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By: Jason Giacchino

November 2009 - Off The Pegs

Getting to Know the 450s in the Rain

It troubles me to even consider how much column space I devote to my ongoing disappointment in the weather; and yet now that summer has officially waved goodbye, I’m left once again down in the dumps.

Sure I’m quick to resort to plans of deferred ATV maintenance to get through the long winter if anyone should ask, but in truth there are few riders out there who can tell you straight faced that working on their quad is as fun as riding or racing it. Typically, summer is the time of year we New Yorkers do just that, and a nice long season of trail riding, weekend racing, and late night group rides are just the ticket to surviving the dreaded winters. Hey, a few good memories can go a long way when it’s negative ten degrees without the wind chill and getting up to fetch a cup of coffee isn’t worth unwrapping one’s self from the cocoon of blankets on the couch.

I bring all of this up because as it turns out, this summer was nearly the perfect opportunity to build up a nice archive of riding memories for which to draw from once the weather outside turns frightful--emphasis on the word “nearly” before “perfect” in describing this past season.

Don’t get me wrong, the ATV choices were breathtaking, the manufacturers generous with their timetables, and the moto-destinations all carefully programmed into the GPS. The trouble, as so often is the case in this part of the world, was the weather! Spring came in wet and wild; and I kid you not, never manifested itself into the dry-spell that we typically associate with summer. In fact by mid-July the area had managed to break every conceivable record kept on consecutive rainy days, measured rainfall, and ongoing storm systems.

Things were so bad for a while that states of emergency were declared due to flooding all around the area. Homes were evacuated, make-shift shelters erected, and so much bacteria had rolled into Lake Erie that a majority of the beaches were closed for the entire summer.

To top off the endless wetness, 2009 will go on record as having been the coolest in 88 years. Apparently, dreary days and cold breezes go hand and hand. In what should have been the dog days of summer (which to my friends and me means long afternoons spent on the trails or testing at the track) were instead spent inside the shed turning wrenches while waiting out the storm.

In a case of poor timing, it was within these miserable conditions that the opportunity to log some saddle time in on each of the new 450s kept presenting itself. I finally got to gear up and run a GNCC-style course in Ohio back in early June (when there was still hope of things improving) on Yamaha’s then-spanking new YFZ450R. The mud and hill run-off was so severe that what should have been seven-minute laps had to be shortened down to two-minutes and some change. The technical sections, log crossings, and hills had to be detoured in favor of only the highest ground (which was still pretty slimy).

Hoping things would improve by August, several planned rides had been cancelled before they even got off the ground just because the trails were too sloppy or the rain showed no sign of abating.

Then, just as things appeared completely hopeless, a small dry spell found its way through the area in early September. We went 24 days without a drop of rain (even the farmers weren’t complaining as their corn fields were beginning to look like rice paddies). It was during this period that I took delivery of a 2010 Polaris Outlaw 450 MXR (tested elsewhere this month) with specific instructions to thoroughly test it on both the trails and MX track for purpose of review.

The first few rides went without hitch; and in fact, the trails were a bit dusty for the first time all year. Realizing the mini-drought couldn’t last forever, I gathered up my riding buddies for a prospective trip down to Pennsylvania that same weekend to test at Majestic Trails with a still camera, camcorder, and two helmet cams (for in-the-saddle and chase footage).

When Saturday arrived, the skies were dark and threatening; but we pressed on. Sure enough we were caught in two torrential downpours within the hour and a half road trip there. The rain paused just long enough for us to get unloaded and geared up. With apprehension and a bit of excitement, we blasted off onto the trails and made our way up to the MX track just as the skies decided they could hold back no longer. Long story short: It rained and rained then rained some more. The temp dropped into the 40s; and by the time we made it back to the loading area, we were covered in mud from head to toe.

Worse still was that my fiancé insisted we change outside in the rain so as not to track the layer of goo with us into her new truck. Several pieces of gear had to be thrown away as there was simply no salvaging them. Suffice to say, not a single moment of footage had been captured, as was the plan. We were able to carve a few dozen hot laps around the track despite the conditions and came away impressed with the quad’s attributes. We were clearing everything even when traction was “iffy” at best and the Fox Podium X suspension was a lifesaver in those rain & mud speckled-goggle moments when we came up horribly short.

Polaris is waiting patiently for the return of their ATV, and I keep stalling in the hope of one more late-season break in the weather which will allow for a video production of the machine in action (for your enjoyment, of course). I’m still hoping although it’s looking less and less likely with each passing week where the only change to report is shorter days, colder nights, and rain turning to ice the moment it hits the grass.

I wonder what Polaris would think of my testing their 450’s abilities in three-feet of snow?

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