Friday, February 28, 2014

Three Wheelers

Before we had four wheels, we had three. The first mass produced ATV was a three wheeler, it was called the Honda US90. Honda did very well with the US90, before it's introduction offroading was limited to dirt bikes. But with a three wheeler, riders had a new level of stability in loose terrain and you could ride rain or shine.

Honda officially introduced the trike to America in 1970, at a price of $595. The original US90 was based on an 89cc single cylinder engine that sent its 7 horsepower through a dual-range four-speed gearbox with automatic clutch. A big feature of this machine was called Swivel-Lok, which allowed for quick handlebar removal for easy loading in a trunk of a car or a station wagon (remember this was the 70's). Later that year the US90 was renamed the ATC90 when Honda trademarked the ATC (All Terrain Cycle) name, and three models carried that Honda ATC monogram through the 1970s. The ATC70 gave younger riders a scaled-down version of the fat-tire experience. And by the end of the decade, requests for more power turned the original ATC90 into the ATC110 in 1979. The ATC was as evolutionary as it was revolutionary from the beginning.

I personally have a lot of history with three wheelers, and so I have a soft spot for them. When I was a kid I had a fear of loud noises,  engines in particular. This concerned my Dad, so he decided to buy an ATV hoping it would help me overcome my fear. He thought a three wheeler would be good because I would be able to ride it by myself without having to worry about being tall enough to touch the ground. And one day he brought home a brand new 1984 Honda 200M ATC on the back of our truck.
Dad and I at the Ottopasso Trails in 1984

It worked! I was no longer afraid of engine noises. My Dad and I would go riding a couple times a year at the Ottopasso Trails South of Saskatoon, which at the time was still a public facility and run by the province. We would also bring it to my cousin's farm when we went to visit them. I loved the freedom the trike gave me, anytime I was bored I could hop on my machine and go explore. Most of my memories are good, but there were a couple accidents. One of the incidents happened shortly after we got the 200M. My Dad and I were riding around the Beaver Creek Conservation Area just south of Saskatoon, I was just a little guy and was riding in between my Dad's legs. Neither of us were wearing a helmet. My Dad attempted to go down a steep hill at an angle, but three wheelers don't do well with angles unless you can hang body off the side as a counter weight. Needless to say we rolled, tumbled all the way down the hill. In the carnage I ended up hitting my head on something, I can remember touching the back of my head afterwards and having a lot of blood on my hand. It was scary at the time, but the blood dried and I had a way cool battle wound to show my Mom and friends when I got home.

Terry and I on our machines
Riding changed for me when I was 10. I met a guy that lived near me, who would eventually become my best friend. His name was Terry, and he was very passionate about riding. When he found out I had a three wheeler we were instantly friends. He had a dirt bike when we met but it wasn't too long before he sold it and got a three wheeler. My Dad introduced me to riding, but Terry is the one who ignited a passion in me for ATVing. We had a number of off road adventures together over the coming years, a couple of which involved being chased by police.

Fast forward a number of years into my early teens, I ended up selling the 200M to buy a dirtbike. Less than a year later I sold that dirtbike to buy another three wheeler. But this trike was nothing like the last, it was like the 200M on steroids, enter the 1983 Honda 250R ATC.

Terry's 200X and my 250R

The "Pyscho" 1983 Honda 250R
The 250R was psycho. If a regular three wheeler was dangerous then this was an absolute suicide machine. It had all of the instability of the three wheeler with almost twice the power and a very torquey 2 stroke engine. You could wheelie the 200M if you really tried, but with the 250R you had to do everything in your power to keep the front wheel on the ground. We bought it in 1992 used from Redline Harley Davidson in Saskatoon. The engine blew shortly after we got it and so Redline rebuilt the engine for us under warranty which increased the power even more. I can remember riding across a stubble field at approximately 80kmph and if I kept it in the power band it would effortlessly raise the front tire off the ground. Low profile tires were becoming quite common at the time and they would have dramatically increased the stability but I was still riding on balloon tires. I semi-jokingly say that I believe this machine tried to kill me as there were a number of incidents that I shouldn't have been able to walk away from, but I had angels watching over me and I never did sustain any serious injury.

My son on our 1984 Big Red 200ES at the Ottopasso Trails
in 2012
A couple of years ago I purchased an 84 Big Red to relive some of the memories from when I was a kid. Found a gorgeous machine on Kijiji, very similar to our 200M. On one of my first rides I got a little over confident. I was bombing along a trail beautiful sandy trail in Northern Saskatchewan getting some good speed when I came up to a curve to the right. As I entered the corner I realized I was going  too fast for the for the traction conditions. I tried to break the rear end loose in order to keep it flat and slide the rear end around the curve but the knobby tires bit into the sand and held firm. Before I knew it my inside tire was coming up and I was in trouble. At that moment you have two choices, turn out of the curve and into the bush or roll. I decided the first would be a better option and I plowed into the bush. Thankfully there were no large trees and the brush just slowed me down. It was a good reminder how a small miscalculation can turn into a wreck. Yes I wasn't being careful but this kind of situation just doesn't happen on a four wheeler.

