Dude, where's my relief?It's almost 3 a.m. Do you know where everyone is? Thumper team member Greg Collett is due in from his third lap aboard the LT-Z470 any minute, and there is no sign of a relief rider. The pit boss for Thumper, Chris Denison, is curled up in a camper in the middle of a bad bout with food poisoning. Things aren't pretty. His fellow pit minders from IMS and Alba, Brad Bowlin and Robert Jordan, are trying to round up a replacement from somewhere in the eerily quiet pits so Collett can get off the machine. Bowlin ended up playing relief rider for the Thumper bike as Jordan hunted down the rest of the team to man their quad.
Humble Beginning To Lofty GoalsNothing like a little early morning crisis to wake folks up-well, except yours truly who slept blissfully through the entire scene. However, this was probably the worst of calamities to beset the first-ever ATV Rider 24-hour. Inspired to outperform the 12-hour from 2005 that saw the ATV Rider staff travel to the East Coast and test a handful of machines in the rocky Pennsylvania woods of Rausch Creek (Feb. '05) and egged on by Dirt Rider editor Jimmy Lewis' quip, "They have lights, don't they?" we decided to conduct our own 24-hour test. Building on the experience I gained at DR's 24-hour and with DR trail guru, Karel Kramer, serving as course consultant, we set up a challenging 21-mile loop that incorporated the best of Hungry Valley State Vehicular Recreation Area's trails to thoroughly test any ATVs that arrived on February 7. The course had a little bit of everything: sand, silt, whoops of all sizes and shapes, rocks, hardpack-some of which was blue from tires after 24 hours of ATVs-and even trees.
Our brilliant concept was to invite about six shops to build their idea of the Ultimate Trail Machine and do it with a budget of $10,000 in aftermarket enhancements. We arrived at this figure after calculating how big of a budget would allow builders to outfit a quad to be trail capable, yet would still be financially reasonable for the average person and not simply be a rolling catalog. We left it up to the companies to decide what platform to start with; they could choose any brand, and the ATV could be a sport or utility. Knowing that our readers are a mix of sport and utility riders, we hoped to have machines that would be of interest to the entire diverse group. And while we crafting lofty goals, we envisioned half the group from the East, the other half from the West and one from the middle to fully represent the entire country. Alas, the distance and timing-squeezing in between two GNC rounds-prevented any Easterners from building and bringing a machine for our test. In the end, four companies were able to answer the challenge: Alba Action Sports, Duncan Racing, IMS/Roll Design's and Thumper Racing. All chose to use a sport model, with Alba picking a Yamaha Raptor 700R, Duncan and IMS/Roll opting for Honda TRX450Rs and Thumper going big-bore on a Suzuki QuadSport Z400.
With a healthy budget of 10Gs and pretty flexible rules-the only constraints being the machines had to be legal to ride off-road in California, as in under 96 decibels and spark arrested-the shops were allowed to express their creative genius and design philosophies. The result was four unique and exciting creations-even the two Hondas behaved quite differently, despite sharing a good many components.
Alba Action Sports Raptor 700RTheoryAlba tackled the 24-hour with a couple of goals. One was to set up a quad that a typical owner could build. Second, it wanted to demonstrate the championship qualities of the new Raptor 700. And lastly, to show how well its Alba parts perform and stand up to abuse. For all three, the 24-hour test was a great proving ground. And unlike the other entrants in the test, Alba started with a quad that was originally set up for desert racing and had over 700 race miles on it (and an Expert Division win at the Parker 250).
To prep for the 24-hour, all Alba did was change the oil, remove many of the race parts prior to the test and replaced them with more standard components and made sure the nuts and bolts were tight-all was good to go. Some of the race items on the Alba Raptor were overkill, but because they were already installed, they were left on. Alba did swap out the front desert race suspension for its Pro Elite A-arms with mid-level Elka shocks. The motor was good to go, so besides an oil change and a bolts check, a tip was installed in the silencer to hush it and make it spark arrested. Designed as a result of the research to quiet down its performance pipes without killing the power, Alba claims the tip only robs a bit of horsepower (1.5, to be exact) off the bottom-end from its race pipe while giving the quad a slight 0.6-horsepower boost on top. The custom-made skid plate-built when the quad was originally set up for race and no skid plates were available-along with the yet-to-be-released carbon fiber are the only items not available from the company yet at www.albaaction.com. How close is the Raptor we tried to one you can buy? The company tells us that a new Alba Raptor 700 comes standard with the Alba pipe kit, Velocity Air Adaptor Kit, Alba fuel-management system, Tag bar and grips and Alba graphics kit.
