The 2011 Yamaha Grizzly 450 EPS

The 2011 Yamaha Grizzly 450 EPS

2011.yamaha.grizzly450eps.front-left.blue_.rididng.up-hill.jpgEverybody likes to push the throttle to the stops and feel a burst of power from a big bore engine now and then, and the top utility ATVs from Polaris, Yamaha, Arctic Cat, Suzuki, Kawasaki, and Can-Am are all more than capable of delivering a solid punch, followed by an adrenaline shot to your spine!  The performance from top of the line utility ATVs is truly incredible, but 99% of the time all the power isn’t really needed!  Far more important to the overall performance of a vehicle is handling and suspension.  It requires an experienced hand at the throttle of a big bore ATV, and many riders are either a little intimidated by the power of the engine, or they simply don’t fit the full sized chassis.  After all, it doesn’t take a tractor to do a little work around the yard or to sneak out to the deer stand!  Luckily a few manufacturers have begun to address this segment of the sport, and lately we had a chance to try a new Grizzly 450 EPS from Yamaha.

The new Grizzly 450 EPS 

Perfect for riders who might be intimidated by the larger size of the Grizzly 550 and 700, the Grizzly 450 EPS is a welcome addition to the fully encompassing Yamaha utility line-up. Not content to simply be a stripped down version of the bigger bears, we are pleased to see that this slightly scaled down version of the very popular Grizzly 700 and 550 comes with a host of new features, including Yamaha’s excellent feeling Electric Power Steering. 

The new Grizzly 450 EPS may share features with some its brothers, but right down to the frame this ATV is different than any that have come before it.  Past versions of this model featured a bolt together frame but the 2011 Grizzly 450 EPS rides on a one piece, steel tube structure that is over 6 pounds lighter than the previous chassis.  Reducing overall weight greatly improves handling, suspension action, engine feel, and reduces rider fatigue, and even with the addition of 12 pounds of EPS equipment the new Grizzly is over 10 pounds lighter.  Yamaha lists the weight at 620 pounds.  Adding EPS did require a few changes to the chassis structure however, and the front upper shocks mounts were pushed outboard 38.5mm, and a new rear sway bar helps keep the suspension well balanced and the wheels planted.  One thing missing on the Grizzly 450 EPS is the two inch receiver hitch which can now be added as a bolt on accessory, but for 2011 it was axed to save weight.  A standard hitch takes it place.2011.yamaha.grizzly450eps.front-right.blue_.rididng.over-log.jpg

We like the changes Yamaha made to the chassis, and that is where they concentrated most of their efforts, while the engine and suspension received only minor updates.  The engine on the Grizzly 450 EPS is a tried and true 4-stroke, 421cc liquid-cooled, SOHC design with a 33mm Mikuni carburetor.  Electric start is standard, and the engine features a gear-driven crankshaft balancer and rubber engine mounts to keep vibration to a minimum.  Even the CVT air intake was designed to keep contaminants out, and the engine gets a large capacity radiator to help with cooling.  Finally, the exhaust system is stainless steel which definitely looks MUCH better after many years of service.  Under the CVT cover is another feature exclusive to the Yamaha Grizzly lineup.  

On most CVT systems, at idle the belt is actually slipping on the sheaves.  This can cause the belt to heat up and wear, but not on the Yamahas.  The Yamaha Ultramatic system uses a centrifugal clutch, and a one-way sprag clutch to control engine braking.  The advantage is constant belt tension at all RPM ranges for much better belt life, and an added bonus of engine braking to all 4 wheels when in 4wd.  

The Grizzly 450 EPS suspension has dual A-arms at each corner, and one feature we really like is the 10.8 inches of ground clearance.  Independent Rear Suspension definitely helps with ground clearance, but even though Yamaha wanted to keep the overall size compact for nimble handling, this ATV won’t get hung up in ruts or on every little obstacle along the trail.  We like it!  Everybody hits a rock or log sometimes and the sturdy composite skid plates underneath the chassis and a-arms can handle the impact.  Even the CVT boots have been given a protective shield for 2011!  The Grizzly is also designed for work and can tow up to 1322 pounds, with 88 pounds on the front powder-coated rack and 176 pounds on the rear.  The feature Yamaha is most proud of is the Electric Power Steering.   