Are three wheelers dangerous? Absolutely yes! A novice rider can get onto a quad and learn to ride it in a relatively short time and become proficient (knowing how to predict what the machine will do in a particular situation) at riding within a couple of months. Because of the reduced stability of the ATC that same proficiency takes at least twice as long.

In conclusion, I will always love three wheelers, and I don't plan to ever sell my Big Red. But they are different, and ultimately more dangerous than a four wheeler. Some want them banned all together and I will never go that far but they need to be treated with even more respect than your average ATV.

Friday, February 14, 2014

ATV Review - 2009 Arctic Cat DVX 300

2009 Arctic Cat DVX300

Arctic Cat DVX300
We bought this ATV early summer last year (2013). I needed something that my wife and kids could ride as our Yamaha Warrior’s transmission with a clutch was proving to make riding a less than pleasurable experience for my inexperienced riders. I knew they needed something easy to ride, a machine that would allow them to get out and experience ATVing and start enjoying riding without having to worry about gears, and that meant an automatic transmission. I assumed that there must be a bunch of options but when I started to look at what was available I found out my options for a two wheel drive sport machine was limited. You may ask "why not four wheel drive?" It's true, the majority of automatic transmission ATV's are four wheel drive, but we wanted something light and easy to transport and something that was reliable with less moving parts. Looking cool was a side benefit.

Polaris Phoenix 200
In my research I found that there were only two sport quads with an automatic transmission, they are the Polaris Phoenix 200 and the Arctic Cat DVX300. My opinions of Polaris are slowly changing but I have had a couple of bad experiences, so I had a hard time considering the Phoenix. But I wanted to give it a chance so I test rode a Phoenix that I found on Kijiji. Right off the bat there were a number things I didn't like about it and one of them was the styling. It looks okay, but next to a DVX it couldn't hold a candle. I also didn't like the way the CVT felt or the fact it had a rear drum brake. That combined with the sluggish feeling of the wimpy 200cc engine and my mind was set, DVX it is.

It wasn't long before I found one on Kijiji, I took a look at it and liked it right away, it was in very good condition and you could tell it had hardly been used. At first glance it looks like an all-out race machine. It has these tiny little fenders that provide little or no protection for the rider, if you hit water or mud you just need to accept the fact that you will be covered afterwards. It also has a taller riding stance which is good for smaller riders, but for me it felt I was too high and would be tipsy.

My 12 yr old daughter riding the DVX at family camp
Not a ton of features here, the DVX like all Arctic Cats use a Suzuki engine. The engine is reasonable peppy, pretty much what you would expect for a 300. Because it is mated to an automatic transmission your ability to really use the higher RPM’s of the engine is limited and this engine makes more power in the higher RPM range. It is liquid cooled with fan assist which is great for riding on those hot summer days. It is not fuel injected but starting is never an issue with the carburetor and choke. Dual disks up front and a single rear disk on a solid axle make up the rear. You would expect that the suspension travel is a lot better than it is considering the clearance that the wheels have but it is nothing spectacular.

Needless to say I bought it. Our experience riding it has been okay, I haven’t spent a lot of time on this machine but enough to get a good feel for it. The seat is skinny and hard, your rear will be tired and sore after a day on it. It accelerates reasonably well and you can get the rear end to break loose around corners when you blip the throttle on medium traction surfaces. Top speed would be somewhere in the 60-70km range. Jumping and wheelies are an option but you will be using your body weight to throw the machine around more than you would with a regular sport quad.

My son just after he rolled the DVX captured on my GoPro.
He was not injured.
One thing to note is that this machine has been rolled 3 times in our short time of ownership. Most of the fender supports are bent or broken right off. Nobody has been seriously injured in any of the roll overs but I think this has to do with the taller riding stance I mentioned earlier.

We have had only one mechanical issue. When hot the DVX will idle very high, especially when shifted into neutral. So much so that you cannot shift back into forwards or reverse. We have started using the choke to bring the idle down so that you can shift and then turning it off once in gear. An issue we will have to get looked at this coming season.

Overall this machine is only average, and I probably wouldn't be recommending it at all. But the automatic CVT transmission is its saving grace. Over the summer we had a number of friends ride this machine, none of them had ever rode an ATV previously. The fact that these people were able to hop on and experience something they never would have been able to otherwise is a great thing and gives it a pass.

In conclusion, if you are looking for an entry level pure sport machine and know how to ride a machine with a manual transmission, this is not the machine for you. I would recommend a Honda 400EX, or a Yamaha Raptor 350. But if you need a sporty two wheel drive machine with an automatic transmission, this is pretty much your only choice.

My son, showboating

My wife and her friend who had never been riding just back from an adventure