Friday, February 28, 2014

Three Wheelers

Before we had four wheels, we had three. The first mass produced ATV was a three wheeler, it was called the Honda US90. Honda did very well with the US90, before it's introduction offroading was limited to dirt bikes. But with a three wheeler, riders had a new level of stability in loose terrain and you could ride rain or shine.

Honda officially introduced the trike to America in 1970, at a price of $595. The original US90 was based on an 89cc single cylinder engine that sent its 7 horsepower through a dual-range four-speed gearbox with automatic clutch. A big feature of this machine was called Swivel-Lok, which allowed for quick handlebar removal for easy loading in a trunk of a car or a station wagon (remember this was the 70's). Later that year the US90 was renamed the ATC90 when Honda trademarked the ATC (All Terrain Cycle) name, and three models carried that Honda ATC monogram through the 1970s. The ATC70 gave younger riders a scaled-down version of the fat-tire experience. And by the end of the decade, requests for more power turned the original ATC90 into the ATC110 in 1979. The ATC was as evolutionary as it was revolutionary from the beginning.

I personally have a lot of history with three wheelers, and so I have a soft spot for them. When I was a kid I had a fear of loud noises,  engines in particular. This concerned my Dad, so he decided to buy an ATV hoping it would help me overcome my fear. He thought a three wheeler would be good because I would be able to ride it by myself without having to worry about being tall enough to touch the ground. And one day he brought home a brand new 1984 Honda 200M ATC on the back of our truck.
Dad and I at the Ottopasso Trails in 1984

It worked! I was no longer afraid of engine noises. My Dad and I would go riding a couple times a year at the Ottopasso Trails South of Saskatoon, which at the time was still a public facility and run by the province. We would also bring it to my cousin's farm when we went to visit them. I loved the freedom the trike gave me, anytime I was bored I could hop on my machine and go explore. Most of my memories are good, but there were a couple accidents. One of the incidents happened shortly after we got the 200M. My Dad and I were riding around the Beaver Creek Conservation Area just south of Saskatoon, I was just a little guy and was riding in between my Dad's legs. Neither of us were wearing a helmet. My Dad attempted to go down a steep hill at an angle, but three wheelers don't do well with angles unless you can hang body off the side as a counter weight. Needless to say we rolled, tumbled all the way down the hill. In the carnage I ended up hitting my head on something, I can remember touching the back of my head afterwards and having a lot of blood on my hand. It was scary at the time, but the blood dried and I had a way cool battle wound to show my Mom and friends when I got home.

Terry and I on our machines
Riding changed for me when I was 10. I met a guy that lived near me, who would eventually become my best friend. His name was Terry, and he was very passionate about riding. When he found out I had a three wheeler we were instantly friends. He had a dirt bike when we met but it wasn't too long before he sold it and got a three wheeler. My Dad introduced me to riding, but Terry is the one who ignited a passion in me for ATVing. We had a number of off road adventures together over the coming years, a couple of which involved being chased by police.

Fast forward a number of years into my early teens, I ended up selling the 200M to buy a dirtbike. Less than a year later I sold that dirtbike to buy another three wheeler. But this trike was nothing like the last, it was like the 200M on steroids, enter the 1983 Honda 250R ATC.

Terry's 200X and my 250R

The "Pyscho" 1983 Honda 250R
The 250R was psycho. If a regular three wheeler was dangerous then this was an absolute suicide machine. It had all of the instability of the three wheeler with almost twice the power and a very torquey 2 stroke engine. You could wheelie the 200M if you really tried, but with the 250R you had to do everything in your power to keep the front wheel on the ground. We bought it in 1992 used from Redline Harley Davidson in Saskatoon. The engine blew shortly after we got it and so Redline rebuilt the engine for us under warranty which increased the power even more. I can remember riding across a stubble field at approximately 80kmph and if I kept it in the power band it would effortlessly raise the front tire off the ground. Low profile tires were becoming quite common at the time and they would have dramatically increased the stability but I was still riding on balloon tires. I semi-jokingly say that I believe this machine tried to kill me as there were a number of incidents that I shouldn't have been able to walk away from, but I had angels watching over me and I never did sustain any serious injury.

