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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
27th March - 3rd April '07 (part I)

I recently visited the Dive Xtras factory in Seattle (WA), makers of the X-Scooter; it was an interesting time to be there with a lot going on. The CSI X-Scooter was on a limited production run to make it available to the international Test Team (more on this later), the factory machine tools were being upgraded and Andrew Georgitsis turned up to assist with these activities and conduct some early stage product testing.

Dive Xtras is owned by Ben McGeever and Andrew Georgitsis (AG) with the former primarily designing the scooters and running the business on a day-to-day basis. AG was there the week that I was but splits his time between training and other interests and so it is Ben who lives and breathes the X-Scooter full time. The X-Scooter came about because Ben was fed up with diving sub-standard 1960's designed scooters made out of sewage pipe in people's garages and started working on his own. Scooter design really had not moved on since the days of Jacques Cousteau prior to the X-Scooter coming along. Ben began by eliminating failure points, reducing weight, improving performance and generally putting the fun back into DPVs. AG joined the project and brought with him a wealth of first hand failure experience of using other scooters and ideas on how they could be improved. The first X-Scooters were sold in 2004 after 3 years of design and testing. The current model ('Sierra') has been on sale since 2006 and is compatible with the earlier models.

I had never been to Seattle before and all I knew about it before I turned up was that it was the home of Nirvana, Microsoft, Boeing and Frasier, but I have to say I liked the place – it seemed very civilised. Most of the US cities I have visited are not places I would like to stay in for very long, they have a fragile, temporary and chaotic feel to them. Seattle felt different, it seemed more solid, more cultured and more relaxed. It was the first place in America that I have ever been to where I thought 'I understand why people would want to live here.' It was also the most testing Homeland Security entry interview I have ever been through – this guy wanted to know *everything* including where my wife was (yeah like I knew?).

Seattle may have a cultured feel to it but I was relieved to see at least the kitchen appliances were consistent with the rest of the country:


Dive Xtras is based in an industrial park about an hour outside of the city centre in a place called Mukilteo, a stones throw away from Boeing. A number of specialist engineering companies have sprung up around the Boeing factory and Dive Xtras is well situated amongst them granting access to the very best in tooling, mechanical engineering and welding expertise. It is also well situated for the ocean – literally a few minutes down the road and you can be testing X-Scooters out in the salty stuff with easily accessible shore diving.

The first day in the factory saw a big push to get a large 'Long Body' X-Scooter order out to Poland – more complicated than it needed to be as the recipients had placed one order with a dozen or so people paying their individual bits of the overall invoice. Obviously some were slower than others but the whole thing had to be shipped together once the last person had paid up. Add their own private courier to the mix and the amount of stress resulting from the one order left me wondering why Ben does it all.

Once the Poland order was out of the door (man in van having finally managed to locate the factory) the focus shifted to building the 20 CSI X-Scooters needed by the Test Team. I should explain at this point that Dive Xtras do all their product design and testing in-house. The original X-Scooters were tested for 3 years internally before they were put into production. Once they are satisfied with a product it gets released to the 'Test Team', a selected group of trusted X-Scooter enthusiasts who put the new products through their paces in a wide variety of conditions all around the world and generally try to break them. I am on the Test Team for the new CSI X-Scooter, a scooter with an ultra-low light, high quality video camera built into it. The idea being that you can scooter and video with one hand leaving a hand free for your primary light, buoyancy control etc.

CSI X-Scooter:


The name CSI comes from the fact that it was the Underwater Crime Scene Investigation folk that originally requested the scooter be designed and built so that they could record underwater crime scenes without disturbing them. Now they are proving popular with anyone wanting to video something underwater – cave divers, wreck divers, people wanting to video pretty fish as well as commercial applications like videoing pipelines and oil rig struts. A CSI works out about the same price as a good underwater video rig so the thinking is buy the video rig that comes with a free scooter.

I am using one in June as part of Mark Fielding-Smith's expedition to video the wreck of the Lisbon Maru (see online article: Grim truth about old soldier and his ‘fanciful’ great escape-News-UK-TimesOnline) and before that I am hoping to film Whale Sharks in the Maldives in May (May / June are supposedly the peak time for Whale Sharks in the Indian Ocean).

