What the heck is a Variator and how does it work??? Here's a little animation of one in action. The explantion follows
This document was originally written by Scott (AKA Scootnfast) on the ApriliaForum website. We have done a bit of editing so that the average scooter head can understand, but all the photos and info are his. We have requested his permission to reproduce this. We have been unable to contact him, so we stole a great deal of this, but it is stolen with total admiration for the author, his writing and illustrations! Thank you Scootnfast!.....the squids 

One thing people regularly wonder about is how a CVT (Constant Variable Transmission) works. (If you are one of those people, you need to get a life!) CVTs are used mostly in scooters, like the 50cc Yamaha Zuma. If you've ever been confused about that strange little transmission in your scooter, this should help clear things up a bit.

CVTs are quite simple in design, but since every part must work in concert with all the others, it can be difficult to visualize their operation, and understand how each part fits into the whole. The drawings are not to scale, but are meant to just give you a better idea about what is going on.

  Lets start with the front pulley of the variator. This is where your roller weights and ramp plate are located. This image is a cross-section of the front pulley, showing the front half of the pulley, the belt, and the rollers sitting against the ramp plate. This is how the transmission looks when the engine is running at low RPMs.

Now as the RPM's of the motor increase, the centrifugal force pushes the roller weights outward (number 1 in picture).

The roller weights push out and onto the angle plates surface. This causes the rear half of the pulley to move toward the front half of the pulley (number 2 in picture).

When the rear half of the pulley pushes to the front pulley, it forces the belt out to a higher gear ratio (number 3 in picture).

This is the basic operation of the front pulley. Faster engine speeds cause the belt to go outward.

O.K. now, I can tell some of you are not paying attention. There will be a quiz on this, and the results go on your permanent record!

If you are thinking about getting a new variator, let me first start by telling you that it will probably not have any effect on your over all top speed. What it will do is give you a more steady acceleration. The distance that the rear half of the pulley can travel pretty much remains the same. Meaning that it will only push the belt out as far as the stock variator will which results in the same high gear ratio as the stock variator. The key difference between the stock and performance variators is the angle on which the roller weights travel and the angle on the angle plate in the rear of the variator. This will only help give you a smoother, more constant acceleration.

Now as for the different weights for the rollers. It is really rather simple. The heavier the weight, the more force will be applied to the angle plate forcing the rear pulley half forward faster. If the roller weights are too heavy, it will force the gear into too high of a gear too fast.

I like to use a 10 speed bicycle as a comparison. From a dead start, if you are in 10th gear, it is very difficult to get going. But if you are in first gear, it is very easy to get moving. the same principle applies here. You want the weights to keep you in first gear, and as the RPM's increase, it will gradually step the gears up until it reaches tenth gear.

If your roller weights are too light, then there will not be enough force to push the ramp plate out and the rear half forward. This will result in good acceleration, but a low top end. You will simply remain in a low gear for too long. As the engine speed finally gets moving enough to move the pulley forward and raise your gearing, you will be above the RPM of peak horsepower for the engine, and it will not have the power to get you moving.

Now it's getting good! Where else can you use the old 10 speed bike analogy! Doesn't get any better than that!
  This image is a side view of what the ratio looks like in low gear. You will see that the front pulley is small, and the rear pulley is large. This is like first gear of the 10 speed bike.
  This image is what the gear ratio looks like when the roller weights are pushed out and the rear half of the pulley is forward. The belt is pushed out to a higher ratio. This is like tenth gear on the bicycle.

Now the other factor in this equation is the rear pulley. The rear pulley has a spring holding it together. This is your contra spring.

The front half of the pulley is also torque controlled. There are angled grooves that the pulley travels on. As torque is applied, this limits the belt from traveling in too quickly. Likewise, as you go up a hill and torque is applied to the pulley, it is supposed to force the pulley together giving you a lower gear ratio.

  This image is what the rear pulley looks like at low rpm's. The spring is forcing the two halves of the rear pulley together, holding belt outward, and keeping a low gearing. As torque is applied to the belt, the halves of the pulley begin to separate, pulling the belt inward, which raises your gearing. The stiffness of this spring determines how fast the pulley halves expand, and how strongly they return to their original shape when the torque is lowered again
  This image is what the rear pulley looks like at high rpm's. Notice the spring has been compressed, and the belt has moved inward.

 If your roller weights are giving you good acceleration, and a good top end, but when you approach a small hill the scooter slows drastically, this may be caused by having too light of a contra spring. The contra spring helps push the rear pulley back together when torque is applied to the rear pulley.

Say you are running good at say 50MPH, and you slow down to 35MPH. If you then try to accelerate, and you have hardly any acceleration, this can be caused by having too light of a contra spring. When you slow down, the spring is supposed to push the rear pulley together into a lower gear ratio. If the spring isn't strong enough, the pulley will remain in a high gear, and then when you try to accelerate, there isn't enough power to push you because you are in too high of a gear.

On the other hand, if your spring is too strong, then the roller weights may not be heavy enough to force the belt out all the way and into it's highest gear ratio, and you won't be able to reach your top speed.

If you go with a stiffer contra spring, you may need to go to a slightly heavier roller weight. Likewise, if you go to a softer spring, you may need to go to a lighter roller weight.

There is a very fine balance that you must achieve between the contra spring and your roller weights. This is only accomplished through trial and error.

  This is an exploded diagram of the stock Yamaha Assembly

That's it! Shoot us some E-mail if you have specific ZUMA questions and we will do our best to answer them as time allows, and/or suggestions for topics in "Tech Tips!" Remember this page is for you!

ZUMA Tech Tips Index