My son on our 1984 Big Red 200ES at the Ottopasso Trails
in 2012
A couple of years ago I purchased an 84 Big Red to relive some of the memories from when I was a kid. Found a gorgeous machine on Kijiji, very similar to our 200M. On one of my first rides I got a little over confident. I was bombing along a trail beautiful sandy trail in Northern Saskatchewan getting some good speed when I came up to a curve to the right. As I entered the corner I realized I was going  too fast for the for the traction conditions. I tried to break the rear end loose in order to keep it flat and slide the rear end around the curve but the knobby tires bit into the sand and held firm. Before I knew it my inside tire was coming up and I was in trouble. At that moment you have two choices, turn out of the curve and into the bush or roll. I decided the first would be a better option and I plowed into the bush. Thankfully there were no large trees and the brush just slowed me down. It was a good reminder how a small miscalculation can turn into a wreck. Yes I wasn't being careful but this kind of situation just doesn't happen on a four wheeler.

Are three wheelers dangerous? Absolutely yes! A novice rider can get onto a quad and learn to ride it in a relatively short time and become proficient (knowing how to predict what the machine will do in a particular situation) at riding within a couple of months. Because of the reduced stability of the ATC that same proficiency takes at least twice as long.

In conclusion, I will always love three wheelers, and I don't plan to ever sell my Big Red. But they are different, and ultimately more dangerous than a four wheeler. Some want them banned all together and I will never go that far but they need to be treated with even more respect than your average ATV.

Friday, February 14, 2014

ATV Review - 2009 Arctic Cat DVX 300

2009 Arctic Cat DVX300

Arctic Cat DVX300
We bought this ATV early summer last year (2013). I needed something that my wife and kids could ride as our Yamaha Warrior’s transmission with a clutch was proving to make riding a less than pleasurable experience for my inexperienced riders. I knew they needed something easy to ride, a machine that would allow them to get out and experience ATVing and start enjoying riding without having to worry about gears, and that meant an automatic transmission. I assumed that there must be a bunch of options but when I started to look at what was available I found out my options for a two wheel drive sport machine was limited. You may ask "why not four wheel drive?" It's true, the majority of automatic transmission ATV's are four wheel drive, but we wanted something light and easy to transport and something that was reliable with less moving parts. Looking cool was a side benefit.

Polaris Phoenix 200
In my research I found that there were only two sport quads with an automatic transmission, they are the Polaris Phoenix 200 and the Arctic Cat DVX300. My opinions of Polaris are slowly changing but I have had a couple of bad experiences, so I had a hard time considering the Phoenix. But I wanted to give it a chance so I test rode a Phoenix that I found on Kijiji. Right off the bat there were a number things I didn't like about it and one of them was the styling. It looks okay, but next to a DVX it couldn't hold a candle. I also didn't like the way the CVT felt or the fact it had a rear drum brake. That combined with the sluggish feeling of the wimpy 200cc engine and my mind was set, DVX it is.

It wasn't long before I found one on Kijiji, I took a look at it and liked it right away, it was in very good condition and you could tell it had hardly been used. At first glance it looks like an all-out race machine. It has these tiny little fenders that provide little or no protection for the rider, if you hit water or mud you just need to accept the fact that you will be covered afterwards. It also has a taller riding stance which is good for smaller riders, but for me it felt I was too high and would be tipsy.

My 12 yr old daughter riding the DVX at family camp
Not a ton of features here, the DVX like all Arctic Cats use a Suzuki engine. The engine is reasonable peppy, pretty much what you would expect for a 300. Because it is mated to an automatic transmission your ability to really use the higher RPM’s of the engine is limited and this engine makes more power in the higher RPM range. It is liquid cooled with fan assist which is great for riding on those hot summer days. It is not fuel injected but starting is never an issue with the carburetor and choke. Dual disks up front and a single rear disk on a solid axle make up the rear. You would expect that the suspension travel is a lot better than it is considering the clearance that the wheels have but it is nothing spectacular.

Needless to say I bought it. Our experience riding it has been okay, I haven’t spent a lot of time on this machine but enough to get a good feel for it. The seat is skinny and hard, your rear will be tired and sore after a day on it. It accelerates reasonably well and you can get the rear end to break loose around corners when you blip the throttle on medium traction surfaces. Top speed would be somewhere in the 60-70km range. Jumping and wheelies are an option but you will be using your body weight to throw the machine around more than you would with a regular sport quad.

My son just after he rolled the DVX captured on my GoPro.
He was not injured.
One thing to note is that this machine has been rolled 3 times in our short time of ownership. Most of the fender supports are bent or broken right off. Nobody has been seriously injured in any of the roll overs but I think this has to do with the taller riding stance I mentioned earlier.

