat to performance.

SW: Shoot us some numbers to support our premonition of your being the track changing king.

Lochnikar: Yeah, I get my fair share of that. During my testing season, I will do a minimum of one track swap a day and have done as many as 10 track changes in a day. I have changed tracks in my trailer and (thanks to Snap-On cordless tools) even up on the mountain. One fact that I do like to brag about is having done a complete swap-out in my shop in just over 15 minutes.

SW: That's impressive. You need to be on an enduro pit crew. Last but not least, what is the most rewarding part of your job with CTSG?

Lochnikar: After all of the hours and miles of testing, seeing the results of my feed back and input in the final product. That's a confirmation that I am doing some good or what's right.


Gazing Into The Crystal Ball

With the drive track having become such an intricate part of today's snowmobile, keep in mind that a particular track may be the best track for the brand Y but that doesn't mean it's going to be the cat's meow on brand A. Major factors in this scenario are that each manufacturers chassis has a different geometry, hence, characteristics and suspension performance.

A fair comparison would be buying a set of high performance tires for your car or truck that compliments the vehicle's suspension, power and also best suits your driving style or conditions most likely to be encountered.

Most of the major changes in the construction of the Camoplast tracks have occurred in the last four years and you can expect to see this revolution continue so as to keep up with the advancing technology of the snowmobile manufacturers.

Lochnikar seems to think that the market is pretty well maxed out as far as dimensions are concerned. The 15- and 16-inch width seems to be the optimum range for mountain applications. The 2.5-inch paddle height and 174-inch track length are getting close to the point of "how much is too much?"

"That's okay, though, because we have several other issues that we are working on for enhanced performance and minimal horsepower loss, including rubber durometers, the inner fabric, pitch distances, paddle profiles, guide clip technology and driver sprocket technology due to the ever raising horsepower numbers," Lochnikar said. "We continue to work on the development of a lighter, stronger and faster product along with the aesthetical traits of less vibration and noise, hoping to make the Camoplast track a better product."

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