It all started as a way to escape the daily grind by playing around at the biggest sand box in the country. Way back in 2002, the event was known as “Goons in the Dunes” and was more of an informal gathering of friends and riding buddies than an organized factory outing. But like so many activities that take on a life of their own, the die for a tradition had been cast. Just like college freshman flock to Caribbean beaches looking for full blown, sand covered debauchery, the lucky journalists of the ATV world are called to Glamis for a couple days of camping out in the dunes, great food, and riding Yamaha’s sport ATVs. I guarantee we get a lot more action, all without the throbbing, red foundation for a certain future case of melanoma.
Beach Buddies – Camp Chef and GoPro
Why does everything always taste so much better outside? It wouldn’t be a great adventure without eating out under the open sky and Yamaha knew just the crew we needed to bring along. The Camp Chef people have been making cooking outside a culinary art and they’ve got every tool you could want to whip up camp dinners you won’t ever forget. With an impromptu kitchen under an Easy-Up, they had several of their products on display. I’m no chef – I fed my son veggies by putting the broccoli in his ravioli – but the Camp Chef gear is COOL! From nifty single burner stoves, to grills, to a propane oven that looks very much like our craftsman tool box, they’ve got some AWESOME cooking gear. Just playing with it made me want to go all Chef Ramsey and whip something up, but I thought better of it and left it to the professionals.
No beach adventure would be complete without recording the memories on as many cameras as possible, as many spring break sorority sisters will attest to. For that Yamaha invited another company with one of the coolest tools in the market. GoPro and Yamaha have teamed up to provide a new GoPro camera with the sale of select model ATVs and we were going to have our chance to play with them also. We’ve used the GoPro cameras in the past, but the new features like an LCD back and the ability to install a remote mic make an already awesome tool even better. We love these things, and before long half the ATVs in camp were bristling with more cameras than a Cancun tee shirt contest. The new GoPros are easier than ever to use and you can bet we’ll be filming everything we can with them. The special edition ATVs were the stars of the show though and we were ready to ride.
Yamaha owns the sport & performance ATV category and nobody else even comes close. From the diminutive Raptor 125 all the way to the dune shredding Raptor 700, every model in the lineup is built for performance. In the hands of a skilled pilot, that can be breathtaking, but despite that Yamaha made sure every model has a docile side as well. For our dune adventure, Yamaha had brought along a fleet of special edition YFZ 450R and Raptor 700’s but also a couple Raptor 250’s to play on.
The Raptor 700R SE – Lord Vader’s Quad
The Raptor 700 is almost certainly the best sport ATV ever built for experienced riders who love to play in the sand. It’s truly a force to be reckoned with and for 2012 Yamaha gave the Special Edition model an all-black color scheme that hints at its dark side and the power within.
From the moment you climb aboard the Raptor 700R, you’re immediately won over by its excellent ergonomics. The narrow tank is perfect for sport riding, the seat offers an aggressive position for charging ahead yet is comfortable for all day trail rides, and the handlebars are exactly where they should be. Just ahead of the steering column there is even a lighted digital panel that displays all the information a rider needs, and your legs never cramp up thanks to generous spacing between the foot pegs and seat. The real pleasure from the Raptor 700 comes when you fire it up, however.
There’s no mistaking the sound from Raptor 700 engine for anything else. A throaty exhaust note lets you both hear and feel the engine which stands ready to squash any and all challengers. No other machine is going to out torque the Raptor 700, and it never really seems to care what gear you’re in. It’s the perfect machine for those who don’t really care to shift often, and about all you need to do is pick your favorite gear and point it at the next challenge: the Raptor 700 engine will take care of everything else. That’s not to say it won’t rev, however, because it will build instant RPMs with every stab at the throttle thanks to a well calibrated EFI system. We’ve also found the Raptor 700 engine to be extremely reliable, and ordinary maintenance tasks such as filter cleanings and oil changes are easily done as a result of its thoughtful design.
Once underway the Raptor 700 effortlessly slips through the gears with no hesitation or “notchy” feeling. Despite its fairly upright seating position and slightly narrow width, it feels amazingly stable in the air or on the ground. Even though some riders are a little intimidated by the large displacement engine, once underway they find it very confidence inspiring. Tight corners and pitching it sideways can be a little more difficult thanks to a short wheelbase, slightly narrow stance, and upright seating position, but with a little body English and throttle control, it can be done. Coming out of the corners is an absolute blast, however, because those same features combined with a massive amount of power make everybody look like a hero as they rocket out of a turn with the front wheels lifted a few inches off the sand and a huge roost behind.
In rough sections, the Raptor 700 tracks extremely well due to a suspension geometry that is very similar to the championship winning YFZ 450R. At both the front and rear of the machine, the fully adjustable shocks can be dialed in for any terrain or riding style. At the rear is a cast aluminum swingarm with an eccentric-style carrier for easier chain adjustment, a familiar linkage, and a single-piston brake with a large diameter piston and an oversized pad for excellent stopping power. The main frame of the Raptor 700 is a unique hybrid of steel and aluminum members designed to flex like a steel chassis yet offer the weight saving characteristics of an aluminum frame. It works! One feature we really like is how the bodywork fills in the void below the easy access air box and above the swing arm for a very clean look. About the only drawback to the Raptor 700 is overall weight, and in the air you can feel it carries a few more pounds than its racy brother the YFZ 450R.
