First Ride – Bark and Bite

First Ride – Bark and Bite old saying is, “It’s not the size of dog in the fight, but the size of fight in the dog.” That can now go for ATVs as well. Kawasaki’s new Brute Force 300 doesn’t know it’s an easy to ride, 300cc machine perfectly suited to work around the yard or go for weekend trail rides. It thinks it’s the leader of the pack, and it may be right!

All New Machine

Kawasaki’s new Brute Force 300 was designed to be stable, confidence inspiring and easy to ride for new or less experienced riders, yet to provide more features, power, and fun than any other machine in its class. The new engine was designed for good, low end and mid-range torque, while the ergonomics and suspension were meant for all day, trail riding comfort, all for less than $4K!

Pre-Ride Impression

Our first impression of the new Brute Force 300 is that it looks GREAT! Bodywork is styled very much like its big brothers in the Kawasaki lineup with muscular yet sporty lines, but overall size is slightly smaller. Compared to other ATVs in its class, the new Brute Force is larger than a Honda Recon, but ever so slightly smaller than a Polaris Sportsman 300. The real beauty of the Brute Force bodywork, though, is the fit and finish is second to none. Mating surfaces fit perfectly together and seams are extremely tight, especially in the often times gaping transition between the seat and fuel tank. The seat itself is thick enough for all day rides, yet sculpted with relief areas between the thighs, and the lines flow effortlessly up to the tank. What’s under the bodywork is even more important, however, and we always give the chassis and engine a thorough inspection long before we fire it up.2012.kawasaki.brute-force300.red_.front-left.riding.on-trail.jpg

Chassis components on the new Brute Force 300 are well designed and constructed, and the engine shows all the trademarks of quality manufacturing with no extra tooling marks and clean, smooth castings. Both the engine and the chassis are powder-coated for corrosion prevention as are all fasteners. Most of the bolts and screws are a combination 10mm hex and Phillips head screw coated in olive colored zinc oxide, and our only suggestion would be to switch to black or silver zinc oxide instead. Olive is great for military vehicles, but looks a little out of place on a vehicle such as this, and little details often make a big difference. Maintenance chores make a big difference also.

Fresh oil and a clean air filter are the keys to long engine life, and it should be easy to keep the Brute Force in top working condition. Underneath the seat are the battery and an easy access airbox. We popped off the snaps holding the lid down and found a relatively small foam filter standing guard, ready to stop any grit form entering the engine. It should be no problem keeping this filter clean. On the right hand side of the engine there is a clear sight glass for quick oil checks before each ride, but there is no spin-on oil filter to replace. The Brute Force 300 engine has an internal screen that’s easy to pull out and clean.2012.kawasaki.brute-force300.red_.front_.riding.through-mud.jpg

Storage is limited to a compartment on the front end. It may not be huge, but it can hold 4 large bottles of water. There is also an open pocket on the right fender capable of holding a water bottle as well. For hauling extra gear, there are sturdy front and rear steel racks and, thankfully, somebody had the foresight to include little welded on hooks to keep tie downs or bungee straps from sliding. The front rack is rated for 44 pounds while the rear rack can easily tote the 66 pounds it’s rated for. We were especially happy to find the rear rack doesn’t smack you in the butt while riding like it does on some other machines. For towing a trailer, a hitch is also included, and front winch mounts are already welded onto the frame. So far, so good. It was time for a ride!

In the Saddle

We climbed aboard the new Brute Force 300 and immediately felt comfortable. That’s the result of excellent ergonomic design. Sometimes smaller displacement ATVs actually feel a little too small, but there was ample room to move around on the new Force, and it was easy to reach all the controls. The handlebar bend reaches back far enough to be comfortable, yet not so much it jams your arms into your ribs, taking away arm leverage. Handlebar rise and pullback is excellent for a machine like this. Throttle angle and pull is very good also, and ahead of your right knee is a smooth shifting, gated shift lever featuring High, Low, Neutral, and Reverse. At the center of the steering column is a small digital instrument cluster, and on the left handlebar are a choke lever and an unusual parking brake lever. While most parking brake systems are ahead of the handlebar, Kawasaki located the Brute Force 300 parking brake lever behind the handlebars. At first we were a little concerned about the lever and mount getting in the way when riding, but once underway we never noticed it. The simple, flipper type system is extremely easy to use, and we like how Kawasaki gives you a separate brake lever for both the front and rear brakes.2012.kawasaki.brute-force300.close-up.engine.jpg

Down below there was plenty of room for our size 12 riding boots and the foot pegs felt solid and kept our feet firmly in place above the floorboards which had plenty of holes to drain away any water. We were also happy to see Kawasaki included extra shielding to keep water from splashing through the front end and engine area onto our opposite leg as sometimes happens on other models. It was another example of excellent, well thought out design.

