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