SHOOTOUT: HONDA, POLARIS & YAMAHA TEEN QUADS
The proven and wildly popular Honda FourTrax TRX250EX has been pleasing riders for a long time in various guises and model designations. It is perfect here, since it is sporty with full suspension. For a rider who is committed but inexperienced, the clutch and transmission are perfect for a learning rider. The five-speed manual-shift gearbox uses an auto clutch as small Hondas have for decades. The difference is that there is a clutch lever, and it operates exactly as the clutch lever does on a manual-clutch machine. So a new rider can ignore the lever, but as they get more skilled and adventuresome, the clutch lever can be used to control the power more aggressively.
Next up is the Polaris Trail Blazer 330. It has a full, 100cc-more displacement than the Honda, is physically much bigger than the other quads here and at least 130 pounds heavier. It also has the most suspension travel by a fair margin. As large as the Polaris is, 5-foot-2 Kylee Wolf could still pilot it easily, and the suspension worked for flyweight Casey Kramer, just as it did for 6-foot Ajay Hateley. Ajay looked most at home on it, but Casey, the least experienced rider, spent the most time on it thanks to the transmission. You use a lever on the tank to select reverse, neutral or drive. It is fully automatic after that. A brake lever on the left side of the bar controls all three brakes, and the foot brake controls only the rear brake. It was the only machine with full floorboards, and all of the riders appreciated that comfort factor.
Finally, we selected the ultra-sporty Yamaha Raptor 250. It has a race-inspired chassis, aggressive ergonomics, the lightest weight, the zippiest performance, and the only fully manual clutch and manual-shift transmission in the group. Low-profile Dunlop tires and a low center of gravity ensure that the Raptor hunts for opportunities to get sideways. It has geometry and suspension that allows the machine to handle jumps with comfort. In the dunes, we were able to teach a new rider on the Raptor with ease, but in the tighter, more technical terrain of our desert outing, Casey found the manual clutch daunting.
For a rider with no or little experience, the Polaris is a slam dunk. Learning to pilot it is a breeze, and the performance and suspension ensure that it will be fun for a long time. Another plus for new riders is the full footwell/floorboard area. There is virtually no chance of a foot bouncing off and getting snagged by the rear wheel. Next up is the Honda. It is super nimble, but carries the center of gravity higher than the Yamaha, but isn’t as wide and planted as the Trail Blazer. Honda also fitted the Honda with all-terrain tires with tall sidewalls. They are great for traction and absorbing the trail surface, but the machine takes a modicum of care when turning to keep the wheels planted.
Finally, there is the Raptor. For a quad that is capable enough to pound laps at a motocross track stock, it does amazingly well at teaching new riders. The power is sappy, but totally controllable, and the handling is simply fantastic. Those low-profile tires that make it so fun to ride fast dig holes and allow it to get stuck more easily than the others, though. That was an issue when trail riding if the pilot wasn’t aggressive enough. The front shocks have a rudimentary, five-position preload adjuster. The bike was delivered with the preload set one up from the softest setting. The front was firm, and riders felt a lot of the ground through the grips. We popped the adjusters to the lower preload setting for a huge improvement in plushness, but we also started to bottom the front once in a while when pushing the bike hard.
All of these bikes offer great value for the money. The Polaris is literally a lot of machine for the money, and for rough and tumble trail use, it would be our choice. The bottom of the machine is protected, the tires are tall and aggressive, and the suspension has the goods. Plus, there is nothing to concentrate on but riding. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the Yamaha. For sheer fun factor, there are few wheeled machines in history that offer the outright giggle factor of the baby Raptor. It is stupid fun. So fun you want to slide corners everywhere and all the time—even if it is on your dad’s perfectly groomed dirt driveway and you know it is bad idea. This is a remarkably capable machine, but not for folks low on will-power. On one trail ride we used it to accompany a Yamaha Raptor 700. In hilly and tough country, the 250 stayed right with the 700 no matter where we went. If your riding is rough trail with boggy or sandy terrain, you are going to get stuck. It is so light that it isn’t a huge issue, but we got stuck in snow, sand and mud. This machine certainly has the most room to grow into if you have the right sort of riding conditions.
In the middle is the Honda. It is sporty enough to be a blast, absurdly simple to care for and right at home in sporty riding like the Yamaha, but it will handle technical trails and softer conditions as well as any small quad. Despite the modest 229cc displacement, the Honda boasts great roll-on power. The Yamaha feels faster since you barely need to slow down for the turns, but in a drag race, the two machines are dead even until the Honda runs out of gear, then the Raptor finally pulls away.