We have had only one mechanical issue. When hot the DVX will idle very high, especially when shifted into neutral. So much so that you cannot shift back into forwards or reverse. We have started using the choke to bring the idle down so that you can shift and then turning it off once in gear. An issue we will have to get looked at this coming season.

Overall this machine is only average, and I probably wouldn't be recommending it at all. But the automatic CVT transmission is its saving grace. Over the summer we had a number of friends ride this machine, none of them had ever rode an ATV previously. The fact that these people were able to hop on and experience something they never would have been able to otherwise is a great thing and gives it a pass.

In conclusion, if you are looking for an entry level pure sport machine and know how to ride a machine with a manual transmission, this is not the machine for you. I would recommend a Honda 400EX, or a Yamaha Raptor 350. But if you need a sporty two wheel drive machine with an automatic transmission, this is pretty much your only choice.

My son, showboating

My wife and her friend who had never been riding just back from an adventure

Friday, January 31, 2014

ATV Review - 2006 Yamaha Bruin 350

As there is a huge market for used ATV's I plan to start doing reviews on some of the machines I either own or am able to ride. This will be the first. 

2006 Yamaha Bruin 350

We purchased this machine October of 2012. At the time of purchase it had 7000kms on it. We paid $2200 for it and figured that was a good price for a 4x4 ATV. We needed an ATV for our business that we could attach a snow blower to. This was a bit of an experiment because we didn't know how well this concept was going to work so price was one of the main factors for us.

When I first saw the machine, it presented itself reasonably well, the previous owner had just replaced the torn seat with a new cover and it was clean. The red plastics were more a shade of pink from sun fading but this was a work machine and seemed to fit the bill for our needs.

The Bruin engine is a 350cc air cooled unit attached to a CVT (automatic) transmission. It is worth noting that this engine has been made by Yamaha since at least 1987, probably longer which likely accounts for the reliability of it. No EFI here, just a carburetor. Push button four wheel drive, but no “low” gear on the gear box and no locking front differential. It has decent front and rear racks and a comfortable riding position. Front disk brakes and a single rear drum mounted to a solid axle.

There isn't much that really stands out on this machine, and it looks very dull compared to many other machines out there. But….I really like it.

It has performed nearly flawlessly during our time with it, it ran like a charm all throughout the winter, starting in -45 degree weather and doing everything it was asked to do. Once the weather was nice the snowblower came off and it became a recreational machine for the months that the weather was nice. My daughter took her first solo ATV ride on it, my 74 year old Dad rode it a couple times on our adventures to Nisbet Forest. And when we took it to family camp, it was the machine we would ride around the grounds.
It doesn't do anything spectacular, but it does everything well. Shortly after we purchased this machine for our company I personally bought a 2007 Can Am Renegade 800, which was my first 4x4 machine after riding 2wd sport quads for most of my life. The Renegade is spectacular in so many ways; looks, performance and power. But when it broke down, or was too loud to bring where we were going, there was the Bruin.

I had to sell the Renegade last fall, even though it had less Km’s than the Bruin (6000kms) it had a number of pending issues that were going to cost big dollars to fix. While I was looking for a new machine a friend invited me on a ride. I didn't have my big 4x4 machine but I had the Bruin, so I brought it. I cannot believe the amount of fun I had on that ride. I think that sometimes we get locked into thinking we need all the bells and whistles to have fun when riding, but the Bruin breaks that mold. Sometimes simple is still fun. Both my friend and his buddy that accompanied us were surprised at what this little machine was able to do compared to their 700 and 750 machines. It did have a hard time trying to winch the other guys out of the mud but it never got stuck itself, both of which can be attributed to its light weight. And I was easily able to keep up with the other guys on the trails. It's no powerhouse but it does move it's light weight chassis reasonably well and can even hit speed of over 70kph.

All in all I think this is a great machine. It reminds me of my 1984 Big Red ATC, dependable and ready to do what you ask it to, just not flashy. If you are looking to buy one, I would recommend it.

Our first revision of the snowblower, this one was manufactured by Quadivator. Didn't work for our requirements.

This is our second and current revision of the snowblower other than the motorized controls for the chute added this year. It is made by Kimpex and works much better for our application.

My daughters first quad ride with her Dad at the Ottopasso Trails on the Bruin. My 2007 Can Am Renegade 800. 

