2019 Yamaha YXZ1000R: Desert Test

Rick Sosebee
by Rick Sosebee
Fast Facts

Engine: 998cc inline triple

Power: 112 hp
Transmission: 5-speed sequential
L x W x H: 123.9 x 64 x 68.9
Wheelbase: 90.6
Ground Clearance: 13.2
After testing out the 2019 Yamaha YXZ1000R SS in the tight woods of Alabama earlier this fall, we wanted to see how it handled some truly brutal desert driving conditions.

Rocks! Big, ugly, tough and plentiful rocks. This is the biggest reason many visit the Johnson Valley riding area in Southern California. The landscape is well known in the rock crawling community as this is the home of the KOH (King of the Hammers) event which brings an incredible number of spectators and racers to challenge the terrain. With that said, it was a great place to test the updated 2019 Yamaha YXZ1000R SS.

The terrain around the Johnson Valley area is a mix of flat out, whooped out full pedal desert landscape with many sections of the biggest boulders I have ever experienced. There is also a constant mix of rocks that are basketball sized, mostly sharp like Megalodon teeth and hungry for the passing tire. Throw in the occasional sand dune popping up and you have a very universal testing ground. I’m hoping you get the picture. It’s a tough place and hard on equipment if you are not properly educated or prepared.

2019 Yamaha YXZ1000R SS 1

So, for the second half of the terrain challenge for this YXZ1000R Sport Shift, Yamaha wanted to give us the testing ability on opposite sides of the country. This world of treeless ground seems to many to be the original birth place for the YXZ. The testing we did at Stoney Lonesome just north of Birmingham Alabama squashed that theory as it proved to be a very capable and versatile rig.

Changes are abundant on the 2019 Yamaha YXZ1000R Sport Shift and I’m sure you have read all about them in previous stories, so let’s get to just how they work to your advantage. Among the many changes we can start with the fact that the heat from the engine no longer resides in the cab with the driver and passenger. The desert temperatures on our ride day were just over the 80-degree mark. It was not extreme heat, but warm enough when you’re working hard behind the wheel. We had arrived to Johnson Valley at an opportune time, but we were not intending on being gentle with these machines. The 32% larger radiator is now located behind and just slightly above the occupant’s shoulders. This allows plenty of air to flow through the cooling fins and gives the twin fans, which have 300% more cooling capability, plenty of room to operate. There was no indication on our ride that there was any vehicle-produced heat evident in the cab during the full day of thrashing this beast.

2019 Yamaha YXZ1000R SS 6

With the in-cab temps maintaining comfortable levels, we were able to really focus on the transmission and just how well it handled the terrain around Johnson Valley. The almost 24-mile loop we had been scheduled to drive combined many different sections of the OHV area’s terrain and included a few areas that are abused during the big King of the Hammers event held here. In this up and down mountain terrain one new change that was very welcomed was the new style ROPs.

The protective structure over our heads has been built with the intent to give optimal sight lines when approaching steep climbs. You can see very well now and I also noticed (as a larger rider) that I wasn’t bumping my helmet when getting in or out of the SXS, either. Pretty good stuff. Speaking of steep inclines and downhill sections, the sharp angle of the YXZ1000R’s front end has always provided a good sight line to see the terrain right in front of the car. When we started into some of the more challenging rocks, it was easy to see across the front of our YXZ to locate and traverse the really big rocks. This was also helped along by the larger 29-inch Bighorn tires. We could get wheel placement a bit easier and the 8-ply YXZ-specific tires would help pull us through these slow areas without fail. Did I mention that these tires took an absolute beating? There is nothing like the Maxxis Bighorn “OG” and that is why it is a go-to tire for many.

2019 Yamaha YXZ1000R SS 5

In these sections we began to notice just how slow the YXZ would crawl through the rocks. The MCU has also received a bit of reprogramming, Version 2.0 if you will, to help the clutch to stay engaged longer before it gets into the “half clutch” mode from previous years. This lowers the jumping you might have felt in the last year model of YXZ. It simply allows you to nearly idle through sections with just a slight pressure on the gas before it attempts assist. It was our experience that the 2019 Yamaha YXZ1000R SS would wait until the last available moment to engage and it seemed pretty seamless to me. The kicker here is that first gear also received some changes and it is now 23% lower, which also helps the machine get through that snail’s pace terrain. We had an incredibly fun time running this course and did it twice just to be sure we had gotten all of the good out of that really technical landscape.

2019 Yamaha YXZ1000R SS 4

The 2019 Yamaha YXZ1000R SS handled the 29-inch tires very well, but considering most will opt’ for a 30-inch tall tire, Yamaha had a couple of test vehicles outfitted with the EFX Moto-Hammer tire for our testing. This is a square setup, with all tires being the same size. We headed out on a specific loop to see just how the extra meat on the ground would affect the ride. In short, the YXZ is ready for your choice of 30-inch tire and the only thing I could decipher as a takeaway is that the engine does not rev as quickly across the power curve. Otherwise it handles the size change very well and that’s how Yamaha intended these gearing changes to work. The tire was a bit hard and seemed to slip a bit more in the loose stuff as well as under power in the corners. But it ultimately proved that a the YXZ could easily handle a 30-inch tire.

As for the long, whooped sections of Johnson Valley, man was that fun. Yamaha has retuned its specifications for the FOX RC2 shocks and it really was a treat driving a machine that handled many “surprise” moments really well. The faster sections gave us speeds that were near the 80 mph mark and the 2019 Yamaha YXZ1000R SS seemed to remain in control the entire way. Add in some sections that would be in the 50-60 mph range with surprise whoops getting deeper by the second and it was simply a joy to drive. The YXZ isn’t the best suspended machine I have driven in this type of terrain, but man has it changed so much for the better for 2019. It wasn’t trying to swap ends and I could see where I was going without feeling like my teeth were getting pounded out of my head.

2019 Yamaha YXZ1000R SS 2

There is so much more that this great product from Yamaha has to offer and if you think it should be shoehorned into a box or tie it to a specific location then I must say, you’re a nut. It works very well anywhere your trailer will take it.

Rick Sosebee
Rick Sosebee

Whether he is in Mexico covering the Baja 1000, building ATVs for local racers, or out enjoying the trails, Rick’s passion shows in his stories. Learning to wrench his own machines from his grandfather, Rick also has an undying appreciation for the mechanics of off-road vehicles. Do not let the dirt and mud fool you, though, as Rick also has a deep love for street cars.

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