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BITEHARDER

Sharper, Safer, Smarter Snowmobiling

The Story Behind BITEHARDER Products

By Glenn Welch, BITEHARDER President

As snowmobilers we spend thousands of dollars on machines that can put out close to  200 HP, and can travel at speeds over 100 MPH.  We ride these machines on some of the most challenging surfaces often times on the edge of misfortune, as we negotiate down winding tree lined trails.  Throw in another snowmobiler coming at you (on your side of the trail), a downed tree branch, or any number of creatures that call the woods their home (deer, moose, you get the idea), and you get a real recipe for disaster. Or a near disaster that happened to me back in 2011.

The story behind BITEHARDER Products really starts back in 1989 when my wife Michele and I purchased a small five-person machining company located in the heart of New Hampshire’s lakes region.  At 27 years old, we had taken a giant leap of faith with hopes that my mechanical engineering background, and Michele’s purchasing background, would be enough to jump start our role as manufacturing entrepreneurs. Almost as exciting as our new venture was the purchase of a matching pair of 1979 Ski-Doo Olympique 340’s, both with only 400 miles on the clock.  After all, we were now living in snow country.

Twenty-two years later in 2011, Welch Manufacturing Technologies, Ltd. had grown into a 25-person manufacturing company that specialized in the fabrication of complex machined components and assemblies for the military, satellite, and commercial aerospace industries. 

With a growing company, a supportive wife, two incredible daughters, a comfortable home, a new 2011 Yamaha Apex four stroke, and a winter with that was providing for some incredible trail conditions.  Life was good. 

Living in New Hampshire offers great trail riding.  With Vermont to our west, Maine to our east, and the province of Quebec to our north.  Bring it on!  In mid-February of 2011, with over 1000 miles already on the Apex, me and the boys were heading to the Chaudière-Appalaches region of Quebec for a three-day ride.  I was going to swap out my carbide runners for the trip, as the prior gas stops, road crossings, and detours had put some significant wear on them.  Unfortunately, I made the decision to get a few more days out of my current runners.

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I have always had a love/hate relationship with the degrading performance you get from carbide runners.  They were developed in the 1970’s when Jean-Paul Samson (Bombardier Limited), filed a patent titled “Runner Shoe for Snowmobile.”  This patent added a carbide wear bar to the then sacrificial steel Skeg (or Skag), to extend the runners’ life.  This led to the modern runner that we are all familiar with today. 

Carbide is a manufactured material (think high heat and pressure), with a hardness second only to diamonds.  Triangular shaped carbide has a sharp leading edge that provides amazing steering ability and control in all conditions including snow, hard pack, ice, and even asphalt.  But this control quickly fades away as the edge wears. Replace the runners and get better performance, or use the dull runners (which are still protecting your skis), but lose your edge on performance and safety. The first and second day of our ride in Quebec was amazing.  Hundreds of miles of perfectly groomed, packed powder trails.  However, it was the third day that I will remember the most.  While negotiating a long sweeping right hand turn, I hit a section of ice.  With the dull runners, my skis immediately lost their bite and centrifugal force took over.  When my sled hit the embankment on the opposite side of the trail I bailed out, only to watch my Apex roll over the embankment and bounce off of numerous trees on its way to the bottom of a hill.  I was lucky.  Bruises will heal, but bent frames, smashed cowlings and a broken skid meant saying goodbye to the remainder of that season. 

After returning home to New Hampshire, I knew there had to be a way to maintain a sharp edge on a carbide runner.  Downhill skiers and snowboarders sharpen their edges before traversing the slopes, hockey players sharpen their blades before hitting the ice, so why can’t we easily sharpen our runners?

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I had read that each year there were hundreds of fatalities, and thousands of snowmobile related accidents relating to snowmobiling.  The article stated that while there are many factors (speed, intoxication, etc.) that come into play regarding these statistics, the primary underlying reason is loss of machine control.  All the more justification for my mission.

In the machining industry, we use carbide tooling for metal removal.  These carbide tools, being harder than the metal they are cutting, do a great job, but eventually wear down and need to replaced or resharpened – all very similar to the way a carbide runners edge will wear.  Knowing that carbide machine tools are resharpened using an industrial diamond impregnated wheel, I had a plan.

The task of removing a set of carbide runners, mounting them in a fixture so the runners edge can be precisely moved along a spinning diamond impregnated wheel, and then remounting them to the skis, worked perfectly.  However as satisfying as the results were, the process was complex, costly, and makes for a bunch of angry machinists waiting for me to free up the grinding area.

Inspiration followed a few days later during a trip to the hardware store with the need to purchase a new hack saw blade.  I remember the clerk saying, “these are our best blades, or you can try one of these new diamond coated blades that are supposed to cut through anything.” Diamond coated being the key words.

In researching diamonds, I found some very interesting information.  Natural diamonds take between one and three billion years to create. For reference, the earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old.  Much too expensive and I did not have that kind of time. However industrial diamonds, or diamonds that are manufactured in a lab, are less expensive, take about four weeks to create using high heat, specific gasses, plasma, and a 3D octagonal type web that allows the diamond to grow one atom at a time. Amazingly both types of diamonds have similar properties (chemical, physical, optical, etc.), and both are harder than, and will subsequently cut, carbide.

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The solution became clear.  Design a simple rotating tool, that incorporated industrial diamonds bonded to the cutting surface, that could quickly and effectively resharpen the edge on a worn carbide runner. Prototypes were made, and during the following season, testing was performed on hundreds of runners, over thousands of miles.  Design improvements were also made until I had a product that worked better than expected.  I knew that this technology had to be made available to all snowmobilers.  The inevitable question was then asked, “what are you going to call it”.  Many names were considered, however describing exactly what the product did, allowing your snowmobiles carbide runners to “bite harder”, seemed to make the most sense.  So “BITEHARDER” it was.

The final product comprised all of the design requirements that I set out to achieve. A precision machined stainless steel tool, with industrial diamonds bonded to the cutting surface, designed for anywhere/anytime sharpening of your carbide runners, without the need to remove them from your sled.  All performed by simply using a cordless drill to rotate the tool.  Sharp runners all season long! 

On January 7th of 2013, just after 1:00pm, our new BITEHARDER website went live. The website store carried just one product, the BITEHARDER Carbide Runner Sharpening tool.  Our first official order came in twenty minutes later. It was a great feeling. 

Today BITEHARDER manufactures six different types of snowmobile traction sharpening tools for both your carbide runners and carbide studs, and a host of other performance, safety, and convenience products.  We have been awarded six U.S. and Canadian patents for our innovations.

In addition, our Better Traction – Better Trails Program donates 10% from the sale of all BITEHARDER products to the participating state or province where the sale originated.  This money is typically earmarked to help offset the increasing cost of trail grooming. Better Traction through the use of BITEHARDER’s sharpening tools. Better Trails through improved funding for grooming operations.

With a deep passion for snowmobiling, our mission at BITEHARDER is clear. Use the latest advances in technology, combined with creative engineering, to develop and manufacture simple, yet cost effective aftermarket powersports products, that allow riders to experience all the performance their equipment has to offer, in the safest manner possible.

The snowmobiling season is short.  Don’t compromise and ride on dull traction. Stay sharp, and make every ride the safest it can be. BITEHARDER Products are “Made in the U.S.A.”  See them all at BITEHARDER.com

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