 My Dad riding the Bruin on a river sandbar near Nisbet Forest 

My wife and daughter at family camp

Bruin beside an Arctic Cat 400, considerable size difference

Update April 23, 2015
It's been over a year since the writing of this article and the Bruin continues to work well. It will no longer be used for snowblowing duty as it has been replaced by a 2008 Rhino 700 and will be used strictly for recreation.
It has been great for recreational riding this last year with only minor issues. It blew a belt while trail riding and had to be towed back to the trucks. We now carry a spare belt with the machine.
The brakes are bad, I never mentioned how poor the brakes were in the original article but they have never been great and continue to suck. The rear drum brake seal has failed so that it now fills with water and does very little to assist with braking. The front brakes don't grab well either and it is almost impossible to lock up any of the tires if you are in a panic situation.
We upgraded the tires to 25" ITP TerraCross tires at all four corners. This has increased the traction dramatically but has also left it feeling less powerful.
My son has mainly rode this machine and only recently is complaining about its lack of power and is wanting an Outlander.

Bruin sporting the new ITP TerraCross tires
The Bruin (far right) dwarfed among the Can Am's
Update August 25, 2015
With the purchase of the Rhino we couldn't justify keeping the Bruin around and we sold it earlier this summer. It was a great machine and I know it will be missed.
I made a YouTube video of this review which can be seen at the top.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Trail Tech - Backroad GPS Map

As I was doing online searching for Saskatchewan ATV trails a product called "Backroad GPS Maps" kept popping up. My brother in-law had mentioned that a friend of his had some kind of different map for his Garmin handheld GPS, and that he was amazed at how it helped them to find some old abandon trails when they were hunting in Northern Saskatchewan. I wasn't sure if this was what he was using but the manufacturer Backroad Mapbooks does mention that they have ATV trails included with their maps. At a cost of $99 it was too expensive to risk purchasing a product if it didn't have what I was looking for.

A while later, as I was browsing at Wholesale Sports I saw the Backroad GPS Maps case on the counter. I asked the sales person if it was returnable if I couldn't find a decent amount of ATV trails on it. Most software is not returnable and I figured this would be the case here too. None of the salesmen knew so I eventually talked to the manager who didn't know either, so he called other stores to ask them if they knew if it was returnable. He couldn't get a straight answer as it seemed like none of the other stores ever had someone try and return it. So as a good manager he gave me his business card and wrote a note on the back saying he would allow me to return it. So with no risk I slapped down the credit card and told them to "Charge it!".
This product allows you to use it two ways, one is on an SD card that fits into your handheld GPS, the other is a downloadable version you can use on your computer. I do not have a handheld GPS that can accept an SD card, and I wanted a nice big screen to be able to see the entire map so the downloadable version was the way for me.
Backroad Mapbooks is somehow partnered with Garmin, and they use their computer software called BaseCamp to display the map.

After installing, I started exploring. I started in areas where I have rode trails and knew they existed. I was disappointed to see that most were not on the map. "Good thing I can return the product" I told myself. But as I spend more time with the product doing more exploring I started finding trails. Not tons, but enough that I started getting excited.
I need to mention that the product support was amazing! I had no problems loading the software onto my home PC, but I also wanted it on my work PC and my Macbook. All of which I could do because they will let you install it on as many computers as you like, PC or Mac.Backroad Mapbooks tech support guy helped me with getting the other two computers and working perfect.
Since they were so helpful with getting the product installed I decided to call tech support again and ask if they could help me find ATV trails, he recommended putting the SD card in the computer while I did a BaseCamp search for "ATV". Apparently when the SD card is in the computer that the computer will access a database that only exists on it. And he was right!
I was delighted to see that my search turned up 50 different trails all across Saskatchewan. Not all of which were actually ATV trails (such as the Meewasin trails along the river bank here in Saskatoon) but many that were. Also, if you put a flag where you are currently located it will sort your search results by the trails nearest to you.

In this picture of the Nisbet forest area, trails are marked in green are considered multi-use trails.

Overall I am pretty happy with the product, but I won't know how good it actually is until riding season when I will be able to see how many of these trails actually exist.
Even though I could take the software back to the store and I would still have access to all of the software I have downloaded (and my $99) I think I am going to keep it as it looks like it will help in the exploration of our Saskatchewan trails.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Trail Tech - Trail Tire Comparison

 I came across great article comparing some of the common tire brands for trail riding. I like this review as he is riding on a set of tires for and entire season and not just doing a one off review.

If you are in the market for new tires check it out.


