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By: Jason Giacchino
Email: offthepegs @

October 2008 - Off The Pegs

And the Bar is Raised Again for 2009

It is generally acknowledged that in the business of racing, sitting idle is very much like accepting defeat. Taking this logic literally makes sense, as the on-track participant who doesn’t bother to kick his machine out of neutral is quite unlikely to succeed, but the true beauty of the saying refers to what goes on behind the scenes long before race day actually approaches. Innovation is the key to a successful race campaign, and nowhere is this point more clearly illustrated than what we see taking place on the OEM level of late.

For too long has the ATV industry sat idle while most powersports (even those supported by the same company making the quads) flourished with updates, innovations, and factory-inspired, trickle-down technologies. I won’t reiterate the circus of lawsuits and compromises that initiated this despicable trend here, but it is fairly common knowledge that for over a decade the OEMs wouldn’t touch ATV racing with the proverbial ten-foot pole. Racers were forced to take matters into their own hands and as such had a thriving aftermarket with which to select components in the process of building what were essentially custom machines that resembled stock equipment only in the sticker across the gas tank.

While it would be a bit of an exaggeration to say that the manufacturers have thundered back onto the scene, we have been witness to a steady reclamation to stock ATV racing from the manufacturers since around the turn of the century (thanks in no small part to the four-stroke revolution).

Just last season I spent many columns expressing my sheer joy of the options suddenly available to quad racers right off showroom floors. Not only did we have a performance 450cc entry from each of the big four Japanese contenders (a feat never before duplicated, even in ATV’s former three-wheeler glory days) but even players such as America’s Polaris, Canada’s Can-Am, Korea’s Hyosung and Austria’s KTM threw a hat into the ring. I, like many others at the time, was thoroughly convinced that things couldn’t possibly get better for performance ATV enthusiasts ; and yet with the 2009 model year just about to roll out, it would appear as though the OEMs have managed to raise the bar once again.

As my column space is limited, I will not bore you with every single model tweak or redesign as there are literally dozens worth mentioning (such as Suzuki fuel injecting the LTZ400 and styling it to be a near clone to the LTR450 or the newly increased-performance designed Polaris Outlaws) but I will, however, take a moment to list some of the models that have racers chomping at the bit with anticipation:

KTM's 450SX
KTM's 450SX

Can-Am's DS450 MX
Can-Am's DS450 MX

Yamaha's YFZ450R
Yamaha's YFZ450R

With barely a full model year under its belt, the two KTM XC race quads are receiving a host of valuable updates but the big news is that KTM wasn’t satisfied with equipment that was almost MX ready with a few simple mods. This season the KTM stable has been doubled (to four models now rather than two) with the addition of two SX badged race models (450 and 505cc) designed specifically for the rigors of motocross/ supercross competition. Anyone familiar with the Austrian manufacturer’s devotion to racing and attention to equipment detail will undoubtedly be grateful for their recent decision to focus their efforts in our direction.


The Canadian OEM (formerly known as Bombardier) proved its sincerity a little over a year ago when it pulled the plug on its well-regarded DS650 and replaced it with a race- oriented model that was absolutely loaded with innovations never before seen on a stock ATV. And while the general consensus was that the DS450 was a definite winner, Can-Am didn’t pause a moment to rest on their laurels. This year they’ve unleashed two more specialized variations of the DS platform: The DS450X mx and DS450X xc. As the names suggest, the mx caters to motocross/ supercross racing out of the box stock (much like KTM’s SX line) while the xc contains a spec sheet that reads like a cross country competitor’s dream.


Like KTM, Yamaha realized that their YFZ450 could be made, with a few tweaks and mods, into a worthy track weapon but didn’t stop there. Rather than simply perform a few tricks and upgrades to their existing platform, Yamaha literally started with a blank slate and whipped up a whole new 450cc entry in the YFZ450R. Fuel injection, Kashima coated suspension parts, revised geometry, and a hybrid aluminum/ steel frame design highlights the goodies of this new model.

Some say we aren’t to expect having our cake and being able to eat it too, but here’s where things get really interesting. All three of the models listed above have done to ATVs what our two-wheeled cousins have enjoyed for years (in annual revamps and updates to keep the edge over the competition); but better still, they haven’t even replaced the existing models! For 2009 the standard DS450, YFZ450, and KTM XCs will share the line with their newly revamped brothers. This is significant because it gives racers even more choices at the OEM level and offers up performance at multiple price points.

As much as I would like to go on record and proclaim that this era marks the epitome of the performance ATV class, it doesn’t take a betting man to wager that the rest of the OEMs won’t sit back and let the competition outclass them. Expect to witness continued annual renovation and innovation with each new model year. I don’t know about you, but I am stoked to say goodbye to the days when the only updates the sport ATVs received each year came in the form of “bold new graphics.”

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