A sunrise in the desert is unlike any other. The soft morning light abates the harsh reality of the world that it is illuminating. A world devoid of many comforts. The purple and delicate yellow hues drain into the sands of the dunes. Hard shadows reveal themselves across the never-ending expanse of the Imperial Sand Dunes that some hardy souls call their playground.
This is not a forgiving landscape. One that few would call paradise. In these early hours, the distinctive sound of generators hum like honeybees collecting springtime pollen. On this morning, an unknown exhaust note shatters the dull drone. This is not the *thump thump thump* of a lazy, large bore, V-twin. A raspy, more energetic note echoes off the wind-whipped sand. This note belongs to the 998cc triple cylinder that resides in the all-new YXZ1000R, and I am about to spend the whole day with it. It should be hot today, as it is still early in the dune season, but right now, I could not care less.
I have been adequately concerned for the last few weeks knowing that I was going to be driving the YXZ1000R (From now on I am just going to call this thing the "Y," I hope you are okay with that). I have been wrestling with the question, “Do I want to shift?” I mean, really. Do I REALLY want to shift? The idea is new to the UTV market and has many enthusiasts asking that same question. Sure, I obviously think that I am Sebastien Loeb and will take to this sequential gear box like a duck to water. Yet, here on Earth, my skills are well-short of Mr. Loeb.
I slip behind the wheel and find a well-laid out cockpit. It is not dissimilar to that of the competitive units, save the full door, and the foreign levers to the right. The shift lever and park brake are positioned in the center console just forward of the air intake and a tract of plastic perfect to anchor my elbow while I position myself in the seat. The seat is quite comfortable, featuring a grippy vinyl, and slides back and forth for the long in the leg. This adjustability is important now that there is a third pedal present in the footwell. I am 5’10” and found that a couple of notches closer to the wheel was the sweet spot for me. There is plenty of room for those that are taller than me.
Clutch in, a turn of the key. Fuel ignites as it mixes with air, and a tasty note belches from the single muffler out back. A basic grip on a motorcycle gear box is necessary when thinking about this transmission. One bump forward is 1st gear, a slight pull back is Neutral, and then subsequent pulls access to 2-5th gears. Downshifts are accomplished with the clutch in, and a bump forward of the shift lever. Unlike many new bikes, Neutral was extremely easy to find and I did not have a single false neutral all day. Some have been saying that the clutch is not necessary to shift up and down. I am sure that this is true, but it also causes a lot more wear and tear than is necessary. The shifts in this machine are fast enough that clutchless shifting is not at all necessary.
I bump the shifter toward the horizon and ease out of the clutch to find the engagement point. The Y lurches forward and I administer more throttle. I am underway for this morning’s shakedown ride. The press fleet falls in line behind one of the test drivers from Yamaha and we head out into the sandy wasteland.
At slow speeds, the Y does not have what I would call a "cushy ride." The sport suspension, comprised of Fox 2.5 Podium RC2 shocks and double wishbone arms at all four corners, lets me feel exactly what is underfoot. I have read here on the site that some are complaining that the suspension is too stiff and needs major work. A few miles into this initial shakedown, I was beginning to see what a few were on about. However, as the day wore on I got more comfortable with the machine, I could not disagree with those folks more. Read on and I will explain.
The Y is like one of those high-performance catamarans that compete in the America’s Cup. When the wind is only slightly breezy the hulls sit in the water and it is none too impressive. When the wind picks up, hold on to your hat. The boats defy gravity, lift out of the water on hydrofoils, and they fly above the whitecaps. The Y pushes you to drive fast, hard, and aggressive. At first, I kept shifting at around 7500 RPM because I heard the engine screaming in my right ear. At these shift points I thought the Y was good and on par with the other machines in the segment. It wasn’t until I had about 30 miles under my belt that I realized that the Y only began to make it’s power at 7000 RPM. The sweet spot for this machine was in the stratospheric 7000-10,000 RPM range. This is where the triple sang.
With 30 miles on the odo, I was pretty comfortable with the handling and the suspension. It was still sportier than the competition, but nothing that I would complain about. After all, this is a “Pure Sport” machine. Snaking through the dunes with pinpoint accuracy was attributed to the 27" Bighorn 2.0 tires. These tires did well in the virginal, early-season sand. The sidewall lugs bit into the ruts, which was a little off-putting at first. As I came to anticipate the slight jerk that came from settling into a rut, or crossing over one, this feeling faded. Paddles may have gathered momentum more quickly than the weighty Bighorns, but I wasn’t left wanting for them.
