WIDE OPEN: Facts from our “ATV Buyer’s Guide”— from 21 years ago!

By Joe Kosch

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If you think we see big changes in ATVs from year to year, find some old issues of Dirt Wheels and have a look at what you’d have to pick from at your favorite dealers five, 10 or 20 years ago. I didn’t want to go so far back in ATV history that many readers would have no connection with the machines I’m talking about, so I grabbed a “Dirt Wheels Buyer’s Guide” put together in 2000.

The sport quad world had some very cool choices in 2000, like the Bombardier (now Can-Am) DS650. This big, liquid-cooled, double-overhead-cam, four-valve beast ruled the dunes before Yamaha’s Raptor 660R and Raptor 700 ever put a tire track anywhere. The DS was fast right from the showroom floor. Modified, these  Rotax-powered monsters can make insane power.

Husaberg, the Swedish maker of some of the first truly competitive production four-stroke dirt bikes, also offered extremely light, race-ready, 400 and 600 four-stroke sport quads. Production problems and the machines’ high price made them hard to find and hard to afford.

GasGas, a well-known Spanish maker of world championship-caliber motocross, enduro and trials dirt bikes had a 300cc, liquid-cooled two-stroke sport quad, the Gnu. It came stock with high-end Ohlins suspension! The machine was loaded with race-quality materials and components, and was aimed at performance-minded, high-end customers. Unfortunately, the price of the 2000 model hadn’t been released in time for the “Buyer’s Guide” deadline.

Of course, the two-stroke, twin-cylinder, six-speed Yamaha Banshee—one of my all-time favorite sport machines—was part of the Yamaha lineup in 2000. The clean white/red/black color scheme was reminiscent of the original 1987 Banshee’s look.

A Polaris Scrambler was part of the 2000 sport quad collection, but it was unlike today’s Polaris Scramblers, except for its fully automatic transmission. The Scrambler 400 was a 400cc, liquid-cooled, chain-drive, two-wheel-drive brute. I rode them, and they were awesome. The sharp response of the big, single-cylinder, two-stroke engine; relatively light weight; and the solid-axle, swingarm rear suspension gave the Scrambler 400 an entirely different feel than today’s big four-stroke Scramblers, which are great in their own way. I really wish both kinds were available.

In 2000, the legendary Honda 400EX was only in its second year of production, but it had already created a huge following among  sport ATVers, trail riders, duners, and racers. Riders from every camp bought 400EXs by the thousands. The early models didn’t have reverse.

Twenty-one years ago, the selection of sport machines had several models that entry-level riders could really use today, like Honda’s 300EX; Kawasaki’s liquid-cooled, double-overhead-cam, four-valve Mojave 250; the two-stroke 250cc Polaris Trail Blazer; and the 200cc two-stroke, five-speed Yamaha Blaster. I miss ‘em all!

All but a few four-wheel-drive ATVs were pure utility machines back in 2000, because the sport utility concept was just emerging. The guide pointed out the Kawasaki Prairie 400’s “long-travel suspension”—all 6.7 inches of it! Its 6.7 inches of travel really was something when 4.3 to 5.9 inches was the norm. If you wanted a 4×4 with independent rear suspension and a locking front differential, you had just two choices—the Suzuki KingQuad 280 or the Polaris Sportsman 500. The Sportsman 500 was considered a giant muscle quad in 2000, and Yamaha’s Grizzly 600, the world’s biggest 4×4 at the time, was considered a monster!

There were eight youth quad manufacturers represented in the “2000 ATV Buyer’s Guide,” and all but two of the machines—the Honda TRX90 and the Yamaha Badger 80—were two-strokes!

Those were good times, but not as good as today!

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