There are few environments that can give the sense of loneliness and desolation like an expansive range of shifting, featureless sand dunes. For West Coasters, the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, commonly called the Glamis Dunes, epitomize the dune experience and an OHV subculture that revolves around the gritty landscape. MotoUSA’s Southern California crew are regulars at Glamis, but those of us in the Oregon HQ offices are accustomed to a very different dune climate. I had a chance to explore the dune Mecca at the unveiling of Yamaha’s 2012 Special Edition YFZ450R and Raptor 700R sport ATVs.
We met Yamaha and other members of the media at Glamis for a few days of dune riding with the 2012 Special Edition sport ATVs.
Where our northern dunes are short and rounded, blasted by chilly coastal winds and interspersed with freshwater ponds, Glamis features steep mountains of soft, dry sand with a completely different variety of shapes and treacherous surprises – just the type of terrain that the Yamaha quads are designed to tackle. The Imperial Dunes are part of the California BLM management system and the sand itself covers a strip of land roughly 40 miles long and five miles wide that extends down into Mexico and nearly into Arizona. The portion that is open to OHV use is located between Highway 78 and Interstate 8 and serves as a wonderland for dirt bikes, ATVs, side-by-sides, dune buggies, sand rails and Jeeps.
Portions of the western side of the recreation area are an active bombing range and the military used the dunes for World War II bomb training. Further west there are square miles of agricultural land, including stockyards. A strong wind can carry the scent of cow manure from nearby Brawley, a reminder that despite its seemingly endless range of sand, the dunes aren’t that far from a population.
Gecko Road is one of the main veins that allow access into the dunes with multiple developed pads and campgrounds spread out to allow campers and day users room to park. Yamaha had us staged out of Pad 2-2.5, not far past the Ranger Station which is located at the junction with Highway 78. The Ranger Station is the first stop as the place to purchase the mandatory permit. A row of YFZ450R machines and a matching lineup of Raptor 700Rs were waiting for us along with some of Yamaha’s partner companies who were just as keen to sample the new rides.
GoPro has launched itself to the front of the action sports digital recording market with its HERO and now HD HERO2 cameras. Both the 450R and 700R qualify for a limited-time sales promotion which provides one of the new high-definition cameras and associated hardware with the purchase of a new ATV over 400cc. Having extensive experience with the GoPro models, I can attest to their awesomeness. The new HD 2 is even more mind-blowing, and the fact that Yamaha is hooking up its customers with a $299 value is a sweet deal by any standard. The onboard footage seen in both videos in this article came from the HERO2. With high-quality video and camera settings, simple user interface and durable, versatile design, you’ll be using this thing for all kinds of stuff in addition to capturing that new ATV in action.
The Raptor 700R is a dune legend. GoPro was on hand to demonstrate the new HD HERO2 which is available for a limited time sales promotion. We split time between the two sport ATVs and wore ourselves out playing around, racing and going for huge group rides.
We also got to hang out with the guys from Camp Chef who had a few of their utensils on hand to cook badass food for our group all week. Camp Chef has an extensive catalog of stoves, ovens, griddles, cookware and accessories that make outdoor eating a true joy. We rode our brains out all day and then posted up in rented RV trailers and sat around raging bonfires every night. The entire experience was enhanced by filling our bellies with quality food. Everybody has to eat, whether it’s at a weekend ATV trip, month-long elk camp or afternoon of tailgating, and Camp Chef has the nicest tools for the job.
2012 Yamaha YFZ450R SE
If racing is your thing, whether on the track or across the open dunes, the Yamaha YFZ450R is tough to beat. When I first arrived, this was the quad I headed for, drawn to its sexy look and aggressive stance. This competition-bred sport ATV has defined the 450 class and Yamaha makes its headline quad even better with the Special Edition version. For 2012 it gets metallic black and yellow bodywork that instantly gives a sinister impression. The $8949 SE model also gets Dzus fasteners that make stripping the sleek bodywork a matter of minutes. This is by far our favorite SE feature because it makes cleaning and maintenance much easier. The 44mm Kayaba shocks up front and 46mm Kayaba out back all get color-matched yellow springs. The aluminum swingarm is blacked out and the SE also has a black GYTR front grab bar installed.
Aesthetically this is an impressive ATV, but it has the performance to match. In comparison to the Raptor, the YFZ450R is the more aggressive and it pays off to ride with extra energy. A fuel injected 449cc dual overhead cam engine uses five valves and churns out usable power across the rpm range. The high-revving mill loves to be wrung out and the dunes are a perfect place to put it to use.
