In this month’s installment of Back Road Ramblings, Jason Giacchino reflects on the recent rekindling of his interest in ATVs like the Honda TRX450R pictured above.
Although generally quite obsessed with the most performance-oriented models on any of the manufacturers spec sheets, I have recently come to the disturbing conclusion that I will most likely never experience the full capabilities these super sportbikes can deliver.
To put a fine point on why this is leads me directly to the fact that I do not participate in sanctioned racing events on these machines, nor do I intend to any time soon. This is not for reasons such as sensibility, fear of risk involved, or even lack of admiration for those who do participate. I’ve simply always found my desire to race released in the form of tearing into that tacky substance in which all raceways happen to sit on top of: dirt.
I’m interested in motocross, specifically, although I could never rule out a grueling Enduro or Hare Scramble. There is something about the timing, the rhythm required, the bike setup, and the lifestyle of true Supercross-style riding that I find irresistible. Especially in the blazing heat of the summer months, when most everyone else is looking forward to lounging around the pool with a margarita after work.
Years of experience (and battle scars to accompany the lessons learned) on Yamaha YZs and Kawasaki KXs have led to some solid results and spectacular crashes on two wheels with 2-stroke engine performance, but of late the trend toward high performance 4-stroke mills and the technology trickling into neighboring industries have sweetened the ATV pot to the point of warranting a closer look.
Indeed these are wonderful times to be an ATV performance enthusiast, as manufacturers are finally paying attention to that market which purchases their machines to race or truly sport ride, with R&D dollars and technologies transferring in from established racing outlets. For years many potential quad racers steered clear, due to the fact that the only acceptable race equipment was to purchase long-discontinued models and extensively modify nearly every aspect of the machines in an effort to be competitive on the track. It was no secret that since the 1980s, two-wheeled motocross weaponry, and its continued advancements in technology, trickled down from factory racing efforts and resulted in vehicles that were race-ready right off the showroom floor. At last, it seems that the manufacturers have been paying attention to the cries of the consumer, who have been literally begging to see race-oriented quads directly from the factories again in the dealerships.
After years of frustration, ATV enthusiasts are finally getting their hands on off-road racing machines like the YFZ450, with all the technology developed and refined on their 2-wheeled kin.
I have to admit my own personal interest in ATVs has been rekindled as a result, albeit a bit overwhelmed considering that in the span of a few short seasons the amount of options a potential buyer faces continues to multiply. Yamaha and Honda seem particularly committed to the cause with some mouth watering specifications on the YFZ450 and TRX450R, respectively, although Suzuki, Arctic Cat, Polaris, and Kawasaki are creeping ever closer up the performance ladder with each model year.
Switching back over to four wheels required some extensive flattening of our practice tracks, a few reconfigured obstacles, and a little bit more cargo space for transport, but otherwise proved a fairly seamless transition. Especially impressive is the abundance of after-market parts and accessories already available for this new breed of racing quad, with everything from cosmetic customization on down to some serious horsepower enhancing motor mods. I’m finding that basically the level of customization runs about as deep as a rider’s budget and desired outcome.
It is refreshing to be a part of a revolution in the marketplace, even if it’s only a reoccurring trend by the manufacturers to shuffle some of their technology around. I’ve always felt that ATV racing and freestyle competition shouldn’t have been as enigmatic as they have been over the past decade and a half. Perhaps by increasing the performance, handling, and styling of these machines at the stock level, this will trickle up to a resurgence in rider interest at the professional motocross and freestyle levels.
As far as our part is concerned, there is, just as there always was, an ATV class as part of our local motocross circuit, only now a stock machine can more than handle its own through the jagged whoop sections and massive triples. Good times to be an ATV rider, indeed, if even only as a recent returnee.
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