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My Yamaha: Riding for a cause with Nick Keller

In this edition of My Yamaha we introduce Mr. Nick Keller of Minnesota in the northern Midwest region of the USA. In Minnesota, Nick Keller is known as snowmobiling's "distance man." Although the rolling farm country of central Minnesota gets its fair share of snow in winter, Nick also has a second home on Michigan's snowy northern peninsula to make sure he can satisfy his nearly four decade passion for snowmobiling all winter long. In 2010, Nick set a new world record for most miles run on a snowmobile in 60 days, recording an amazing 22,150 miles on his 2010 RSVector GT! The ride also raised money for cancer programs as the "Snowball Cancer Challenge."

Setting a goal to ride for a good cause

In March 2009, Nick Keller marked the 20th anniversary of the passing of his mother Mary Jane Keller, who had died of breast cancer at the young age of 56 when Nick was only 34 years old. In light of that milestone and the fact that Nick, himself, was turning 56 in 2010, he set to work to develop a plan to raise money for local cancer programs. When he, his wife and daughters formally launched the Keller Family Community Foundation (KFCF) in the late summer of 2009, Nick knew snowmobiling would be involved somehow.
Nick's local Yamaha Snowmobile dealer, A&C Yamaha in Paynesville, Minnesota, suggested he make an attempt at breaking the existing world record for the most miles in 60 days (at the time it was 12,163 miles recorded on a 2005 Yamaha RS Venture). Nick had a reputation for putting big miles on his sleds in the winter and it would be a good way to raise money for the new charity foundation. The only question would be what snowmobile model to use.

Had to be a 4-stroke and it had to be reliable


Nick Keller chose the RSVector GT for his attempt to break the world record of 15,000 miles in 60 days. Here is his sled "Mary Jane" named after Nick's mother, the inspiration behind his Snowball Cancer Challenge charity work

"When I started doing high mileage riding, I knew I needed to start riding 4-strokes," explained Nick. "I started on another brand's 4-stroke sled, but it was heavy and not much fun to ride. Then I bought a 2008 RSVector GT. That sled really opened my eyes to what a 4-stroke snowmobile should be."
A&C Yamaha put Nick in touch with the District Sales Manager, who then passed the information to the Snowmobile Division of Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A. (YMUS). "When I first met Nick in September of 2009, his passion for snowmobiling and his passion for helping local cancer patients and their families were very clear," recalled YMUS Snowmobile Marketing Manager Wade West. "We spent three hours sitting at his kitchen table just sharing stories about riding sleds, the interesting places we've been and the great people who ride snowmobiles. Then the conversation turned to his Snowball Cancer Challenge and he got very serious."
Nick explained his goals and talked about how much he had enjoyed his current Vector's smooth engine and great fuel economy and said that he planned to ride 15,000 miles in 60 days and needed a sled that was reliable and had great fuel economy, because if the sled breaks down for even one day, it jeopardizes the whole effort. The newly released 2010 RSVector GT with fuel injection was just the right sled for the project.

Snowball Cancer Challenge, 2010


During his 2010 world record attempt, Nick Keller made a lot of friends and won many supporters for his Snowball Cancer Challenge. Here is Nick with supporters and friends in Michigan at the end of the Challenge

Nick began his epic journey on December 26, 2009, with about 500 miles on his brand new Vector GT for a break-in. He rode every day for 60 days straight. In that time, he encountered all types of weather, from blinding snowstorms to snow-destroying rain. Through it all, the sled ran strong and started every morning. He kept a blog of his daily adventures, his thoughts and the people he met on the trail. Most importantly, he posted his daily mileage count. On day 27, just short of halfway through his effort, he commented that the 2010 RS Vector was the "best sled he had owned in his 37 years of snowmobiling."
The prior world record fell on February 3, 2010, when Nick officially rode 12,164 miles. It only took him 40 days to break the 60-day record. That gave him 20 extra days to pile up miles. And pile them up he did! The end of Snowball Cancer Challenge came on February 23, 2010, when Nick pulled into his hometown with 19,506 miles behind him. He didn't just set a new world record, he shattered it!
To put it into geographic perspective, his journey is approximately equivalent to riding from the YMUS Snowmobile Headquarters in Southeastern Wisconsin to the Yamaha Snowmobile Factory in Iwata City and back again, then heading to the Tug Hill Plateau of northern New York state-all in 60 days!

Not done quite yet


For long distance snowmobiling Keller requires not only a good sled but good wear as well. Choosing the right wear for each day's ride is the first task of the day

Nick allowed the YMUS team to use his story and his sled for some marketing projects in the fall of 2010. "We were standing at the Hay Days event in Minnesota, just one year and two days after we had first met," recalled Wade. "We were talking again about how much fun he had and all of the amazing people he met whose lives were touched by cancer when he told me he wanted to go back and break his own record again on the same sled!"
"There were so many people who told me I was crazy last year and that they didn't think my Yamaha would be able to last for just 15,000 miles that I wanted to really prove to them that the Vector was good enough to do the ride two years in a row," said Keller. "Most of them are believers now, but I know the sled and I have 20,000 miles in us this winter."
And so Nick had the sled maintained in preparation for the next record-breaking effort, Snowball Cancer 2011. Not much needed to be replaced on the sled. There were the usual wear items like carbides, hyfax, idler wheel bearings and bushings. He also requested new body panels, so that he could keep the first year's set intact with all of his sponsor decals. He also asked for a new seat, which had started to show some wear after 19,000 miles of use.