Performance Frankly, we were surprised to learn that the Alba unit arrived with 700 miles already under its belt. It certainly looked a lot younger. As the Alba team intended, the 24 hours and additional 462 miles would be a good testimonial to the stamina of the new Yamaha. Once on the trail, it was readily apparent just how much race breeding was still in this machine. It was a rocket and a quiet one at that, thanks to the Alba tip insert that hushed the 700R to a respectable 92 decibels. Perhaps the biggest beef with the blue missile was its stopping powers, or lack thereof. Aside from odd ergonomics of the footpegs (that allowed the rider to pivot his foot back and behind to hang over the back end as he blasts through the desert) and hand guard-necessitated lever placement, the brakes felt mushy. A good bleed job would cure this. Add in a super-light throttle that didn't seem to completely shut off when we let go of the thumb lever, and it was a recipe for a free-flying beast. Did we mention how fast this machine was and how stock the motor was? A pipe and high-flow airbox mod with a high-flow filter was the extent of engine alterations.
To continue with the mixed messages, the suspension was plush but wonky in the front/rear balance. The Raptor had a wide desert front end with Elka shocks that were super plush; in fact, it was too mushy. It floated over everything and didn't allow the front tire to bite in the corners. Conversely, the rear squatted, making it hard to stand and it kicked side to side off the chop. Less preload might have helped push the rear up and the front down and given the machine better turning prowess.
Ah, hindsight-a great post-event second-guessing tool. The Alba Raptor 700R certainly showed the model's potential, but the setup was a miss for the variety and speeds of our 24-hour loop. A bit of fine-tuning is all it needs; the parts and reliability are there for a capable trail quad with an alter ego racer lurking inside.
Duncan Racing TRX450RTheoryWhen I originally discussed the idea of running ATVs for 24 hours to Loren Duncan, without missing a beat he told me he'd use a TRX450R. The 450R was selected due to an overall combination of high performance and suitability to the task at hand, namely to build the Ultimate Trail Machine. To the minds at Duncan, ultimate means something that can win races. This ideology was likely instrumental in all of the faster testers (racers) favoring the quad.
In an unlimited spending situation, Loren would have installed a motor kit in the machine, as well as mounting an aftermarket swingarm, but it hardly seemed worth it. His brother Lenny thought these mods would have made it easier to bring the front end up (for clearing obstacles or entering whoops at speed). But limited by our spending cap, the team concentrated on the chassis and handling. Long experience in desert racing resulted in the moderate A-arm and shock replacement, mated the ITP Holeshot XCR tires for the terrain to give super-precise steering. The Honda motor gained a Duncan cam and aftermarket springs. The Duncan gang finished off their entry with nice touches like killer brakes, thick seat foam, good overall ergonomic fit and a great lighting system (that confused some testers with the multiple switches).
PerformanceLike the Alba and IMS machines, this unit arrived sporting Elka shocks to handle suspension duties. The similarity ended there. Matching the rumbling, yearning for speed motor, the Elka Elite shocks craved high-speed action. That translates into absorbing big hits well, but getting a bit busy in the small chop-needed to handle the worked-over engine's hit and hard charge at the top. Duncan's motor massage left it craving only speed, it was stall-prone if mishandled-like trying to turn around on the trail for another photo pass. But push the thumb throttle forward and the 450 went from the rough top-fuel-dragster idle to purr as the scenery blurred. The 14/38 front/rear gearing helped translate the ponies into trail speed.
Night riding on this machine was truly fun with the Trail Tech (360/87-4530) lighting system that included two MR16 HID on top and bottom center and two MR11 HID lights. The Trail Tech lights all work with the stock stator and all the mounting hardware comes in the kits. Although it looked odd with the four small lights, the pattern was quite good and encouraged us to let the 450 gallop down the trail. On the maintenance side of things, it was surprisingly light. The oil was never changed, only 2 ounces were added near the middle of the 24-hour session as a precaution. For an engine as infamously maintenance-heavy as the 450R, the DRI crew was impressed. Nothing ever loosened, and despite skimping on protection, the stock skid plate protected the 450R surprisingly well.