The power steering system on the Grizzly 450 EPS was specifically designed for this model and is speed and torque sensitive.  The faster you go the less input it provides, making for consistent feel.  A secondary advantage is that when you do clip a trailside rock or log, rather than jamming the bars back into your hands the EPS system will help soak up the impact before it gets to your wrists or thumb.  Think of it as an electronic steering dampener.  2011.yamaha.grizzly450eps.front_.blue_.rididng.over-water.jpg

Taming the Bear

Yamaha wanted to show the new Grizzly is no stranger to the forest, and to demonstrate its nimble abilities they planned a ride for Washington’s Capitol State Forest.  For riders from the southwest this would be positively claustrophobic, almost like riding in a tunnel, but eastern or northern riders who don’t consider it tight until the wheels are scraping bark on either side of the trail would call it roomy!  The trails featured a little bit of everything; some tight sections, whoops, off cambers, rocky hill climbs, and huge elevation changes.  In other words, just the way we like it and we were eager to give the new Grizzly 450 EPS a try!

The first thing we noticed when climbing aboard the Grizzly 450 is that even though the overall size is slightly smaller than the Grizzly 700 or 550 it feels vey comfortable, but neither cramped for space, or too large.  All the controls are within easy reach, and even the smaller riders in our group said they felt right at home.  Nothing got in our way when climbing aboard, and a plush yet firm, wide seat had you very comfortable in the saddle.  The self draining floorboards had ample room for our size 12 boots, and the slightly raised foot peg area provided the anchor point.  We like the center mounted digital display!  It’s easy to understand and toggle between different functions, but more importantly it is easy to read while underway.  Handlebar bend reaches back toward the rider, and the 2WD / 4WD / Differential lock button is just above your right thumb.  With a flip of the switch you can toggle between the three settings as needed, and on our ride we found ourselves using 2wd in the easy sections, then flipping it into 4wd for the tough hill climbs or off camber areas where the extra traction would help the Grizzly hold its line.  Throttle pull was quite good, and although we’ve never been a huge fan of Yamahas thumb throttle which has the pivot mounted near the center of the assembly, almost requiring a cam type motion from your thumb, it works well on the Grizzly 450 and it was light enough we didn’t get any thumb fatigue.

One thing Yamaha added to the Grizzly 450 EPS was extra storage.  While the underseat storage area is ample enough for a few bottles of water, tie downs, tools, etc, just ahead of your right knee is a new, sealed storage compartment that comes in handy for your phone, wallet, or anything else that needs extra protection.  Great idea!  A standard 12-volt accessory outlet is a welcome feature, and ahead of your left knee is the gear shifter.2011.yamaha.grizzly450eps.top_.blue_.rididng.over-log.jpg

With a stab at the electric starter the engine purred to a quiet rumble even without the choke. Holding down the foot brake lets you shift into high, low, neutral, reverse or park, (although we wish you could with the right hand brake as well) and we slipped it into high and headed out on the trail.  It didn’t take long and the trail turned into a slalom type course through the trees, and we really began to appreciate the Electric Power Steering.  After a half day of riding we loved it even more.  On some power steering systems from other manufacturers the steering input is so aggressive it actually takes away feel at the handlebars.  We like the Grizzly 450 EPS system because it provides a nice amount of assist, but still provides a good feel and feedback from the tires.  Our morning ride took us through some pretty difficult terrain that was even hard to walk through, but the Grizzly 450 EPS covered it quite easily.  One thing we really liked is that it holds its line.  Wherever you put it on the trail it will generally stay unless you screw up.  The specially designed 25 inch Maxxis tires impressed us with their trail holding ability, and the tread pattern is aggressive enough to get a bite even on off cambers, yet they ride well on flat, smooth terrain also. The sidewalls do flex enough to provide a little extra cushion, and overall they performed very well.  After a quick lunch it was time to head back out for more riding.  

