Bombardier's big DS 650 is a contemporary of Honda's EX, but the rest of the quads in this test came hot on each other's heels after the Raptor appeared in 2001. Recovering from a shaky start in 2000, Cannondale brought out a bevy of models in 2002, including the high-revving Cannibal. Suzuki and Polaris joined the fray this year with a 400 and 500, respectively, while Kawasaki used its alliance with Suzuki to the best advantage and co-opted a 400 of its own.
Thankfully, unlike other motorsports disciplines (such as street and off-road motorcycling), ATV choices are not homogenized because of overzealous racing programs becoming the sole research instrument for new-model development. With motorcycles, the differences come down to mere nuances, where one might have a better powerband, while the suspension feedback on another provides better agility. With sport ATVs, you have the choice of some major variations in machine designs that will suit a wider number of potential riders.
With Kawasaki's introduction of the V-Force (page 52), the quest for ultimate high performance is no longer a run-what-you-brung affair. It's been fragmented into lightning-quick 400s that only skilled operators should attempt to tackle, as well as even faster big-bore monsters that push the performance envelope further (at the expense of a few pounds and some handling manners). Welcome to our meeting of the tribes--400 and big-bore, racer and recreational rider--all coming together in search of the ultimate rush on sand, dirt and groomed motocross track.
"Da Bomb," as we liked to call it, had quite a bit going for it: the most power, the most top speed and the plushest suspension. Unfortunately, the strongest was also the biggest and heaviest--by a lot. This simple fact was its undoing in this match-up of the quickest, fleetest and lightest. It did have its good points, though.
The second biggest motor in the test, Bombardier's DS 650 was first in both our hillclimb test and top-speed runs. Its water-cooled 653cc Rotax engine possessed a broad, linear powerband and dispensed power via a five-speed manual gearbox without reverse. The DS 650's hefty claimed dry weight of 490 pounds was suspended by long-travel shocks that gave an exceptionally plush ride. Despite having more suspension travel than the Raptor, the DS never felt too tall and was aided in its plushness by sitting deep in the suspension's stroke due to a lot of "static sag."
The "DS" in DS 650 stands for "Dune Sport," so one would intuitively believe it would be a big winner in the loose sandy stuff. In reality, reactions to Da Bomb were mixed on our opening day at Dumont Dunes. There was no doubt the motor was perfectly matched to the surface; sand is a known power sapper, and the DS showed little sign of slowing down in the shifting drifts. Power was not only abundant but easy to use; unless you have little control over your right thumb, you'll have no trouble harnessing the power of the DS, especially in the sand.
Handling was responsive and stable. Due to the heft of the machine, though, you won't be tossing this one around. You must drive it like a car; point it where you want to go, thumb the throttle and it goes where pointed. This detached feeling was amplified in reverse proportion to your weight; little guys really disliked Da Bomb. Our smaller testers felt as though they were just along for the ride instead of being the ones in control.
However, we're not all made in the same mold, so big guys (and we mean really big guys), frustrated by the lack of choices available to them, will want to give the DS a good, hard look. After all, if you're pushin' 250, what's an extra 80 pounds on your quad?
On the motocross track, the weight issue came to the fore. While only a mild inconvenience in the dunes, all that extra weight really hurt when you're asking a machine to land a 30-plus-foot jump. Da Bomb's plush, long-travel suspension did what it could to absorb the hits but was ultimately overwhelmed in the jump-happy land of moto. In fact, riders in search of big air found that not only was the machine heavy, but it's also front-heavy and tended to nose-down on jumps.
Cornering in the churned-up MX corners was much like in the dunes, just scarier, as remote-control steering didn't allow heroic saves when things got ugly and started to tip. However, it did respond well to slowing dramatically for corners and blasting out; the only problem was that its extra mass made braking a little more work.
Cornering and jumping aside, the DS was a nightmare in the whoops. Big weight and soft, slowly damped suspension made for either slow going or taking a real beating--your choice. The bar's spread and layout were praised universally on the track, but that didn't save it from being relegated to also-ran status in MX-land.
On trails, the DS was again a mixed bag. In tight, technical conditions, Da Bomb was responsive and supple, but its wide stance and lack of a reverse gear made things tricky. This would be the last machine we'd like to lift if we had to turn around. Wide-open riding was much like the dunes. The big motor made the machine lightning quick, and stable handling had us railing corners at a high rate of speed. The big motor could propel the Bombardier away in a spray of rocks and dust.
However, trail-riding isn't very demanding on power, so the lighter machines could always keep up. Cornering on trails found the DS sticking to the ground well, carving corners by hanging out the rear end and not tipping in the least.
Da Bomb's impression on both racer and recreational rider was unanimous: too big for its own good. Casual riders felt it was just too much work to ride and never really appreciated its awesome power, while its large heft left the racers uninterested in tapping the big motor.
Only two of our testers--both of whom are pushing 200--ranked it above last place, so the DS 650 brought up the rear in a comparison that showed a big motor isn't always enough. Still, big fellas who ride in open terrain should check out this super-sized quad.
1: Plush, long-travel suspension worked best in sand.
2: The wide, solid handlebar was praised universally.
3: With power both controllable and plentiful, the Rotax powerplant won raves from all corners.
4: The double-piped rakishly upswept muffler reminded us of an old Baja Bug, in a good way.
Bombardier DS 650
Retail Price: $6599
Engine Type: Four-stroke
Carburetion: Mikuni BSR 42mm
Lubrication: Dry sump
Drivetrain Drive System: Chain, 2x4 Transmission
5-speed manual clutch
Suspension (Type/Travel) Front: Dual A-arms/12.0 in. Rear: Swingarm/11.5 in
Tires Front: 21x7/10; rear: 20x11/9
Brakes Front: Dual discs; rear: disc
Dimensions Wheelbase: 50.2 in.
Claimed Dry Weight: 490 lb
Ground Clearance: 4.75 in
Length/Width/Height: 77.5/49.5/46.5 in.
Seat Height: NA
Fuel Capacity: 3.5 gal.
Electrical Taillight: Yes
Instrumentation: Neutral, reverse, high-temperature indicators
Colors: Black, Viper red