At its late-'80s debut it...
At its late-'80s debut it seemed futuristic; now it just seems brutal.
Thanks to odd bedfellows Maxxis...
Thanks to odd bedfellows Maxxis and ITP for the cool tires and rims for this test. The Roosters worked exactly as advertised with just the right combination of drive and slide.
What all the excitement's...
What all the excitement's about--a fire-breathing 347cc two-stroke twin.
Despite a huge radiator sticking...
Despite a huge radiator sticking up between the lights, the Banshee still runs hot when flogged under a desert sun.
This year the Banshee wears...
This year the Banshee wears a tall and brittle-looking bar, like its brother, the Raptor.
This year Banshees come in...
This year Banshees come in a yellow and black flame scheme with black-painted A-arms and frame for $200 extra.
There was a time not so many years ago that an ATV rider's choices for a high-performance ATV were limited to one: this one. The Banshee has, since its late-'80s introduction, captured the imagination of ATV speed nuts like no other. While now considered somewhat of a dinosaur, it still delivers the goods--in its quirky, anachronistic way.
Two-strokes are becoming a rare breed, and twin-cylinder versions of the premix-guzzling beasts? This is the only one. Its highly potent powerplant, a version of the motor that powered Yamaha's beloved RZ350 streetbike, has been the basis for its enduring cultlike following. There was a time during the dark years that it was used for a variety of high-performance applications (MX, aggressive trail riding, cross country, etc.), but now it's boiled down to a single main application: the sand. So we figured, why jerk around with this fine machine in its intended element and leave on the stock tires? Really only a magazine would do that, right? So we slipped on a set of Maxxis Roosters (covering some sweet polished ITP rims) and headed for Dumont Dunes, California.
Hopping on a Banshee after riding a modern sport mount requires a bit of adjustment. Turn the key and nothing happens--no lights, no fuel pump hum. Oh yeah, a kickstarter! Fish around under the tank for the choke after beating it with your leg a few times ineffectually, and zing! On the second or so kick it whirrs to life. Leave your yen for modern convenience behind--no electric start, no reverse, no dash-mounted choke, no dummy lights; the Banshee is long, narrow and primitive. And don't forget to premix your gas. Unlike just about any other two-stroke ATV today, there are no oil injectors either.
The venerable mount's domination of the dunes owes itself to one important fact: Sand kills horsepower dead. And this machine has corralled horses in spades. A potent powerplant, albeit with no bottom or midrange to speak of, the 347cc twin propels itself through the sand gently at first, then--with a torque hit unlike any other--wails (like a Banshee) to life, unleashing its full potential all at once in a furious blast.
For flat-out bombs through the granular piles, this is heaven, especially for the brave. Letting off near the peak of a razorback or rolling a transition will probably drop the machine back out of the powerband and potentially stall it, or set you to tap-dancing madly on the shifter while feathering the clutch. No, despite its reputation for being a dune machine, it's not ideal for one new to the rigors of dune trekking.
In a way its "experts only" moniker is a badge of pride to those who own the Banshee. They can rightfully claim that they've tamed the beast and learned to live with its old-tech flaws. Of course, the real draw for Banshee faithful has got to be the aftermarket. After years with the Banshee as the only high-performance machine, everything under the sun is available to hop up these bad boys. Like Honda's venerable TRX250R, you can buy the whole of the machine from the aftermarket and not have one factory piece anywhere on it. Unlike the Honda, though, you can still buy one right off your Yamaha dealer's showroom floor. And despite no real upgrades for the past decade, that's reason enough for some.
So you're wondering about trail riding? Racing? How does the suspension work? Forget it. While, yes, you can certainly take a Banshee down a nice, wide fire road at an entertaining clip, most other terrain is simply lost on it. Suspension action is adequate, with an adjustable-reservoir shock residing out back and standard-issue shocks in the front. But for the Banshee pilot, it's really all about the motor.
It's funny--you get different opinions from people forced to race them over the years when they were the only game in town. Some, since the introduction of the new breed of more potent four-stroke machinery, never want to see, touch or have to ride a Banshee ever again. One racer friend, when quizzed about his feelings for the Banshee, answered, "Oh no, don't even bother testing that thing, it's horrible for motocross and it's not even a good duner ... " and the tirade went on. Another veteran of the '90s racing scene commented that with a pipe and intake mods to give it some bottom and midrange it's a "cheap, fast, fun machine that can't be touched on the sand."
After a couple of days of flogging around Dumont, we were probably closer to the second opinion than the first. While the bottom-end bogging is annoying, it's completely balanced out by the top-end hit. The suspension was fine for dune surfing, and whoops are even tolerable; just watch for the sharp-edged bumps and drop-offs. The transmission is neither here nor there, ditto for the clutch action. Pull on the dual carbs is predictably heavy and will wear on your thumb on a long ride. But finally, after two days of assimilating to the Banshee's quirks, we came to one conclusion: In the sand, the brute is lovable.
|Retail Price: ||$5999/$6199 Limited Edition|
|Type: || Twin-cylinder, two-stroke|
|Displacement: || 347cc|
|Cooling: || Liquid-cooled|
|Carburetion: || Dual Mikuni 26mm|
|Lubrication: || Premix|
|Ignition: || CDI|
|Starting: || Kickstarter|
|Drive System: || Chain, 2x4|
|Transmission: || 6-speed manual|
|Suspension (Type/Travel) |
|Front: || Dual A-arms/9.1 in.|
|Rear: || Swingarm/8.7 in.|
|Front: || 21x7-10; rear: 20x10-9|
|Front: || Dual discs; rear: disc|
|Wheelbase: || 50.4 in.|
|Claimed Dry Weight: || 386 lb|
|Ground Clearance: || 5.3 in.|
|Length/Width/Height: || 73.0/43.3/42.5 in.|
|Seat Height: || 31.5 in.|
|Fuel Capacity: || 3.2 gal.|
|Taillight: || NA|
|Headlight: || Dual high/low beam|
|DC Outlet: || NA|
|Alternator: || NA|
|Instrumentation: || NA|
|Colors: || Black/red, Team Yamaha blue; black/yellow flame graphics|