Better snow means better riding


Freshly fallen snow on the wooded trails of Michigan's Upper Peninsula is an inviting sight


Nick Keller completes his second world record-breaking Snowball Cancer Challenge on February 23, 2011. His total for the 60-day ride was 22,150 miles

The snowfall in the Ironwood area was much better in the 2010/2011 riding season. Nick was able to start out strong and rack up consistently long days on the trail, pacing well ahead of his previous mark. "The sled and I are as one," he commented early in the effort. "Everything is running at 110% and I feel great. It's such a comfortable sled and the engine is just as smooth and strong as ever!"
During this second record-challenging ride, Nick met more and more people who knew what he was doing and who wanted to ride with him for a day. "People are so impressed each day by the appearance and how the sled stands up to the mileage that I put on it," he reflected. "People will comment how it is such a nice new sled. I of course tell them 'New? It has over 30,000 miles on it already in the last year.' Then of course, I have to turn the key on the sled to prove it to them. They get quite shocked to see those miles on such a great sled. Even an elderly man at a gas station today said that he never thought he would ever see a sled with those kind of miles on it."
Nick amassed miles quickly on his 2011 attempt. The snow was very good and the local club members kept the trails well-groomed. "When I was about two thirds of the way into the ride, I figured out that I was already more than 2,200 miles ahead of my first year pace," he said. "The snow and the trails were just so nice, I simply kept riding."
With all of the long-distance rides he had done on his world record challenges, there was one milestone Nick had never reached: the 500-mile day. "I rode a lot of more-than-400-mile days over the course of the Cancer Challenges," he said. "But I haven't gone 500 miles in a day yet. People keep asking me when I'm going to do it, and I tell them I am saving it for a special day."
That day was February 14, Valentine's Day. Nick had a group of six friends come up to take on the 500-mile challenge. All six riders had Yamaha snowmobiles, so they felt confident that at least the sleds were up to the ride. Thirteen hours later, all seven of the group pulled into the garage, with 552 miles of woods, lakes and hills behind them.
This would prove to be a week loaded with milestones, though. With Monday's 500-mile ride behind him, Nick rode 401 miles on Tuesday and watched as his 1-year-old sled's odometer rolled past the 40,000 mile mark. Then on Wednesday, he surpassed his previous record-breaking 60-day total after a 412-mile ride. On Thursday he rode 406 miles to put the sled in the garage with exactly 20,000 miles on his 2011 Snowball Cancer ride, and he still had six days to rack up more miles!
On February 23, 2011, Nick pulled into Richmond, Minnesota to wrap up his second Snowball Cancer Challenge ride. In 60 days, he had ridden 22,150 miles on his 2010 RSVector GT. He kept close track of the fuel he used on the ride and it averaged out to 16.7 miles per gallon.

Still not done


In March, 2011, after two world record distance runs beginning in Dec. 2009, Nick Keller's 2010 RSVector GT had 45,410 miles on it. He had no engine problems in that timeframe

Nick's love of snowmobiling is so strong that he didn't stop riding after his world record challenge. He took a few days off to rest and spend time with his family, then headed back to his second home in Michigan to ride some more. He put the sled away for the season in March, with the odometer reading 45,410 miles!
"I just absolutely love the Vector," he said. "The motor is so smooth and it just purrs down the trail everyday so dependably." Time will tell if Minnesota's High Mileage Man will make a third consecutive Snowball Cancer Challenge ride. "I may try to break my distance record again next winter. I don't know if I'll use the same sled again or not. But I do know for sure that I will be riding a Yamaha, and maybe I'll buy a new 2012 Vector with EPS."


The riding location

Minnesota, Michigan, USA
Nick Keller and his family live in central Minnesota, a rolling farmland area dotted with glacial lakes. The area gets some good snow, but it is not known for consistently great snowmobiling conditions all winter long. In order to make sure he can ride every day in the winter, Nick also owns a vacation home in Ironwood, Michigan. Located on the southwestern edge of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, on the southern shore of Lake Superior, this region receives the lake effect with snowstorms all winter. It averages over 150 inches of snow every year with excellent volunteer snowmobile clubs to groom the trails.


Rider Profile: Nick Keller

Nick Keller has been an avid snowmobiler for 37 years. To say he loves to ride snowmobiles is an understatement. He is known in his hometown, Richmond, Minnesota, as the mileage man. As the owner of a concrete company, he works hard all spring, summer and fall so that by mid-November, he can close the business for the winter to pursue his passion: snowmobiling. He has been a distance snowmobiler averaging 200 plus miles a day and over 5,000 miles a season riding the Yamaha RSVector GT. Nick is an active member in the local snowmobile club and with the local/state snowmobile associations. He has also been involved in various other community organizations volunteering his time and talents.

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