Whether in standard trim or equipped with the Special Edition package, we’re convinced the Raptor 700R is the best ATV ever built for the dunes, desert, or for play riding in much of the country. If Darth Vader owned a sport quad, it would certainly be the all black Raptor 700R SE. As he would say, “Impressive, most Impressive.”
The YFZ 450R SE – The Champion
The YFZ 450R is Yamaha’s top-of-the-line, championship winning, performance ATV and we’re always happy to spend time on one. While the YFZ 450R may have been designed for the track, it’s outstanding on sand as well.
Everything about the YFZ 450R was designed for performance and the main chassis utilizes cast aluminum main spars from the foot pegs on up. The entire front end of the YFZ 450R is one continuous casting bolted to the rear portion, but to retain flexibility the lower frame rails and cross members are tubular steel. Long travel suspension is provided by dual A-arms at the front, a cast aluminum swingarm and linkage system at the rear, and massive, fully adjustable, high quality shocks. What it adds up to is a front suspension with 9.8 inches of travel, and a rear suspension offering 11 inches of wheel travel.
The motor of the YFZ 450R is a 449cc, 4-Stroke, Liquid Cooled, Titanium 5-Valve DOHC engine which is unique in that the oil reservoir is carried within the engine cases rather than in an external tank. From the castings on up, the engine was designed for the rigors of racing and power output is phenomenal, but like the Raptor 700R it’s still predictable and easy to control. In the sand the engine offered more than enough power to conquer any dunes with ease.
Ergonomics on the YFZ 450R are very similar to the Raptor 700 with a narrow tank area, extra wide footpegs, and a large “T-bone” seat which is comfortable whether you are sitting on it or hanging off the side railing a corner. Riding position puts you in an aggressive stance ready to attack the track ahead and it feels very natural.
It was a blast to race up the face of giant sand dunes, turn just under the crest, and launch roost behind as you rocketed through the bowl below. Whether in stock form or with the special edition package, the YFZ 450R makes it easy to feel like a pro. It’s an outstanding performance ATV that will make any rider better.
The Raptor 250 – Perfect Playmate
After most of a day slinging sand on the Raptor 700 and the YFZ 450R, it was time to try out the Raptor 250. It’s impossible to overstate just how much fun the junior sized quad can be, and as riders wound their way around the sage brush, everyone’s competitive gene flickered to life and the inevitable race broke out. It was an absolute blast to circle the makeshift track with the throttle held to the stops and the quarter liter motor cranking out everything it possibly could. All you had to do was keep the throttle pinned, slip the clutch in the corners a little, and hang on. Lap after lap riders circled the track, and with each passing lap, the course became rougher. This actually helped show another one of the Raptor 250’s strengths; it handles extremely well.
Though slightly smaller than its big brothers, the Raptor 250 geometry is based heavily on the YFZ 450R. It’s got the racy lines, narrow seat, extremely comfortable ergonomics, chain drive, and sport suspension all wrapped in a light weight steel chassis. Power is from a quick revving, 249cc two-valve, four-stroke engine with electric start mated to a five speed gearbox. Even though the wheelbase is rather short, it’s well balanced and is extremely confidence inspiring for new riders. At 313 pounds, it’s also over 50 pounds lighter than its closest competitor. The Raptor 250 also offers real sport suspension with a simple, direct link shock at the rear, and dual A-arms with preload adjustable shocks on the front. To complete the sport package, disc brakes are used at both ends and a super easy, eccentric chain adjuster cradles the axle at the rear of the swing arm. Maintenance is a breeze as well with the washable air filter tucked under the seat, and the oil filter is conveniently located on the side of the engine.
In our experience, the Raptor 250 has been extremely reliable. During our Glamis Dune adventure, highly experienced racers, top level pros, and magazine test riders climbed aboard the Raptor 250, flogged it like the proverbial government mule, and did not get off until they wore themselves out. As quickly as one rider hopped off, another took his place on the same machine, and the abuse continued. One thing consistent with every rider, though, was the huge smile they came back with. The Raptor 250 is a whole new definition of fun and it will be for generations. We love it!
Glamis Beach Getaway
We have a lot more fun and manage to avoid the usual spring break calamities by heading to Glamis for a mid-winter break. At the end of the day, nobody is sobbing through smeared mascara, running from the local cops, worried that friends or family might actually see them as the gyrating star in a Spring Break video, or broke. It may be a long way to the water from the sand of the Glamis Beach, but we think it’s the perfect spring break location and we’ll gladly take the Special Edition Yamaha YFZ 450R, Raptor 250, and Raptor 700R there as our beach buddies anytime.