Our testers all liked the machine to varying degrees, with the fast guys picking it as the best. The biggest complaint we had for Duncan was the sound level. It was above the 96-decibel limit. We're certain that this machine would have still hauled butt with a quiet pipe-the engine is that good. The good news for Duncan exhaust fans is that Loren says he has a quiet system in the works-it wasn't ready in time for the 24-hour abuse yet, so he passed on the chance for us to try it. We've already began bugging him for a crack at it as soon as possible.
The short version is that this was a racer at heart. In talented hands it is a good time, but if you're not an aggressive trail hound, it is a bit too temperamental to be total fun.
IMS/Roll Design TRX450RTheoryAlthough he chose the same platform to start with as Duncan, IMS/Roll Design's Scott Wright took a different path and turned a quad that an Average Joe (a pure recreational/trail rider) could build-in increments-into the Ultimate Trail Machine. He used nearly the entire $10K budget (Wright was quoted $835 for the lighting system, but Baja Designs just reworked its pricing, and the kit will be $1100 by time you read this) to assemble a machine using components that he felt could provide parts that could take a 24-hour pounding. Wright emphasized that this quad was not a race quad, even though the engine had a HRC kit mated to a Duncan exhaust. This combo was chosen to make the motor luggable. It was intended to be a low-rpm engine that still had the guts to rev. With such a wide range of testers-we didn't make life easy for any of the companies to dial in their suspension-he also turned to Elka for a setup to handle everyone from us big editors to wispy-thin speedsters like Cyle Chislock.
Wright went with the brand-new ITP Trac Star tires because he has been harassing Craig Peterson to get ITP to build a better radial (Wright loves radials). The new tire wasn't supposed to debut until the Indy Dealer Expo 10 days later, but Wright persevered and convinced Peterson to allow him to mount the never-before-seen meats on his TRX for our event. To see in the dark, the IMS team worked with Tex Mitchell to build sano mounts for the two 8-inch halogen lights on the Honda.
PerformanceFrom the ample Quad Tech seat to the near platform-sized IMS pegs, the rest of the components reflect Wright's goal to make his quad trail friendly and stay running for all 24 hours. As a complete package, the TRX was a hit. It owes much of its trail-friendly manners to the relatively stock engine. With just an HRC kit and the necessary jetting installed, the motor is silky and provides nice torquey low-end that graduates into a fun midrange. Wright said that even with a stock pipe it was a good performer. Complementing the smooth engine was an equally plush ride from the Elka shocks enhanced further by the supple ITP radials. Although the Trac Stars wore faster than the ITP Holeshots on the other machines, their price and ride are worth it for the trail. We'll be testing these tires more and let you know if it was more Chislock and William Yokley trying to turn the fastest lap time or a normal behavior for the TS.
Overall, we think Wright was on the money. The testers are split between the two Hondas for which was the best-it was a case of riding style and speed that most established the lines. But we'd ride it on the trail or even tackle a race with only a quieter pipe as the only change. In fact, Wright plans to do just that with his creation-outfitting a privateer to race it in a Best in the Desert event.
Thumper Racing LT-Z470TheoryGary Hazel is a big-bore nut, so it was only natural he take a mild-mannered, Kent Clark motor and turn it into a Superman thumper. What to build for our event was a no-brainer for shop owner Hazel-convert a Suzuki LT-Z400 into a Z470. The number-one selling sport on the market, it appears in Kawasaki colors as the KFX400, and the engine powers the Arctic Cat DVX400 as well. Besides its wide availability, the 400cc motor has a good track record for reliability and Thumper's Z470 kit is its number-one selling kit, followed by the 440cc kit. It didn't hurt that Hazel and his shop have been monkeying with this powerplant since Suzuki's DR-Z400 debuted in '00, and they started building big-bore kits for the Suzuki off-road team almost immediately. With such a long history, Thumper knows the weak links of the engine very well-the clutch and valve cupping that is common in motors with a lot of time on them or that get revved hard. So the 24-hour test machine got heavy-duty friction plates and stainless valves. The head got a port job to clean up any casting imperfections and polish the exhaust side smooth, while the intakes received a glass bead treatment to rough up the surface some to help atomize the fuel and get a better air-fuel mixture into the combustion chamber.
