Evolution of the Beast

Evolution of the Beast

2012.yahama.grizzly700fi.green_.front-right.riding.over-rocks.jpgIt’s been a long time since bears roamed freely in Southern California’s San Bernardino forest. The high mountain lake area wasn’t named Big Coyote, Big Deer, or Big Prairie Dog, but it is called Big Bear for a reason, despite a century or so of relatively unmolested camping. Recently, Grizzlies prowled the old domain of the Golden bear, every bit the dominant predator they’ve always been. This bear was not the Grizzly of old that chilled the blood of explorers, miners, settlers, and Native Americans, but this Grizzly was introduced by Yamaha and we had come to tame it.

A Seasoned Predator

When the 2007 Grizzly FI 4×4 was introduced, it raised the bar for 4×4 performance and the true “Sport-Utility” era was ushered in. The new Grizzly was powerful, fun to ride, and full of technical innovation. Along the way, Yamaha has bestowed it with updates from time to time, and for 2012 the Grizzly gets new Maxxis tires, new 5-position, gas charged rear shocks, a textured coating on the bodywork for better scratch protection, new fasteners, and even a nifty access panel for the dipstick. We were ready for some extended trail time to see if this beast was still king of the mountains, and the Big Bear area was just the place for a long refresher ride.2012.yahama.grizzly700fi.green_.front_.riding.over-rocks.jpg

The first thing you notice when climbing aboard the Grizzly is that it feels almost sporty! While other big-bore utility ATVs have steadily increased in displacement and physical size, even to the point of intimidating some less experienced or smaller riders, the Grizzly is ever so slightly more compact and the seating position is comfortable. The handlebar bend and location has you seated slightly forward in a slightly more aggressive position for attacking the trail, the seat is comfy, and the control layout is clean. It will fit a large segment of riders from petite females to husky lumberjacks equally well. At first, the handlebar bend was slightly further forward than we would have preferred, but they can be rotated to whatever position is most comfortable for you. Just ahead of the steering column is a very nice, easy to read digital display, and curiously, each handlebar has a reservoir for the hydraulic disc brakes which was necessary for maximum braking power. To the right of the tank area is the key, a 12 volt accessory outlet, and a small, water resistant compartment, while to the left is the easy to use gear shifter. A stab at the green thumb button brought the Grizzly growling from its temporary hibernation, and we slipped the transmission into High and headed for the trail.

On the Hunt

Yamaha hadn’t picked any Nebraska cow path for our all day mountain ride. This would be one of the most technical and challenging rides from any factory and it would serve as an excellent example of the Grizzly 700’s capabilities, and in many ways, our own.

We’ve always liked the Grizzly engine, and it borrows heavily from the mighty Raptor 700 sport ATV, one of our all-time favorites. The 686cc, four-valve, single overhead cam engine purrs along nicely, thanks to Electronic Fuel Injection, and for ultimate durability Yamaha gave the engine a forged piston, a ceramic lined cylinder, and chromoly connecting rod. A roller rocker arm system reduces drive train friction while allowing the engine to rev more freely, and a slightly heavier crank with more beef at each end of the connecting rod compensates for the added loads utility quads often see. Keeping it all cool is a large capacity radiator with an on-demand fan. While other brands have introduced engines of nearly 1000cc’s offering more raw power, the Grizzly engine remains easy to ride and more than capable of getting the job done. It will push, pull, or climb anything you need to.2012.yahama.grizzly700fi.green_.front-left.riding.over-rocks.jpg

Yamaha’s Ultramatic CVT style transmission featuring High, Low, Neutral and Reverse would be considered typical for the class, with one big exception. On every other brand when you are in idle, the belt is actually rotating but slipping on the clutch sheaves. On the Yamaha, their one-way sprag clutch fully disengages from the belt for less heat buildup and longer belt life. This was determined by a dealer warranty study from 2007-2010. On the trail, engagement is very smooth; although it can be a little tricky going from forward to reverse gears when you must hold either the foot brake or the left hand brake to do so.

