Over the last decade an explosion in ATV sales and a fierce competitive nature between manufacturers has spawned a level of technological advancements that rivals even the most innovative industries. The introduction of modern conveniences such as electronic fuel injection and electric shifting has drastically driven performance and technology to an entirely new level.
In 2007, both Yamaha and Honda shocked the ATV industry with the release of the very first production ATVs to incorporate an EPS (Electronic Power Steering) system that forced competing manufacturers to step up their game. In retaliation, both Can-Am, with the Outlander 800XT, and Polaris, with the Sportsman 850 XP, joined the EPS revolution by incorporating their own unique versions of this technology into their flagship models.
Before ever mounting up these...
Before ever mounting up these machines, we agreed to regularly remind each other throughout our day that this particular comparison had everything to do with the performance of the EPS systems and not the overall performance of the two units. We ask our readers to keep our objective in mind as we unpack our findings.
Like our readers, we've been anxious to resolve a handful of vital questions about these power steering units. With that said, we set out on a mission to determine whether upgrading to EPS was worth the higher price tag, if it truly does reduce rider fatigue and to share our thoughts on which of these two systems performed best for our test riders. Our test crew would consist of two veteran members of the ATV Rider staff, Thad Josey and myself, along with Chris Johnson, a young intermediate-level test pilot in training. In order to appreciate the full advantages of power steering, this dogfight would be executed in a territory unfamiliar to us that presented a vast array of easy to extremely difficult terrains to traverse. Painful obstacles such as rigorous river crossings, badly washed and rutted fire roads, jarring tree roots and technical rock gardens littered our test grounds where we'd be forced to feel agonies of the off road.
Enough with the details, let's get down to business. My personal thoughts have often been that the more electronically advanced our ATVs become, the more susceptible they are to damage from the elements. At the end of the day, these technologies may benefit the rider in performance, but they could also drastically increase costs for repairs. In addition, electric technologies often add unwanted weight and a plethora of complicated electrical components and wiring, but sometimes the trade-off is worth the added convenience. I can't say that test riding these units has completely changed my views, but I must admit I'd like to see a power steering-equipped machine in my personal lineup at some point.
The assistance that EPS brings to the table was evident from the moment I threw a leg over both quads. With minimal effort the wheels can be fully turned in either direction. This holds true when you find yourself in challenging situations like maneuvering over and through large boulders that would otherwise bind the wheels and make turning impossible. The EPS units allow the bars to turn, thereby making rider struggles less of an issue. It's not just at low speeds where EPS makes a difference, though. Encountering deep ruts at trail riding speeds will typically present a bit of a challenge as ATV wheels have a tendency of becoming trapped in the tight grasp of the rut and force the rider to fight for escape. This type of desperate situation has become a thing of the past as both the Outlander and Sportsman easily pulled out of the stranglehold with an almost unnoticeable amount of feedback in the handlebar. It's almost as if the machines have been equipped with high-performance steering stabilizers that reduce the dreaded impacts of bump-steer while retaining that ability to steer with minimal resistance.