Choosing the perfect weapon for the sand
Even as an avid snowmobiler, I think it’s nice to be able get away from the cold and snow for a few days for a short mid-winter vacation. This past winter was extremely cold and snowy, with snowfall that I haven’t witnessed in 30 years or more and an average temperature that made my home state of Michigan seem more like Alaska. So when the opportunity presented itself to head out to Imperial Sand Dunes (aka Glamis) to check out the 2014 Special Edition Yamaha Raptor 700R and YFZ450R, I was particularly ready to go.
If you’ve never been to Glamis, it’s quite a sight to behold. While a lot of ride areas and even sand dunes are measured in acres, this is more of a place that’s measured in square miles. To put it simply… the place is MASSIVE. At Glamis, the hills are steep, the sand is soft, and the area is wide. This is a place that requires advanced riding skills, confidence, and very capable equipment. So I dusted off and packed the skills and confidence and boarded my flight to Sunny California, knowing that Yamaha would have the capable equipment part covered and ready to go!
Read our feature: A Newbie’s Guide to ATV Riding in Glamis + Video
Our camp on Gecko Road was located in the perfect place, with the California desert’s version of trail riding on one side of the road and endless sand dunes on the other. After we got settled in and had our quick but thorough briefing on the area, equipment, and safety, it was time to ride… and that’s when it came time to make a tough decision. Raptor 700R or YFZ450R. Which do I ride… first. Our first venture out on to the dunes was a group ride where we’d go scout the dunes for some great photo spots. We took a mixture of Raptors and YFZ-Rs and we would most likely be switching throughout the ride, so picking the perfect machine became somewhat less important. I saddled up on a box-stock Raptor 700R SE and we headed out.
2014 Yamaha Raptor 700R SE
The Raptor 700R is an extremely capable dune quad for several reasons. The suspension on the 700R is fully adjustable, with dual-speed compression and rebound adjustments on both the front and rear KYB shocks. This is a great feature to have, especially on the dunes, because the wind and weather can turn them from firm and smooth to soft, sharp, and choppy in a matter of hours. Our conditions happened to be on the soft and choppy side, so several riders backed out on the low-speed compression, which kept the ride smooth while leaving the high-speed to do its job at sucking up the big bumps and landing the big jumps. Most big-bore ATVs can handle like… well… big bore ATVs. And while the Raptor 700R is narrower, taller, and heavier than its YFZ brothers, it definitely doesn’t handle that way. Even though the engine cases are a little wider between your feet, the layout and feel of the Raptor is very similar to the YFZ and gives you the confidence and control of a much smaller ATV.
Another thing that makes the Raptor 700R quite adept at duning is the engine. The Yamaha thumper is an absolute torque MONSTER! Even in the deep, soft sand, the Raptor has enough grunt to get you through any valley or over any hill. First gear is super-torquey, but you won’t be using it often as the Raptor is particularly happy to be ridden a gear high. The transmission shifts smoothly through all five gears and the clutch is strong and smooth enough to slip for a burst of power or grab another gear.
Read our review of the 2013 Yamaha Raptor 700 Review + Video
At one point during our morning ride, one of our fellow editors had a little bit of an “issue”, you could say, and ended up underneath his YFZ-R. I stopped, shifted up a couple of gears, and jumped off my Raptor to help, with the thought that my quad would stall. But after helping him up and making sure he was OK I looked over to my trusty Raptor and realized that it hadn’t stalled. It was bottomed out in deep, soft sand, with both wheels spinning and churning up sand… in third gear! That, my friends, is the textbook definition of torque!
After a stop to show off in front of Adam Campbell’s Canon lens, it was time to switch machines. This time I hopped on another Raptor 700R, but this one was equipped with a full GYTR exhaust system. Riding the piped Raptor is like super-sizing your meal at McDonalds. It’s the same thing, just more of it! There is more torque off the bottom and a much stronger midrange gets you to the 9000 RPM redline much quicker. On the piped Raptor, the hills seemed shorter and the scenery seemed blurrier! After spending some time on the GYTR Raptor, I was pretty sure that if I had to pick one ATV to ride in the dunes that this would be the one! But then… the week wasn’t over yet!
2014 Yamaha YFZ450R SE
Later in the afternoon, I had the opportunity to spend some time on the newly updated YFZ450R. I have been a huge fan of the YFZ-R since its birth in 2009, and the 2014 boasts changes to the plastic, heel guards, compression, EFI, clutch, and suspension that make it better than ever. The YFZ-R is distinctly different on the dunes than a Raptor. Being lighter, lower, narrower between your feet, and wider at the wheels, you can corner more aggressively and of course fly higher on the YFZ-R than you can on a Raptor. The YFZ-R has high/low/rebound adjustable high volume KYB shocks at each end, so just like its big brother you can adjust it to varying conditions quickly and easily. Changes to the low speed compression for 2014 make it much smoother and more comfortable on the rough sand to reduce rider fatigue.
Changes to the compression ratio and associated ECU programming have made a noticeable difference in horsepower for 2014, and the YFZ-R definitely has the power and speed to get you around the dunes in a hurry. The new slipper/assist clutch also helps to eliminate engine braking and kick back on braking bumps and makes the clutch pull super easy, which really helps to keep the fuel injected 450 motoring on the sand. The horsepower increase and clutch changes combine to make the 450R an extremely capable dune quad, even if it doesn’t have the absolute brute torque of the Raptor 700R.
Read our review of the 2014 Yamaha YFZ450R Review + Video
Toward the end of our trip, I’d mentioned that the perfect ATV for the dunes would consist of a YFZ450R chassis with a Raptor 700R engine. And as luck would have it, there was one machine that I hadn’t yet ridden. Mixed in with our assortment of Special Edition Raptors and YFZ-Rs were two factory modified YFZ450Rs. The modifications consisted of the full GYTR exhaust, K&N/Outerwears filters, and a Power Commander V EFI controller. As our dune vacation wound down, I had the opportunity to hop on the modified YFZ-R for some ride time. And that is when I found true love!
The hopped-up YFZ450R was the ideal combination of the awesome handling of the 450 and the horsepower of the 700. The exhaust and intake mods and EFI controller work perfectly with the new slipper/assist clutch make this the most powerful, rideable, and reliable 450cc ATV I’ve ever ridden on the sand, with power output easily on par performance-wise with the piped Raptor 700. Compared to stock, the modified 450R is much stronger from bottom to top, most noticeably in its massive mid-range pull. And the best part about it… it’s all done on pump gas! This ATV, to me, is the ultimate dune quad because it has the comfort, handling, and power for any situation you’ll every encounter on the sand.
With the sport segment of the market shrinking, there are getting to be fewer choices for a dune-capable ATV. And while many manufacturers have shifted their focus to the side-by-side market, Yamaha clearly has no intention of banishing its customers to a life inside a roll cage. Instead, as the 2014 Special Edition Raptor 700R and YFZ450R clearly show, they have every intention of sending their faithful ATV customers out on the dunes with performance and style no matter which model you choose.
See you on the sand!