Comparison: ITP TerraCross R/T, Maxxis Bighorn and Interco Reptile

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Trail Tech - Hitcase Action Camera Case

 GoPro's are awesome, they are a purpose built camera and I don't think there is any replacement for something that does such a good job at what it is intended for. But, there are a group of people who would rather use their iPhone or Android device to record their videos. In my short time of doing videos I have found that having a GoPro on my helmet is bulky and find that it is constantly getting hit with branches which is usually followed up by me reaching about my head to ensure my expensive GoPro is still there. Imagine how much worse this would be with a big iPhone or worse yet, a Samsung Galaxy. Another issue with this is how to turn the video recording on and off while it is on top of your head, an issue GoPro has overcome with the remote that is included with the "Black" edition or you can purchase as an accessory. 

I personally have a GoPro so I am not looking for a case for this purpose. My discovery of the GPS app called EveryTrail for your smartphone (see earlier post for more details) and my excitement to use it on the trails this coming season, I started thinking about just how I would use it. Keep it in my pocket? Sure that will work but I would like to use the camera for snapping pictures of my favorite parts of the trail, I'll likely be wearing waterproof pants and wearing gloves. No, I want it accessible, preferably mounted on my handlebars. And that is what got me started searching for someway to mount my phone but also keep it safe.

There are many options on the market, but you have to know how to search for them. Googling the search terms "iphone case" gets you darn near a million hits. "waterproof iphone case" narrows it down a bit and "mountable waterproof case" gets you closer but it still didn't get me where I wanted. So I searched "can I turn my iphone into a Gopro?" and then I started seeing the results I wanted. Apparently another search term that could have helped would be "iphone action camera".

Waterproof is a very important feature for my use, although I do not plan on submerging the phone I will be getting into mud and don't doubt at all that I will at some point get a big mud plop right on my phone.

After many hours of research I managed to find one locally at London Drugs, it is called iMountz. Being that is was local (returnable) and the price was actually better than most I could order online I picked it up. I was hesitant as I wasn't able to find any actual reviews on it, it was obviously Chinese made and didn't have the look of quality I was looking for but what did I have to loose. As soon as I saw it in person I was pretty sure it was not going to work the way I had hoped. 

  • The screen cover was a thick clear plastic and couldn't see any way that it was going to allow use of the touch screen, also the only button on the phone it left access to was the home button. This presents a big problem for my use as I would have to start the camera app before putting it in the case and leave it on for my entire trail ride with the LCD on which would probably kill my battery before the ride was over.
  • The screen cover had a small section just above the home button that did contact the screen and was intended to allow you to touch the area of the screen where the camera button is. This was very intermittent, it barely worked sometimes and didn't work at all other times.
I took it back to London Drugs the next day and continued looking for another solution.

Otterbox and Lifeproof both make amazing products for everyday protection of your iPhone, so another though was to buy one of these cases and then use velcro or figure out someway to attach a removable clip. This is a viable option but two things kept me from going this driection:
  • The cost. With either Otterbox or Lifeproof I would be looking at close to $100
  • I still wouldn't have the product I wanted as I would still need to adapt a mount which although it wouldn't be hard to do still presented some issues of reliability as I would adapting my own solution rather than it being purpose built
The solution

With more research I came across the Hitcase. This one looks to have it all, full access to the phone and all its functions other than charging or headphone jacks. Waterproof case, slide on mounting point, good price and the cherry on top, compatibility with all of my GoPro mounts.

I was able to read many positive reviews with the only complaint being the bulkiness of the case which is something very difficult to overcome when you are making a waterproof and shockproof case to protect your sizable smartphone investment. The price was about the same as either the Otterbox or the Lifeproof as I opted to go with the Hitcase and not the Hitcase Pro. The only difference between the two is that the Pro comes with a fish-eye lens which would be handy if you were using this as an action camera.
I will do another review later this year when I get a chance to trail test this case.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Fort a la Corne Forest Review

 Located 50km North of Melfort, North East of Gronlid. There are many entrances into the forest, the one on the map is the one we used.

(Note that maps show directions to where the trails start and are not the actual trails)

Terrain: Mostly sand and dirt trails

Tons & tons of trails all in a beautiful wooded area. Lots of wildlife, views of the river and small streams.

Some of the neat places of interest on these trails include

-The Sandberg Creek Rest Stop (located beside the river, gorgeous!)

-Dale Skiftun Memorial

-Large areas of burned out forest

 -River views

 Map of trails found at the shack at the Sandberg Creek Rest Stop

Update January 28, 2014 - I have created a GPS map to the Sandberg Creek Rest Stop from one of the forest entrances and uploaded it to EveryTrail, you can see it here.