Our afternoon ride would carry us to the top of the mountain for an incredible view, but not without some very tough terrain between camp and the top.  One of the first things we encountered on our mountain climbing expedition was a long whoop section.  It was easy to carry a lot of speed into the section but it’s not something we would do twice.  The Grizzly shocks are non adjustable and do not like high speed whoops.  We got the back end hopping rather easily, but thankfully the front end held its line and kept us going straight.  Swapping here would have been ugly and it was a lesson well learned.  Only a few miles up the trail we approached a rock field as the trail climbed higher, and with our experience in the whoops still in mind we expected a rough ride.  We entered the mine field carrying good speed, but rather than kicking us around, the suspension was doing a great job of soaking up the bumps and maintaining a very smooth ride!  This surprised us!   Clearly the suspension is designed for trail comfort and to soak up smaller hits, and not for deep, high speed whoop sections.  This made a lot of sense actually considering how the average rider will use their Grizzly.  Here the tires impressed us once again as well.  Usually on a ride through tough, rocky terrain a few in the group will cut a tire, and we fully expected that on this ride through the jagged rocks, but it never happened.  That says a lot about the tires and we were impressed.  As we climbed higher we became more impressed with the motor as well, and despite gaining a couple thousand feet in elevation it never ran out of power!  It had ample cajones to do whatever we asked of it, throttle response was excellent, it ran very smooth, and it always had more for the asking!  Soon we found ourselves cresting the top where we hopped off to soak in the view, where the sky was as blue as a summer lake, and we were twelve again and eager to dive into it’s cool, comforting waters.   

All too soon it was time to head down the mountain and this would be a test of the new brake system.  While the front brakes offer dual hydraulic discs, Yamaha redesigned the Grizzly’s rear sealed brake system which now actuates on the pinion gear instead of the ring gear.  This was for less brake effort, and the entire system is sealed inside and oil bath.  We can all but guarantee you will NEVER wear it out.  Brake action and feel on the rear is good, although we wish the fronts matched the rear for feel at the lever, but they do get the job done.2011.yamaha.grizzly450eps.close-up.rear-suspension.jpg

Maintenance Tasks

Regular maintenance tasks are of vital importance, and the easier they are to do, the more likely people are to do them.  Thankfully it doesn’t get any easier than on the Grizzly 450 EPS!   The engine has a nifty spin on oil filter found on the left side, the crank case drain bolt is easy to find, and the airbox is under the seat.  The airbox lid can quickly be popped off with no tools and the foam filter is easy to remove, clean, and reinstall for more riding.  We wish it was so simple on all ATVs!  

A New Predator in the Forest

There is a lot to like about the new Grizzly 450 EPS!  It feels light, nimble, precise, and confidence inspiring on the trail whether through rock strewn fields or severe off-cambers.  Even over harsh bumps or sharp edged rocks the suspension feels plush and we really appreciate the excellent ground clearance.  The Maxxis tires work everywhere, hold up very well, and the motor never runs out of power.  The engine is capable, forgiving, predictable and easy to control even for less experienced riders and is well matched to the chassis.  We wish the shifting was a little less cumbersome and the front brakes had a little better feel but we can live with both.  The new EPS system is well calibrated for just the right amount of input and even helps absorb unwanted feedback through the bars.  Although the Grizzly 450 EPS it is actually a little shorter than some competing models it actually feels roomier, and it’s easy to ride all day comfortably.  From our experience with past Grizzly models we expect it to be extremely reliable as well.  

The Yamaha Grizzly 450 EPS will definitely provide an excellent choice between bare bones intro ATVs and top of the line big bore units. It has all the capability and features of the larger units in a more manageable package, and at an affordable price.  For smaller or less experienced riders, or those that want an easy to control ATV that is as capable at work as it is play, the Grizzly 450 EPS can get the job done.  We’ll gladly ride one anytime!

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November 12, 2010

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