Yamaha has launched its new YFZ 450F quad bike, but will it kill off the original YFZ 350 Banshee? CARtoday.com correspondent Brett Hamilton ponders the question.
As a journalist, one is expected, even forced, to be objective and honest. So, I will be honest. When Yamaha invited us to the launch of their hotly anticipated new quad, I was, to say the least, less enthusiastic about the new YFZ 450F than I should have been. I never gave quads a second thought and much preferred to swing my leg over two-wheeled saddles. And, as you might have gathered, I was still a quad-virgin. So there.
The quad market has, along with the motorcycle market, experienced a tremendous boom in recent years. However, this phenomenon has been even more visible in the popular sport/recreation market. With industry figures of 2 348 units sold in this class during 2002, it is apparent that the quad fulfils more than just agricultural needs.
The age of high-performance ATVs is upon us and Yamaha is at the fore of this revolution. The original YFZ 350 Banshee was the perfect tool for both ATV enthusiasts along with casual weekend thrill-seekers. To add to this Yamaha trend, the Blaster is widely regarded as the prime example of ATV racing material. However, in recent times, with the launch of the YFM 660 Raptor, Yamaha has been in a power struggle - with its own products.
The Japanese company currently makes up 62 per cent of this market and competition among its own models would be expected. A hot debate started between some journalists on whether Yamaha has taken the final step in killing off the Banshee by introducing the viciously potent YFZ 450F, the next generation of competition ATV. But, on the other hand, the Banshee stood up surprisingly strong against the introduction of the Yamaha Raptor.
The answer though took only a few seconds. The introduction of the YFZ 450F would not only lay the Banshee to rest, but the entire quad market would feel the ripple-effect of the launch of such a focused machine.
Usually, the hype machine of the manufacturers takes the rider on a magical journey of exaggerated figures and a farce of lyrical poems. Not so for this Yamaha. The YFZ 450F is one of the few products that could actually match the outlandish claims made by its manufacturer.
As a quad novice, the first real impression the YFZ made was with its sheer brilliant styling. Since the launch of the Bombardier DS650, every manufacturer has brought out models with ultra-aggressive power and ultra-aggressive styling. The YFZ is no different and, to say the least, the YFZ is extremely streamlined. Combined with its diminutive size, the sleek bodywork hangs on for dear life onto the forward stance of the YFZ.
Fitted with the legendary 439 cc, four-stroke, powerplant derived from the WR, the YFZ is definitely unashamed of its race-bred intentions. The electric starter would be beneficial when lying crossed-up in a ditch, but the lack of a standard kick-starter is a worry, especially when the electrical system is put through a strenuous enduro-type race. The motor did spark to life immediately, with a loud bark bursting from the small exhaust end can with a deep grumbling alerting the rider of the immense presence of power.
After releasing the clutch-mounted parking brake and engaging first, as a novice, the first few metres were tentative and the reality of consciously forgetting every lesson you have ever learnt on two wheels took some getting used to. However, with some practise the tricks-of-the-trade could easily be learnt on the YFZ.
For a machine with such immense potential, it is rather user-friendly and if taken gently it would take care of its rider. Soon the basics were out of the way and the YFZ allowed me to find limits. You would be hard pressed to have so much novice-fun on a two-wheeled machine.
Once on the move, the engine howls gorgeously and the dust bellows from the Dunlops and churns in the air. The launch was held at Mtonjaneni Lodge in Kwazulu Natal, and despite the constant watering of the track by owners Nico and Rina, the dry KZN wind ensured some pretty dusty conditions. At full flight, the 450 would be annihilated by the Raptor, but in tight conditions such as trails and tracks, the 450 offers a far better package. It is not only shorter, but also lower. Thus, the YFZ offers a much lower and balanced centre of gravity compared to the Raptor, making it a more focused and, hopefully for Yamaha, more successful machine.
Due to this increased focus, compared to the donor MX mill, the age-old concept of weight reduction was employed. The YFZ features the usual dosage of lightweight magnesium and titanium. None more so than in the chassis. And, this is where the YFZ really excels. Combining the race-proven 450 engine with a sublime chassis is the key to the success of the YFZ.
Despite the YFZ housing a 'WR' engine, it also borrows heavily from the YZ range of machines. Every part, from the adjustable brake and clutch levers, camshaft, cylinder body and the crank case cover finds itself fitted to the YZ as well.
Up front, the YFZ features an independent aluminium upper A-arm suspension system, which is fully-adjustable, and houses competition-spec, Nitrogen filled, Kayaba shocks. At the rear the YFZ boast a fully-adjustable Showa shock. This went down extremely well with the more race-inclined journalists at the launch.
Arguably, the YFZ is one of the best handling quads currently on the market and this is in no small way attributable to the suspension. The rear is extremely planted and offers excellent feel through the surprisingly comfortable seat with the front not being too choppy. Getting the YFZ sideways through corners is an easy and enjoyable task, with the engine powering through any obstacles and the suspension soaking up every bump. Banging into corners, the YFZ remains composed despite the ride being fast and frenetic. Straight from the box, the YFZ is admirable.
Due to my awkward first blast on a quad, I have to say that the stopping power on the YFZ is excellent. The YFZ comes standard with twin-piston 160mm discs at the front and a single 200mm disc at the rear. These stoppers quite literally saved my live, on more than one occasion. They offered excellent feel up-front and just enough pull at the rear to keep the rear-axle planted.
VERDICT: To be honest, it is extremely difficult to fault the YFZ on any point.
By Brett Hamilton of Twist Grip