The amount of work that goes into building an X-Scooter is simply mind boggling. Before I went to the factory I knew how to strip and re-build the back end, all the prop shaft bits etc. as well as any operational type maintenance stuff that you would ever expect to need in the field; but I didn't know the half of it. Simply modifying the batteries for use in the CSI scooters took 4 people 3 days.

Dive Xtras do pretty much everything in house with the exception of building the brushless motors and applying the powder coating to the scooter bodies. They own Injection Moulds to make their own back end plastics (shrouds, props etc.) so that they are not reliant upon other scooter manufacturers selling them their parts (Oceanic are supposedly halting the production of the Mako back end which is a problem for all of the scooter vendors that rely on those parts) . They own lathes and mills for turning rolls of marine grade aluminium into X-Scooter bodies.

X-Scooters in their raw state:


I was there when they took a delivery of aluminium; it took one huge articulated lorry, a fork lift truck and 4 guys an hour to get the delivery into the factory. I asked Ben how many X-Scooter standard bodies he would get out of that one delivery “Forty or so, should be enough to keep us going for a couple of weeks.”

Ben getting aluminium from the delivery truck:


With the aluminium securely in the factory Ted (a guy who works in the factory and someone with whom I share a taste in music) and I went out to get lunch. He knew of a place nearby run by some perpetually angry Vietnamese guy 'Grouchy Chief'. It was no gimmick - this guy genuinely hates everyone that comes into his shop. You just felt that he wanted an excuse to attack you with a knife. The place was full of angry, hate filled signs written in pigeon English. Every mark on the wall was highlighted by a sign demanding “Who did this? Own up! I will kill you!”, “Keep bloody children under bloody control or get out!”, “Shut up, keep quiet or go out. It is better if you not here.” My personal favourite was:


We left and went for Sushi after he refused to serve me on the basis that I can't eat wheat. The place was empty when we arrived, we saw no one else the whole time we were there and he slapped the closed sign on the door the moment we left. How that guy stays in business I really don't know.
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
27th March - 3rd April '07 (part II)

The (something or other) motorbike racing season started that weekend and the Dive Xtras sponsored bike finally left the factory on the Friday to join some race meet in a neighbouring state. Jake had been rebuilding and tuning it since the last season finished and it was weird having that corner of the factory back - but within a couple hours the space had been used and it was like it was never there. I have no idea how it faired but it looked like a cool bike and Jake clearly knew his stuff:





AG arrived in Seattle on the Friday evening bringing with him a collection of old and obsolete scooters which have been part exchanged for X-Scooters (Apollo, Mako, Gavin, a couple of Predators and a Zeuxo). He also had with him some additional tooling machines which he had collected on his drive up from California. It took 3 of us and a forklift to empty his trailer and I still have no idea how he managed to load it in the first place.

Things are different when AG is around, the noise level goes up for a start; he has two mobile phones (one for diving and one for other business interests), at least one of which is constantly ringing. You really don't want to be in the same room as AG's mobile phones – especially if he isn't there with you to answer them. I found myself looking longingly at hammers and having twisted phone smashing fantasies.

Ben finds a use for an old scooter in the museum:


I heard AG take a call from a student with a query about applying the principles of ratio deco “If I'm doing a 40' dive, where should I do my deep stop?”
“Gee – erm... I reckon you should do it on a different dive....”. It was the one query I heard him take that I would have happily answered for him.

AG joined in the scooter building production line and worked with Ben in preparing the factory for the new machinery which was due in on the Monday. AG went to Canada the following morning to take a couple of training classes, he had rolled in, drank several gallons of coffee, taken a couple of hundred phone calls and left. It felt like I had been squished by the AG truck in a hit-and-run.

As the other folk who work at Dive Xtras are only employed during the week that left just Ben and I in the factory over the weekend, I spent most of the weekend burn testing scooters whilst Ben did remedial works upgrading the 3 phase power within the factory:


Every X-Scooter is pressure tested before being set-up in the test tank and burn tested in the water. At the end of the burn test it is run through all of it's speed settings and then it is taken out of the tank and examined before being approved for shipping. I had 4 scooters on order at the time so I got to test and QA approve my own scooters. I have now ordered a pressure tester so that I can do the testing locally in the UK after servicing (has to be better than finding a leak on a 50m wreck dive).

On Monday half the factory continued building scooters whilst the other half worked on the installation and commissioning of the new machine tools. AG had returned from his classes in Canada late Sunday night ready to re-join the fray.