Grabbing gears in the Y became second nature at this point as well. The clutch and transmission are sadists. Gluttons for punishment. I am sure that you have heard the shifts on the videos of the Y. Let me tell you that the "Chic-kung” of each shift is so satisfying. The shifts are crisp, clean and fast, even with my seemingly drunken groping. With the Y, the driver is now a vital part of the action. Within the first 50 miles at the wheel, my question was answered. “Do I want to shift?” YES! For the love of God and country, YES! The Y is so much fun to drive, and the harder and faster I drove, the more fun it was.
While behind the wheel of the Y, you must to have your head about you, pay attention to the terrain, and the machine. You have to mentally drive a little bit ahead of where you would normally be focussing. Being in the right gear at the right time is now up to the driver. I am not sure that this is for everyone. My previous adventures in the sand let me put the gas pedal to the floor and let my right foot determine the outcome. Now, I could actually change how I attacked each dune, face, and bowl based on my rev-to-gear relationship. No longer did I have to wait for the engine to spin up and get the CVT to the right place. Now the connection was immediate and direct.
Later in the day, I got to tag along with the Yamaha employees, and Dustin Nelson, who recently put the Y on the podium at the Glen Helen WORCS race. This ride is what tipped the scales for me. Riding the Buttercup area of the Imperial Sand Dunes with these guys took this machine to its happy place. Being in line with drivers that have countless hard hours in this machine is where the Y shines. The harder the Y is pushed, the better it gets. The chassis is very well balanced and predictable at high speeds. At one point, I was riding the rim of a large bowl, glanced at the speedo to see that the first digit was a 6. The bowl’s edge mellowed out, but at these speeds, “mellowed out” turns into “dropped off suddenly.” The rear of the machine started to walk around the outside. With a quick check of the steering wheel and a dab of throttle, everything was back in order with no drama whatsoever.
I did not take the opportunity to drive the machine with the Rekluse clutch installed. I could see this accessory opening the experience of the Y to a larger audience as most people would use 2nd and 3rd gear for most of their needs. I spent most of the day using these gears. I only saw 4th and 5th during the long, high-speed trips along the sand highway back to camp. To that end, I found the steering to be on point. It was light enough that I didn’t have to wrestle the wheel all day. Small inputs went directly to the wheels. On the high speed runs, I was able to relax my upper body and give only light input. In the dunes, I was able to get into a rhythm and actually let go of the wheel in transitions to let the tires do what they needed to do. Yamaha really knocked it out of the park with their EPS system.
Now to take the rose colored glasses off for a moment: This machine’s cockpit is… warm. Actually, it is downright hot. There is a lot of heat that pours into the cockpit of the Y. My right leg got really hot against the drive train tunnel as the transmission creates a lot of heat. Also, the radiator is positioned in a way that all the heat is being exchanged into the foot wells. The heat from the headers worms it’s way up along the inside of the driver’s door due to negative pressure. The airflow in the cockpit is restricted by the sun top, the full doors, and the fact that the driver sits very low in the cab.
Unless the wife (or the closest thing that you have to it) is just as crazy as you are, she is likely to not like the ride of the Y. As I said earlier, at slow speeds, the suspension is a little harsher than other machines. To get the suspension to it’s happy place, you have to be driving fast and aggressive enough that it might be frightening for a standard passenger. Then again, I am a terrible passenger, so she might be used to your shit by now. HA! Again, it is hot in there.
The manual transmission might be a barrier to those that don’t have experience with motorcycles. Also, you have to rev the nuts off of this engine to get to its optimum operating range. First, this is not natural for folks that have driven V-twin motors. Second, the fuel is sucked down a little faster than I thought. I put 100 miles on the Y, and I went through more than the 9 gallons of fuel that the tank holds. Granted, I was driving the balls out of the thing. I am sure that driving it regularly I would be able to get my consumption down, but that is a lot of fuel.
The Y brings back the fun, visceral feeling of being in control of a machine. The driver is once again a vital ingredient in the driving experience. The CVT has it’s place just like the automatic sports cars out there, but for many, we still opt for a good, old-fashioned handshaker. The Y will not be for everyone in the least, but those wanting a true sport driving experience will certainly love the YXZ1000R.