A New Engine

A twist of the key and a stab at the green starter button easily brought the Brute Force engine to life thanks to electric start. There is a recoil backup in case the battery goes dead, and Kawasaki even came up with a unique locking mechanism to keep grit out of the recoil unit, but we were able to start it easily with a couple pulls of the handle. After a couple minutes to let it warm up, we slipped the shifter into gear and were off. The Brute Force 300 doesn’t really have a big “hit” off the bottom, but it does pick up speed quickly and smoothly, and it’s very easy to control. It’s completely confidence inspiring. Winding our way up and down the hills of the Mines and Meadows riding area was easy, and even though an all-night rain made the hills, rocks, and ruts extremely slippery, we had no problems. To be honest, at first we were a little hesitant to attempt some rocky, steep, slippery climbs on a 2wd, 300cc machine. Making it only half way on some hills can be a BIG problem, but it didn’t take long to learn the Brute Force 300 plays in a league all its own. Power delivery was smooth and didn’t overpower the chassis.2012.kawasaki.brute-force300.close-up.inside-clutch.jpg

We spent most of our time driving the Brute Force 300 in “High” but tried it in “Low” several times as well. It shifted easily between all gears and clicked positively into whatever gear we selected. In reverse it does have a rev limiter to keep speeds manageable, but there is an override button if you need a little extra power. In Low gear it feels like the CVT delivers a little more snap off the bottom when you crack the throttle, and even in low gear we could get the ‘Force up to 30mph. Stabbing the throttle to the stops in High gave us a nice but very manageable burst of power perfectly suited to newer riders, but it’s still a 300cc engine mated to a 536 pound machine, so don’t expect to pull your arms from their sockets. The rear tires do a great job of finding traction whether on rock or mud, even on the steepest hills, and the engine power and clutching seems well matched to the chassis.

Getting to the top of a hill is only half the problem, however, and strong, responsive brakes that help you control your descent are every bit as important as engine power. The Brute Force 300 has dual disc brakes in the front, a single disc brake on the solid rear axle, and we needed every bit of both. It was very easy to grab either of the handlebar levers or tap the foot lever and control your speed, descent, or even steer the Force into a corner. We found the brakes to be responsive and consistent whether using the hand levers or the foot lever. Thanks to Kawasaki’s CVT clutch system, engine braking can assist your descents as well, but you must keep a hand on the throttle at low RPMs to keep the clutch engaged.

Handling the Trail

Since the Brute Force 300 is a little smaller than most full-sized ATVs, it’s super easy to maneuver through the woods. We had a blast winding through the trees, up and down the hills, and generally taking it anywhere we wanted to go. Newer riders will love the stability of the Brute Force 300, and even on severe off-cambers and steep hills it never felt tippy. The suspension did a good job of soaking up most bumps, but it’s our job to find its limits and when pressed hard over rough terrain, it can get a little bouncy. We found the steering to be light, not requiring too much input while providing good feedback, but again it can get a little twitchy when we pressed it hard over rough terrain. On a more aggressive machine, we would want a couple degrees more caster and possibly more rake built into the front end, but for casual riding and work around the farm or yard, this design will get the job done.

On the trail, the Brute Force was extremely easy to ride. Even though we spend a lot of time riding top end machines, we had an absolute blast out playing on the new Brute Force 300. It responds well to rider input, it’s easy to move around on, the seat is firm yet comfortable, and it works well as a package. For long trail rides, we would like to have a little more storage, and under the fenders between the tail lights seems a logical location. We also wish it had the instrument cluster from its larger brothers which is easier to read on the trail, but overall we’ll take it. Kawasaki hit a homerun with their foot peg and floor board design on the Brute Force 300, however.2012.kawasaki.brute-force300.red_.front-left.riding.wheelie.jpg

The floorboards and foot pegs on the Brute Force 300 have a tube structure beneath them that makes them feel solid and not flexy. The pegs are also raised well above the floorboard to help anchor your feet and allow them to pivot as needed, and they won’t load up with mud, snow, or ice and become slippery. They’re the best in the Kawasaki lineup, and practically everybody else’s as well.

It didn’t take long to become very comfortable on the Brute Force 300 and we quickly found ourselves doing many things we would on much larger machines, and in some cases, things we wouldn’t. It’s easy and fun to ride, handling is predictable, and it performs and delivers features of high-end machines at an intro machine price point. It’s a winner!

Bark and the Bite

Kawasaki did an outstanding job with the new Brute Force 300. It fits the needs of new or less experienced riders perfectly, it’s comfortable, and as a package, it works! Fit and finish is excellent and may be the best in the ATV business, and while it may not have all the bells and whistles of top-end machines, it does have enough to get the job done, whether it’s toting a trailer around the yard, towing bales, or tackling steep, rocky hill climbs. It’s a little like the lovable family pet that thinks it’s part lap dog, part agility champion, and part alpha dog and leader of the pack. Just like that lovable family pet, it will be ready to go every morning.

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January 26, 2012

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