Rock Climbing

Yamaha and their small army of volunteers had helped insure the long term health of the forest by planting thousands of trees each year, and we stopped to check their growth. What began as a relatively serene mountain trail quickly evolved into a tight, make no mistakes ride along the sides of very steep hills. You were either going to traverse your way mountain-goat-style along the trail or face a tumbling end. After a dozen or so miles, we crossed an inviting creek and entered a mine field of rocks ranging from softball to sofa sized that would make any geologist proud. Higher and higher we climbed and the rocks became bigger, the trail more challenging, and the ride infinitely more interesting. It’s always exhilarating when you know one miscue means certain disaster! (Which we eventually found out the hard way). The Grizzly began to show its true strengths in the tight rocks, and thanks to its size, seating position, and sure footedness, it was possible to maneuver quickly, precisely, and easily through rock sections that looked all but impassable. We were highly impressed with the new MAXXIS tires that found traction on everything from gravel to granite, and despite numerous side wall hits, our group only suffered one flat which was more a result of pushing the tire off the bead. Thankfully, we had Electronic Power Steering!2012.yahama.grizzly700fi.green_.front_.rock-climbing.jpg

Yamaha was the first to offer Electronic Power Steering, and before long everybody had it on their top-of-the-line utility quads. The advantage is obviously easier steering, but also less kickback when you clip a trailside obstacle. In the past, we’ve criticized the Yamaha system as being too light, providing so much input it reduced feel for the ground. No more….Yamaha reworked the system and the new calibration returns excellent feel for the terrain. We like it! We also needed all the traction we could get in some areas and Yamaha’s 4wd system gets all 4 wheels reliably digging at the ground like a frenzied miner, especially with the thumb-activated differential lock engaged. In several areas, there were long climbs through loose rock fields and the only way through was to attack with plenty of throttle and 4wd. In these areas, we again came to appreciate the Grizzly’s almost sporty maneuverability. Bouncing through the rocks though, we did find the limits of the shocks.

In choppy terrain the shocks do a decent job, but when pushed hard, they can get a little bouncy. Going uphill this is no problem, but on one fast downhill section we attacked a little too hard and found out the hard way we had passed our limit, at least for a brief second. The result was lots of scratches to the Grizzly bodywork, our bodywork, a nice helmet, and one set of bent racks. Sorry about that! Here is a trick to remember, though. When you unfortunately flip a fuel injected ATV over, before trying to restart it, power down all switches, turn off the key for a minute, and then attempt a restart. This will allow everything to reset itself. As for rebooting your own processor, you’re on your own. Despite a rather ugly crash, the Grizzly came through very well and we pulled the handlebars up, put the seat back on, gathered ourselves up and continued on.

Returning to the truck was a matter of reversing our route which made some of the downhill sections even more challenging, but at the end of the day, we had a couple observations on the Grizzly also.

TIRES: We do like the forward traction of the new Maxxis tires, but on downhill sections it is very easy to lock them up and slide, especially with the powerful brakes on the Grizzly 700 F.I.

STORAGE: We’re happy to have the dual storage compartments, one under the seat and the other in the fender. You can never have too much storage.

GROUND CLEARANCE: Excellent! We were often surprised at some of the stuff we cleared.

NEW OIL DIPSTICK COVER: We really like this! It’s now much easier to do a quick oil check.

AIR FILTER LOCATION: Great location for breathing clean air and keeping out water, but getting to the filter is harder to uncover than a Pharaoh’s tomb! Too many, pain in the butt, little screws, hooks, and more snaps than a size DD bra. On the plus side, we really like the flat, dual element foam filter.

OIL FILTER LOCATION: It’s not the easiest to reach on the front left of motor. A removable cover would be welcome here also.

GAS CAP LOCATION: Nice and easy to get to, and the ratcheting cap gives secure closure for the pressurized EFI pump-in tank.

OVERALL DURABILITY: The Grizzly 700 has proven reliable and judging by our mountain dismount, it’s tough as well! We tossed it on its back hard in the rocks and still rode it home.

OVERALL FEEL: The Grizzly 700 F.I. engine has a very “linear” feel to the power band. It’s not overpowering with a big hit, but is very easy to control. It basically digs in and gets you up to speed with a healthy bit of torque to get moving, but not so much that it spins wildly. Steering is much improved, and the chassis delivers a sporty, light, and nimble feel and overall it’s very confidence inspiring.

Evolution of the Beast

There are plenty of other big-bore utility ATVs offering higher overall horsepower than the Grizzly 700 F.I., but it’s not always about peak power: it’s about how well it works as a package. This is the strength of the Grizzly, and it is far more nimble than many others in its class, with plenty of nifty features for work or play. They’re reliable and they get the job done. We expect the Grizzly will continue to evolve, still there to roam freely as king of the high mountains.

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September 30, 2011

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