WHAT THE 4X4 WORLD CAN LEARN FROM THE ATV INDUSTRY
We take Yamaha’s new 4WD ATV workhorse for a spin, and come away wondering ‘what if…’?
I’ve been to more than a few vehicle releases over the years. They’re always fun and you get to drive or ride something before most other people do. It’s one of the perks of being an automotive journo. That’s why when Yamaha Australia (who know how much we love anything off-road here at Unsealed 4X4) offered me a crack at their new Kodiak 450 4X4 ATV, I was never going to say no.
That’s not only because I love riding quads and bikes almost as much as I enjoy four-wheel driving, it’s because I was genuinely keen to check out Yamaha’s new offering for farmers and hunters… and also because these guys had put together a fairly comprehensive list of safety improvements for ATV riders. Why is this important? Because it shows that the ATV industry is looking out for its riders. And in my opinion, the 4X4 industry should be paying attention to how these guys treat their customer-base.
In case you weren’t aware, riding an ATV can be pretty dangerous. But let’s not sugar-coat it: Most fun things have an element of ‘this might hurt’. Regardless, ATVs do have a propensity to roll on steep inclines or side-slopes, and when they do the rider’s melon usually hits the ground and then a few hundred kilos of quad bike lands on top of them. You don’t need to be a medical professional to work out that this is not the best for one’s chances of survival or not copping a serious injury.
THE WRONG SOLUTION
The easy answer would be to fit some sort of roll-over protection system (ROPS), right? Nuh-uh. The tech-guys from Yamaha told us that ROPS actually serve to increase the chances of flipping your bike due to the change in the centre of gravity of the vehicle – so they prefer to stay away from them and encourage their customers to do the same. Given the amount of studies they have conducted in the field, I’m inclined to take their word for it.
What about helmets, surely they’d help? Yep, they sure do; and they’re a legal requirement. The only problem is that when a farmer is on his rural property there is nobody to enforce that rule. Plus when you factor in the heat on many Outback mustering properties with temperatures in excess of 40º, wearing a helmet can get pretty damn heavy, hot and just plain old uncomfortable after 8-10 hours in the saddle.
The ATV industry listened to these complaints and Yamaha and other manufacturers, working in conjunction with French helmet manufacturer Shark, developed the X16: A road-legal helmet that’s lightweight; easy to put on and remove thanks to the micro-lock buckle system; and has four different foam densities and six vents that have been designed to maximise air flow even at low speeds to keep heads cool. The helmet is so well designed that even in the event of rain, the water flows out of two drain holes out the back. On top of that, there are two holes near the ears that allow the wearer to hear what’s going on around them – another important feature for those who make their living on the land.
But it’s not only for ATV riders. Snowboarders, horsey folk, BMX bandits… anyone who’s at risk of head injury could put this thing to use. I can tell you that after eight hours with it strapped to my noggin, I had zero fatigue in my neck or back. And despite the day being over 30ºC, I didn’t look like I’d taken a walk in a monsoon when I took it off (easily done, even with gloves), I just had a bad case of helmet-hair… but hey, small price to pay I reckon. Coupled with Yamaha’s 5-star safety program, and the fact they’re aiming to give these helmets away for free with each ATV purchase, it highlights the fact that they’re serious about rider safety.
SHOULD WE FOLLOW SUIT?
So how does this relate to the 4X4 industry? While off-road driving is probably orders of magnitude safer than riding ATVs, there have been hundreds of injuries and too many fatalities during off-road recoveries and driving. Almost all of which occurred due to ignorance of the dangers and all of which could have been avoided with some education and safe practice. Which is exactly what Yamaha and others within the ATV industry are striving to promote. So why aren’t those within our industry doing the same?
There are more and more new four-wheel drivers getting out there and enjoying the bush, which is great; but take a look at any soft beach on any given weekend. Half of them don’t even realise that they have to let their tyres down, let alone appreciate why snatching off a towball is like playing Russian roulette. Magazines (like this one), 4X4 clubs and training courses can point them in the right direction and are a great place to start; but what if manufacturers were offering safety courses and free recovery gear with every 4WD purchase? Is it impractical, too expensive, a dumb idea, or is it worth exploring? Have your say in the poll at the end.
YES, THIS IS STILL A REVIEW ARTICLE
OK, enough preaching. Let’s get to the review of the Kodiak 450. After being on some 180+hp race quads before, I can still say with a lot of confidence that this thing rips. No, it won’t pull your arms off like an angry wookie, but it produces useable power right through the rev range and can get up and boogie right up to about 96km/h (which is as fast as I could get the speedo to read on a long straight section of grass – and plenty for just about anyone short of a Finke Desert racer). The 421cc powerplant is fuel-injected, making for effortless starting and throttle control regardless of the ambient conditions. The throttle is about as smooth and controllable as anything I’ve ever ridden.
Compared to the previous Grizzly 450, the Kodiak is both wider and skinnier at the same time. Wider in that it has longer suspension arms for a more stable ride; but it feels skinnier thanks to the huge footrests that allow you to move around and have a positive effect on the handling, and also due to the repositioned handlebars and comfier seat. You could quite easily spend extended periods riding without the fatigue – perfect for farmers.
It also handled predictably; slow-speed crawling is made even easier thanks to the electric power steering (EPS) which still allowed plenty of feedback through the bars and at speed but made things a lot simpler in tight sections of track.
The suspension seemed pretty close to ‘dialled in’ too, providing a comfortable landing after catching some inadvertent air on the Sirromet Winery test course Yamaha had laid out for us. Sporting a re-designed frame and all new engine that has next to nothing to do with Yamaha’s two-wheeled WR450 (as you might expect), this thing is just about the perfect tool for anyone with a property… or for those who like to hunt, or anyone who enjoys blipping the thumb throttle and operating a fast, fun and nimble off-road smile-machine, really.
There’s a bunch of accessories to deck it out to suit your needs. And with an entry price of just over 10 grand (the model I tested was $11,299 with EPS) it works out to be an affordable, capable and reliable mid-size ATV.
For more info VISIT: yamaha-motor.com.au
SHOULD THE 4X4 INDUSTRY BE DOING MORE TO PROMOTE USER SAFETY?