April 27, 2009 The PWC is evolving rapidly with the new Sea-Doo GTX Limited iS 255 and RXT iS 255 which introduce the industry's first suspension and braking and a new production-ready design which looks capable of defining a whole new class of PWC. The Samba looks like a stingray and is ridden in a motorcycle-like, crouch. Evolved over five years and four prototypes, it is so small and light, an 80 bhp motor can offer the power-to-weight and the same 65 mph top speed of the fastest 250 bhp sit-downs, with extreme agility, control and acrobatic capabilities far beyond those of a stand-up. Above all, the Samba is easy-to-ride, and extreme tricking is relatively easily attainable for even beginners, such is the degree of “body english” control offered to the rider by the design which puts the centre of gravity of the whole package between the rider's wrists and shoulders.

There's something to be said for the frugal approach to engineering. The standard way of doing things has been forged over centuries of bountiful resources and it made sense to build things big and robust so they would last.

The end result though, is that we have a global automotive fleet driving on roads speed limited to between 55 mph and 75 mph but typically capable of around double those speeds. Going twice the speed limit means you have at least four times more power than you really need, plus you're carrying all the extra weight required for reliability at double the speed.

With resources dwindling, its now easy to see that in an automotive sense, every extra kilogram wastes resources for the life of the vehicle because it has to be carried all the way.

From a performance viewpoint, weight also makes everything more difficult, particularly in the areas of the agility and acceleration of the said conveyance – every extra kilogram has to also be accelerated and decelerated and a lighter object requires less force applied to change direction.

There's always a better way, and what started out as a discussion on the evolution of Personal Watercraft five years ago between Craig Nowakowski and Rodrigo Silveira might well have delivered the next major off-shoot from the PWC family tree.

Their Samba is a new type of personal watercraft designed to give the rider a greater range of maneuverability than existing PWCs using a smaller, lighter operating platform and an ergonomic semi-prone riding position quite akin to that of a motorcycle .

This radical departure from conventional PWC thinking was afforded by the fact that when Nowakowski and Silveira began discussing the evolution of the PWC a few years ago, they were not ardent jet skiers, and perhaps their fresh eyes offered some perspective. If the first stand-up Jet Ski from Kawasaki was the PWC V1.0, and the second iteration, the sit-down jet ski was version 2.0, what would V 3.0 look like?

The sit-down jet ski had begun as a family recreational vehicle and evolved into something much bigger and heavier in a quest for comfort and speed. The stand-up had also gained more power and weight. From an engineering viewpoint, they noted that both PWC designs put the rider a long way from the centre of gravity of the rider-machine combination, hinders maneuverability and makes tricks more difficult.

It takes a few hours of practice just to get someone comfortably standing up on a Jet Ski, and tricks such as flips take many hours of training to achieve – the difficulty in riding the stand-up Jet Ski makes it very hard to master and access the thrills and enjoyment.

Nowakowski and Silveira wanted to make a watercraft with performance and maneuverability as its key characteristics, so they began thinking about what shape of watercraft would offer the performance criteria they were seeking and the agility required for tricking – it had to be much easier to ride than a Jet Ski, and much much easier to jump, spin, loop and do the logical tricks on too.

It's not surprising that the ergonomics ended up this way when you look at the simple physics involved for the X5. The centre of gravity of the man-machine combination is in the area framed between the rider's shoulders, hips, knees and extended wrists – the perfect place to get the most torque on the machine for tricks and turns. Most importantly, it means a 200 pound human is directing a machine of 200 pounds, offering a much fairer contest than a 500 pound stand-up or 1000 pound sit-down PWC. You don't need to be a Physics major to see the advantages of reducing watercraft weight and putting the handlebars at the centre of gravity so you can exert body-English more readily.

“The end result,” says Silveira, “after four refinements of the concept over five years, is a watercraft that's a lot easier to jump, change direction and do wakes and … everything is easier to do, making the PWC much easier to ride for beginners, and tricks far more accessible for those who have spent only a short time on it."

“We didn't worry too much about the motor. The Samba has been consistently clocked at 68-70 mph using a Kawasaki two-cylinder, two-stroke 80 bhp engine, so we don't want that much power or we'll go over the accepted limit of 65 mph,” said Silveira. “To date we have concentrated on developing the platform using a known motor so we could focus on getting the shape right. It is the shape of the hull that we've come up with that enables it to do the things it does, and what we use to provide 70 bhp is still open.

“We didn't want to be too hung up on the powerplant because it's the first thing that people ask about and that's not what it's about. Whilst we used a two-stroke motor, we did so because it was a reliable, known platform with the horsepower we wanted and now the shape is right, we envisage providing that 70 bhp with a four-stroke motor.

“Whatsmore, developments in recent times are making us more hopeful that before long we'll be able to find an ideal electric solution with removable battery packs that can provide exactly what we're seeking. The aim is to have a low-cost, low maintenance, low carbon footprint, but high fun factor machine, and electric drive fits perfectly with that. No emissions means no barriers to where it can be used and makes it as accessible as possible.

The seating position, which gives maximum leverage to the rider at the machine's centre-of-gravity, “just evolved that way” according to Silveira.

“It gives you a level of control over the machine that opens up a spectrum of new capabilities. The machine is almost instinctive to ride, and using this natural body instinct, people are quickly exploring the differences small amounts of input can make. You can go from big high speed drifts to cutting in and turning very tightly, all with just a small change in attitude of the craft, yet it's all instinctive. There's just so much flexibility when you're turning, to let it drift wider or cut in tighter, you have a degree of control over the craft that's unparalleled in any other watercraft.

“Professional freestylers will be able to do things with this machine that will be incredibly spectacular and we absoluetly believe we have created a new class of PWC racing. In terms of speed thropugh a set of boiuys, and close skilled racing, the Samba is set to become the watersport equivalent to a Formula One car. It's light, so it doesn't take much wake to give it lots of air, and it can manhandled to do far more turns or flips than a normal jet ski that we're really looking forward to seeing what the professional stunt riders can do with it. You can get much more air of a wake than a stand-up rider. You can flip it and loop it far easier than a stand-up.”

“Now we've created a proof-of-concept which people can ride, and see the advantages of the design for themselves, and compare the far cheaper manufacturing costs of our design with conventional PWC designs, we are looking to find the right partners to take the concept to market.

“If there are manufacturers out there who want to work with us in some way, perhaps licensing the platform, or as some other form of partner, we're interested in talking. We're seeking investors who bring relevant expertise rather than just money. We have not yet decided how to move forward to market and if there are people who wish to explore the possibility of working with us in some way, that most efficiently gets the product to market, please ask them to contact me.

Stay tuned over the next few days as we cover Kawasaki's new 260X and Sea-Doo's revolutionary (we do not use this word lightly) 255 iS PWCs.

Mike Hanlon