A 50-inch wheelbase, matching width and low center of gravity make for a stable platform that eats up long powerslides with ease. Once I got the hang of letting it move around underneath me, the wide platform makes transitions easy – even complex junctions where multiple dunes slam into each other and create steep faces in every direction. Wide
Developed with motocross racing in mind, the YFZ450R has a wide stance that makes it excel at aggressive sand riding. The GYTR components available from Yamaha turn a good ATV into an amazing machine.
ergonomics are one of the YFZ’s strengths and it encourages the rider to move in the cockpit. A thin but relatively comfortable seat allows plenty of room between the rider’s knees when standing and creates space to hang off when needed.
Yamaha knows its motocross quad isn’t confined to the track. That’s why it develops it for multi-use on the dunes and trails. A new set of Dunlop tires look very similar to those found on the 2011 model, but are slightly different for better cornering performance. Tuning Fork engineers also equip the YFZ450R with a 20-inch rear tire and 21-inch front for added versatility and a touch more ground clearance.
Yamaha’s premier 450 sport ATV can be made even better. Yamaha’s in-house performance group, GYTR (Genuine Yamaha Technology Racing) has a full list of components to boost the 450R’s output. The beauty of using YFZ450R GYTR products versus other aftermarket options is that they were developed parallel to the ATV itself. That means the CAD designs were available for perfect alignment and GYTR parts are subjected to the same rigorous testing as the stock machine.
Yamaha had a fully decked-out GYTR YFZ-R on hand for us to sample. The highlight was a new CNC ported head assembly which includes billet cams and comes fully assembled. A guy could purchase the new head, take his stocker off in one piece and set it aside as a backup without major disassembly. It also had a performance piston which boosts compression to 13.2:1 (from 11.6:1), a Power Commander, high-flow air intake, full-system exhaust and GYTR clutch components. In addition to the engine work, the rear sprocket, front grab bar, skidplate and nerf bars were all upgraded units. This was by far my favorite ATV to ride for the weekend.
The additional power is extremely noticeable, as is the throaty exhaust. I snagged the ‘roided quad during a big group ride that had 18 of us winding our way out to China Wall. I was forced to give it up since everyone wanted to see how much better it conquered the hill than the stock version. The GYTR bike could roll through the whoops at the base and then slam the throttle in third gear right at the bottom and it would roar over the crest. The stocker is also capable of topping the massive hill (none of the bikes had paddles), but it requires a fourth-gear, bravery-testing run through the nasty rollers and a quick, perfectly timed downshift about three-quarters of the way up. The GYTR engine puts a major smackdown on the stock mill and should be at the top of the list for any racer or weekend warrior in need of a reliable boost.
2012 Yamaha Raptor 700R SE
Yamaha’s Raptor 700R is an iconic sport quad. This brute of an ATV uses a fuel-injected 686cc Single that oozes torque and has become a standard for power, refinement and versatility. Trail riders love the comfortable Raptor while drag racers modify them into arm-wrenching beasts. The big lump is perfect for cruising through the sand dunes with enough power for the steepest hills or to lift the front end at will. Instead of pinning the throttle like the YFZ-R, the 700R responds to short-shifting, minimal clutch work and juicy doses of mid-range. It has a much lower compression ratio of 9.2:1 and uses a slightly larger 44mm fuel injector. Another feature we especially appreciate is that the 700R offers a reverse gear to go with its five-speed transmission. It takes very little effort to move through the gearbox, mostly because the rider can be entirely lazy and never really worry about lugging or over-revving.
Ergonomics are sporty but comfortable, with a soft seat and tall handlebars that let the rider blast around as mild or wild as they choose. The steel and aluminum chassis is attached to a trio of piggyback shocks. The front pair offers 9.1 inches of travel and is fully adjustable (preload, high/low-speed compression, rebound). Out back is 10.1 inches of travel with a fully adjustable shock that attaches to the top of an aluminum swingarm.
The Raptor gets a digital computer to display basic information and the Special Edition comes with some extra features, including unique black and gold colors and graphics, wave-style rear rake disc and a GYTR front grab bar. Aluminum GYTR heel guards are our favorite special edition feature and they offer improved safety, durability and looks. Yamaha has built a reputation with one of the most competent all-around sport quads ever, and like it does for the 450R, Yamaha offers a full series of Raptor 700R GYTR components to help customize it to each rider’s personal tastes.
This was only my second time to Glamis and by no means do I have that place figured out. The endless riding options make this sandbox a playground that is limited only by the rider’s creativity. Yamaha’s premier Special Edition sport ATVs are two different but equally perfect dune blasters in their own right. The SE models have an extra level of refinement and class that makes them stand out, and promotions such as the GoPro deal and custom graphics add significant value for buyers. When we weren’t dodging witch’s eyes and chasing our buddies’ rooster tails, we packed down Camp Chef’s tasty grub, tossed horseshoes, watched our GoPro footage and bashed each other on the indestructible Raptor 250R quads. Every ATV rider should experience dunes at some point, even if they aren’t Glamis, and the Yamahas are an excellent way to get the most out of sand riding.