Ted working on a batch of scooter tails:


Two of the new shiny machines. They do stuff:



I spent the last couple of days despatching my own order to myself and getting together a comprehensive set of spares and servicing parts. Whilst Ben can ship pretty much anything on the day I ask him for it, by the time stuff clears customs it typically takes 2 weeks to get to me in the UK; a long time to wait for a minor part should the need arise.

Dive Xtras are a genuinely innovative company that are trying to further the boundaries of what is achievable not only with a scooter but with diving generally. Ben and AG share a common vision of diving as being 3-dimensional freedom, silent, pure and simple. They are constantly thinking up new ideas and building stuff to test, not just new scooters but accessories, tools and things to make their ideal way of diving possible . The effort required to build the scooters does not justify the financial return (Ben would be a much wealthier man if he had stayed working as an aerospace engineer), but I came to realise that it is the love of the whole thing that drives not only Ben but AG too. Just hearing Ben talk about free diving with a scooter whilst surrounded by dolphins, encounters with whales and seals inspired me to grab a scooter and call the airline (Bonaire anyone?)...

During my time with Dive Xtras I learnt an awful lot about the scooters and the business. Ben took the time to show me exactly how things are done and why they are done that way. I saw first hand many of the issues thrown up by dealing with people and the lengths people will go to in the attempt to save a few bucks; like the $12KUSD order which someone saved $30 on by organising their own shipping (when it got damaged they weren't insured so they called Ben “Well that's why we don't use that company for shipping – this used to happen a lot....”). I saw about forty scooters leave the factory in a ratio of about 3/1 standard bodies over long bodies. I watched the first 20 CSI's come together for the test team including my own. I met some intelligent and interesting people (only one of which tried to sell me a gun) and I was shown great hospitality and warmth by everyone that I came into contact with.

It was a very worthwhile trip even though I managed to max out my Gold Card somewhere between Urban Outfitters and the Apple Store on the last day. In retrospect the real damage was done paying Dive Xtras invoices but as that was kind of the point in going I keep telling myself that's OK...
 

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Nice report Rob and good to see that you have been kept busy. That wasn't one of Rich Walker's old scooters that Ben is 'sitting' on is it :)

Have some green
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
That wasn't one of Rich Walker's old scooters that Ben is 'sitting' on is it :)
Not unless he's traded it in for an X-Scooter on the quiet...
 

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I think he's adjusting the trim - we normally get a fox to do that for us ;)
 

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Great report with a difference Rob, thanks!

Can't wait to check out the X-View, that looks like going on the toy list for Christmas :)
 

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Wow - Rob that is some trip report mate.. So when are you upping sticks and moving to seattle then.. :D

stay safe - whereever the international man of mystery tour takes you next (hope you've still got that Navy cover..)

Wilbo
 

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Hi

Interesting report Rob. It is incredible how the Xscooter has become so popular so quickly.

I'll stick with my obsolete Gavin's though, as my old fashioned short body went faster and burnt longer than the two Xscooters I had pleasure diving with on Saturday :)

Andy
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
stay safe - whereever the international man of mystery tour takes you next (hope you've still got that Navy cover..)

Wilbo
Current plan for the rest of the year is China, Scapa, Scapa, Bonaire, China and as of this morning: Malaysia. There is another biggy being planned which is sounding very interesting but I don't know if I'm actually on it yet. All very much scooter based :teeth:

As for the Navy - I have lost track of what's going on with all the emails flying backwards and forwards. Someone isn't happy with the date changes that end but I think it's the police. Not good either way and far too many guns for a dive trip IMO...
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
I'll stick with my obsolete Gavin's though, as my old fashioned short body went faster and burnt longer than the two Xscooters I had pleasure diving with on Saturday :)
Interesting - where was that? Echo's or Sierra's? The power performance between SS, Gavin and X-scooters is marginal (56lb thrust vs 60lb from the X IIRC), any actual difference is almost certainly down to technique.

As for burntimes a standard body X should deliver an hour of burn. If not then the prop may be set wrong or battery in need of replacing (or brand new and not running optimally yet).

