In the topsy-turvy world of sport quads, the 'tweeners are frequently forgotten. In that barren land between the 400-plus-class weaponry and the lowly "kid's quads" lies smaller, less aggressive machinery. Who uses this stuff? Well, new adult riders looking for a smaller intimidation factor than an Open classer, smaller riders looking for a good fit and the casual rider looking to save some dough. The newer ATVs in this category are betting their rider-friendly features, such as electric start, reverse and an autoclutch, will draw these riders in droves. Meanwhile, older offerings, sporting manual clutches and kickstarters, hope their higher performance potential will reel in the riders with a little seat time under their belts.
Returning to ATV Rider for this comparison is Honda's Sportrax 250EX. The winner of last year's beginner-quad comparison has stiffer competition in two ATVs intended for slightly more mature audiences, plus the all-new Suzuki QuadSport Z250--which is aimed squarely at the EX and determined to surpass it in all areas.
But in an outright sport comparison, with no apologies made for the autoclutches on one side and kickstarters on the other, how do these machines stack up? Sure, beginners like simplicity and convenience--that's a given--but what happens after they've been riding awhile? Will they get bored? Was it a better idea to suffer with the kicker for a few months while learning the ropes? Those are the questions we're here to answer. We stacked the testing corps with intermediate riders, who have enough time under their belts to know what they like, and set them loose to see if the performance/convenience trade-off would be an issue. A few beginners and experts rounded out the panel and generated different perspectives. More so than any test we've ever done, voting was all over the map (and even resulted in our first tie), so a case can be made for any one of these machines based on the rider and use. The only clear-cut result in this test was the undisputed winner.
We stayed a little closer to home than we usually do, exploring the variety our state offers. Spring in California is a beautiful time; much of our normally barren desert land is alive with flowers and plants gone green.
Not that that came into play for our first testing location. Johnson Valley, site of some of the testing for our beginner-quad comparison last year, is a barren, windswept place with miles of whooped-out desert, some twisting, rocky trails and a few sand dunes.
Our second outing was to the red clay of Rowher Flats, aka Texas Canyon, which has a variety of trails from mild to wild, single-track to fire road--all of it rutted out by frequent springtime rain. It was a nice change of pace from the sandy soil found almost everywhere in SoCal. No whoops here, but lots of tricky rutted sections.
Our third trip was to the Ocotillo Wells SVRA. This state riding area has a ton of sandy washes cut across mostly barren, flat terrain. However, closer to the hills on the north side of the park is a better variety of trails, some twisting over the hard mud hills with others snaking up tight canyons, sometimes with no other exit.
Our last stop was the best. Hungry Valley SVRA in the San Gabriel Mountains was covered in wildflowers, and never had we seen the ground so soft and forgiving. No dust and plentiful traction made our long loops through the mountain switchbacks and canyon sand washes a magical experience.
What about the others?
In our premiere issue, we tested an assortment of quads aimed at the beginning quad rider. We included Kawasaki's Lakota Sport and Polaris' Trail Blazer for their new-rider-friendly features, as well as their price and displacement.
For this year's test, we shifted focus from simply a beginner comparison to a more inclusive lot, including most of our beginner testers from that test to see how a quad purchased back then would have held up over the year. A few of our riders even participated in the Open class comparison (April '03) and thus now know how the other half lives.
In our tradition of having no more than one entrant per manufacturer, Kawasaki was not allowed to stack the deck with both the Lakota and the Mojave. In fact, last year many of our testers thought the Lakota might have benefitted from a clutch, as the peaky powerplant was a challenge when tackling technical and steep terrain. The Lakota would frequently bog and occasionally stall, making for some frustration on the trail as, with no manual clutch, there was nothing to do to remedy the situation.
The Polaris Trail Blazer was eliminated simply because, when compared with the autoclutch models, it was considered not enough fun for even the least gifted beginner--and certainly was not a quad that could stack up against a true sport-intentioned machine.
While at Johnson Valley's Soggy Dry Lake we were able to test the diminutive machines for their outright top speed. Due to gusty winds on the day of testing these speeds are an average of runs headed both north and south on the smooth, white surface.
This was not your typical ATV Rider test in that we didn't control the different testing conditions too tightly and we didn't have a set number of days to test. What we did do was find a cross section of the right demographic, along with a couple of more experienced ringers, put them on the machines in a number of different terrains and stand back and watch.
We skipped the individual impressions we're known for to instead give a chart of the various testers' data and how they voted. We'll bet that you find a tester (or group of them) whom you can identify with.
|WHO PREFERRED WHAT (1 = first)|
|Totals|| || ||29||27||15||29 |
|Beginners|| || ||5||8||2||5|
|Casual|| || ||16||17||8||19|
|Aggressive|| || ||13||10||7||10 td>|
|Intermediate|| || ||16||12||9||13 |
|Experienced|| || ||8||7||4||11|
|B = Beginner, I = Intermediate, E = Experienced, C = Casual, A = Aggressive|