Hazel's end goal was to build a revver with a healthy top-end. To achieve this, a Stage II cam and a lightweight forged Wiseco piston were installed, along with DR-Z double valve springs to provide enough seat pressure to keep the valves from floating under high rpm and accelerating valve wear. The core of the 470 is a cast-iron cylinder sleeve. It's a wet sleeve design that has the coolant in contact with it, thus, providing high coolant capacity and good heat dissipation. Feeding the monster motor was a 41mm Keihin FCR carburetor and it was the only one of the mix to have a twist throttle. Normally, the kit includes a jetting kit to adjust the stock carb. In spite of its 11:1 compression ratio, Hazel says his motor can live on premium pump gas (93 octane). He runs a 2:3 mix of Klotz race gas and premium mainly to prevent any damage from bad pump gas. A call to ITP had the Suzook shod with the six-ply Holeshot XCRs mounted on ITP's T9 Pro Series wheels, which had things rolling smoothly.
Performance Opting to go the route of many of his customers, Hazel stuck with the stock A-arms and axle and just planned to add better shocks. The original plan called for f-hlins shocks to handle the suspension duties, but a last-minute snafu (f-hlins discovered the LT-Z chain hit its rear shock) had Hazel scrambling for some shocks. He was eventually able to get the Z470 suspended with a set of Works Performance units. It was in this arena that the Thumper LT-Z got outgunned on most of the ATV Rider course. When the brush closed in, the Suzuki shined because it was narrow enough to shimmy through any spot. The motor felt like a Suzuki. It revved happy, but was more muscular.
As with the rest of the Holeshot-clad machines, the tires handled everything on the trail, from the hardpack to the sand with equal dexterity and slid with the right amount of control through the flat corners. And the suspension was not horrible. It likely reflects what many owners without $3000 to drop on high-end stuff could get to enhance their LT-Z. But banging into square-edged holes and whoops eventually got the better of the rear shock, and it started to fade about halfway through the test. More time to set up the suspension would have helped this machine's shocks perform closer to the level of the rest of the group. The rest of the components worked just fine, and the twist throttle only elicited a few grumblings. The Thumper Racing LT-Z470 was a capable trail machine that is quiet, thanks to the FMF Q2, and well-armored. It would be most at home in tight woods where width is a liability.
Philosophically SpeakingLike we said, each aftermarket company had its own vision of the ideal trail machine. Finding out how those philosophies worked in the cold, harsh realities of the trail at 2 a.m. was part of the excitement here after all. Fortunately for us, none of the shops is wet behind the ears, and our only problem would be staying awake all night to keep the machines rolling. The event was set up loosely on a 24-hour race with each team having four to six riders assigned to keep their quad moving the whole time. Interrupting this flow would be the designated test riders and I. To manage the chaos, I assigned a pit boss to each bike. For Alba it was Robert Jordan, Billy Bartels went to Duncan, Brad Bowlin handled IMS/Roll and the soon-to-be-illin' Chris Denison got Thumper Racing. All four handled the jobs well, made easy by the professionals who built bikes for us to test.
Besides the lucky few tasked with riding all day and night, we had about 60 guests join us, including fast guys such as Cyle Chislock, William Yokley, Andy Lagzdins and Doug Eichner. Industry leaders such as Suzuki and Honda, as well as former pro Jimmie White joined the action. NiteRider's Shannon Scott, Cyclops Motorsports' Darryl Van Nieuwenhuise and Tex Mitchell from Baja Designs made sure we could see in the dark and even took a spin around our loop when they had a chance.
Sound-testing guru Chris Real handled the sound-testing duties before and after the test. We had one machine over the sound limit and nagged the builder enough already, and our hope is this was an educational experience for it so that we all benefit as exhaust companies learn how to test and make quiet pipes that perform. Enough time on the soapbox. The real fun was hanging out with everyone in the industry and riding. We can't wait until next year. If you want to join us, spend 25 hours helping keep the trails open. You can do this by writing letters to congress, working on trails or any other type of trail volunteer work. Document your labor and send the paperwork to Don Amador (email@example.com) at the BlueRibbon Coalition at the end of '06. He'll forward us the list of folks to invite to for our '07 event. It should be even more fun, even though we don't have a theme yet.