Everyone loves a hot-looking and even hotter-running quad. As the Dirt Wheels staff sat inside our disorderly, but incredibly well-lit offices one evening, we got to talking about what particular ATVs we liked most.
             Some of the staffers loved the sharply defined race-inspired lines of top racers’ motocross or cross country machines. Others chimed in that they dug the outrageous colors, bodacious chrome and all-out snazziness of an immaculately prepped duner.
              Then there were the denizens of the mud. These aficionados of filth favored big foot tire kits, high lifted suspensions and oodles of ground clearance. This gave their favorite quads the look and feel of a monster 4×4 pickup truck.
             What we noticed was that everyone had a favorite type of vehicle that they seemed to prefer. How about if we ran a story featuring some of what our staffers felt were the best-looking and best-performing quads to grace the pages of Dirt Wheels in the past few years. We all agreed; let’s do it, so here goes•

The KTM 520 EXC was one of the best handling and fastest open terrain vehicles that the Dirt Wheels staff had ever thrown a leg over. It was built by long time ATV pro rider Daryl Rath, who brought the machine out to California and let us shred around on it to our heart’s content. Using a Walsh Racecraft built chassis and KTM 520 EXC engine, this custom built machine was not only a joy to ride, it was a visual masterpiece. We featured the quad in our May 2002 issue and felt its combination of precise handling, superb suspension and awesome four-stroke power made it a real hot-rod quad. It would also turn out to be a precursor to the future of high performance ATVs, which would also use motocross-based four-stroke powerplants.  

  Some of the wildest quads we’ve ever tested here at Dirt Wheels were a trio of outrageous SnowTrax conversion quads a few years back. We took a Banshee, Quadzilla 500 and Honda 250R and outfitted them with Snow Conversion Industries (SCI) front skis and rear tracks. The company specialized in building these kits that turned your ATV into a virtual snowmobile (for more information, you can contact them at [email protected] or 800-711-7669). We had them bring out the vehicles to a local ski resort and had the fabled Crusty Demon crew shred the alpine jumps for our cameras. None other than famed, not to mention crazed, jumper Seth Enslow threw a leg over these ATV/snow conversions and ripped gigantic leaps off the resort’s ski jumps.
  Way back in our December 2002 issue, we tested a pair of excellent performing modifed motocross quads from Thumper Racing. They had built a Suzuki Z-440 and a Honda 440EX to full race specs and we flew out to Texas to test these units out. It was a different performance world back then, and it took a hefty investment to build these machines into race track winners. While everyone knows that the YFZ450 and Honda 450R are the current kings of high performance motocrossers, the early Z-400 and 400EX were the standards back then. They were relatively inexpensive, came with electric starters, and were simple and easy to ride. While the YFZ450 and 450R rule the racetrack today, we still give props to these early pioneers of high performance moto machinery.
Dune Hill Shooters are a special breed of high performance ATVs. In the May 2003 issue, we took a look at one of the hottest and fastest dune hill racers we had ever seen. The Legend, was, and is, a Trinity Racing modified Yamaha Banshee that was built up to a full 535cc with one of Trinity’s Cheetah IV engine kits. This motor pumped out an incredible claimed 138.7 horsepower and was matched up with a super lightweigth LoneStar chassis and a monster 15 inch plus extended rear swingarm. Taking a spin aboard this quad was like bolting yourself aboard a guided missile and lighting the fuse. Simply point it and hang on.  
Experienced mudders know that swamp survival depends on setting up your 4×4 properly. You need a good set of monster mud tires, a lift kit, and a snorkel that allows you to tackle the hinterlands of America’s mud pits and survive. When we did our Modified Monster Mud Shootout in the April 2002 issue, we matched up a Sportsman 700, Grizzly 660, Prairie 650, Quest 650, and Honda 500 Rubicon in the swampy goo of Fun Wheeler Park, near Longview, Texas. Our contestants were outfitted with a wide variety of High Lifter Products, from Outlaw mud tires to suspension lift kits, engine tuning kits, and even a snorkel or two. We wanted to know how these different manufacturers’ quads would match up when outfitted with identical mud tires and see which machine was truly the king of the swamp. At the end of the day, the Polaris 700 4×4 had bested its rivals for that coveted soggy bottom title.


  Bill Ballance has proven, by way of his multiple Cross Country Grand National Championships, that he had one of the fastest and best handling woods quads ever built. His Honda 250R-based XC quad blitzed a path through the trees and trails that made him the envy of every other racer on the rugged, outdoor circuits. Unfortunately, Bill’s prized LRD 250R was stolen outside his hotel prior to the start of the 2003 season. Bill was able to put together a backup machine prior to the race but his championship-winning 250R was never seen again. It remains one of the fastest woods racers ever built.
Loren Duncan and his crew at Duncan Racing have a reputation for no-nonsense high performance race modifications. They are dead serious about building parts and accessories that are designed to win races. In our March 2003 issue we tested one of Duncan Racing’s modified Honda 400EX race quads. It was was used by none other than Doug Eichner to capture the West Coast based Four-Stroke National championship title. The Duncan Racing built quad beat out a bevy of ultra-trick liquid-cooled, double-overhead cam four-stroke race quads. All this aboard what was basically an old school, air-cooled, single-overhead valve engined machine. This was a testament to how good a job Duncan did with this particular motor package. The Duncan 440 National engine kit on this machine was torquey and easy to ride, and with its long travel Elka suspension, it soaked up nasty terrain at full throttle easily.  
  Back in 2001, Michael Quinn was a Bryon, Ohio contractor with a penchant for outrageous ATVs. We took a look at his “Outta Control” mega-buck Raptor in our September 2001 issue and were amazed when we saw how he had invested nearly $22,000 into this stylized machine. Imagine how much more surprised we were when he told us about his new occupation as a layman preacher, and his record $50,000 investment in his Stage II reincarnation of the “Outta Control” Raptor. Michael has seen the calling to preach to inner city youth and found that the big-buck Raptor was a great way to get the kids’ attention. He trailers the machine to various venues all over the country to preach the word of God and follow the straight and narrow path. Spreading the good word and ATV riding; that does sound like heaven.
Our choice for the “cat-of-nine-lives” award for creating custom quads, and surviving riding them, goes to none other than ATV entrepreneur and racer Steve Abbot. Steve’s legendary disregard for his own personal safety and uncanny ability to build some of the hottest-looking and best-running vehicles is amazing. Back in our Oct. 2001 issue, he built this incredibly great looking customized Raptor for Dean Perra, a customer of his, at Steve’s ATV shop named Quad Central. To show the machine off, Abbot rented a Tux and brought it, along with the quad, out to Glen Helen Raceway. He proceeded to showcase this chromed beauty’s abilities on the racetrack, wearing, of course, the Tuxedo. We still don’t know how Steve explained the mud stains on the tux to the rental place, but we can attest to how well the machine ran and how hot it looked. Crazy Steve Abbot. What a character.

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