I have noticed that whenever I hand an X-Scooter over to a Gavin owner they frig with the prop settings and then moan about the performance - well it was fine before you fecked about with it :rolleyes:
 

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Well, if you would make those pitch adjusters and gear changes so complicated ;). I always notice that the tow cords are too short on the Xscooter, but I do like the fact they are so lightweight. I wouldn't know the models but I know that one of the batteries is very old, as it was the first demo model in the UK, and the one tested in Diver mag a few years ago. The other X has the right burntime but AFAIK the Nimh batteries do not recover when the scooter is at rest, whereas the lead acid does, and it was two dives of about 50 minutes, with a 1-2 hour surface interval. The Gavin was still pulling strong at the end, when I had to tow the Xscooter back to the shore. (We were only in Capernwray)

I actually speed tested it against my Gavin when both scooters were new and it was slightly faster than the Gavin, but now my Gavin is faster than the X. Either I have a better technique (very probably), or the batteries make a difference in speed (not likely), or the motor might need a bit of a service, as the brushes might have shifted or something (although my Gavin is the same age and has never been serviced or indeed touched at all).

This is the problem when people say that a scooter is faster than another, it depends a lot on the person riding it.

Andy
 

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I have noticed that whenever I hand an X-Scooter over to a Gavin owner they frig with the prop settings and then moan about the performance - well it was fine before you fecked about with it :rolleyes:
LOL! Dunno who you could possibly be talking about there, Rob...

Seriously, though - nice report! I was particularly amused by the photo of Ben demonstrating uses for old scooters... Out of interest, what do they do with the scooters that people trade in? I'm sure there's plenty of owners out there that would be happy to buy them - or do they simply have a ceremonial pyre out back? ;)
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
the motor might need a bit of a service, as the brushes might have shifted or something
No brushes in the X - in fact nothing at all to ever service in the motor (rated 10,000 hrs @ 10,000 RPM but only runs at 800 RPM in the water). Brushed motors are meant to be rebuilt every 500hrs IIRC. The battery shouldn't effect the motor performance at all...

I know the very X-Scooter you are on about and it's owner... It's an Echo model (no speed shift built into the trigger). The scooter probably needs a service - replace the pump seal etc (meant to be annually but I don't know of anyone who actually does that!). Battery is doing well but probably needs retiring after 3 years.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Out of interest, what do they do with the scooters that people trade in? I'm sure there's plenty of owners out there that would be happy to buy them - or do they simply have a ceremonial pyre out back? ;)
No burning stuff, they keep them and display them along with the original X-Scooter designs (which are still being lent out). OK so they have a good laugh at some of them like one 1960's monster had a charger that weighed more then the entire X-Scooter, but mainly it's just interesting to trace the evolution of design.

Many of the Scooters they have seem to be the result of home builds and you can see that something didn't work so they modified it and tried again (and again, and again). One of them had about 7 latches on it 4 of which were added later, so the guy must have thought 'HHmmm, keeps flooding.... I know must need another latch....'. in the end he ran out of space I think!

Others are quite new and have tried new approaches like latchless casing but just have ended up making more failure points than the thing they were trying to engineer out.
 

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Nice Report

Andrew ,I Now concede that the Gavin is much better as not only did it tow me about after my wanky x gave up the ghost after nearly an hour ...It towed your massive head about as well ..

Seriously ..The x is a great scooter in certain applications ...like on open water dives where either weight or Space is at a premium ....

If the Viz is ok Saturday Looks like a few circuits of the Derbent or Vigsnes ..If not its getting nose clipped :frown:

The perfect scooter would be a mix of the two tbh
 

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Cheers Rob,

Very interesting report! Looks like a good trip!

Another thing to stick on the shopping list then!!! DAMN!!! ;)
 

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If Ben was a real man - he'd dangle his Maltesers in the other end and pull the trigger :D Now come on Dobbo - did you stick the "Walker" decals on yourself? You can tell us - there's only 8,000 people are listening (well maybe 4,000 once we've got rid of all the multiple logins ;) )
 

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Purely out of interest, what's the typical burn time for a short body gavin?
Hi

On a burntester then I get 50 mins, but this is indicative of the load you would get fully loaded with bottles and towing scooters etc. at full pitch. Turn down the pitch, use less gear, and in normal wreck diving conditions (starting and stopping a fair bit) then you will get a lot longer.

I have not really seen anyone with an Xscooter doing a comparable burntest, so it is hard to compare really.

Andy
 
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