motorcycle correspondent Patrick van Sleight recently sampled some of the latest Honda ATVs and, despite his predilection for two-wheelers, loved every minute of it.

By Patrick van Sleight

We (a jumble of South African motorcycle hacks) were on the Glen Afric Country Lodge, near Broederstroom in the Witwatersberg, and the sun was scorching the convoy of shiny quad bikes snaking through the savanna bush. As we reached the top of a hill after a long ascend, I could see the Hartebeespoort Dam shimmering in the distance.

The path led to a downhill straight and I shifted down, thumbing the lever-operated throttle wide open. The bike momentarily over-revs (the automatic clutch takes getting used to and the OHV single-cylinder, four-stroke engine is slow-revving). You can’t hurry this bike. The power comes on slow but firm, and soon the thick rubber tyres struggled for grip on the gravel.

Out of the corner of my eye I could see wildebeest, giraffe and assorted members of the Big Five, but there wasn’t any time to stare... The bike was going rather fast now, and the path suddenly made a sharp turn to the right, and my heart stopped. I grabbed two fistfuls of brakes, and Honda’s TRX350FM 4x4 carried me safely through the tight bend. And I thought quads were crude and boring! I had never been on quad bikes before, and I learned more about them with every meter I rode.

The TRX350FM Fourtrax Rancher also has an ultra-low first-gear, so I could cruise at idling revs without holding my hand on the throttle over rough terrain. The bike comes with a five-speed transmission and a reverse gear.

Later, I swapped the TRX350 for the top-of-the range TRX650FA 4x4 Rincon, and immediately liked it more. Power delivery is as serene as the 350’s, there is just more of it to play with. For utilities or workhorses, these quads are sure a lot of fun.

But I resisted wildly thumping open the throttle again. Not that the TRX650 is scary to ride; in fact, its slow-revving utilitarian nature makes it a forgiving, docile beast, even being the gruntiest quad of the lot. But I wasn’t going to get caught off-guard again; these paths are far too treacherous. Seventy per cent of motorcycle accidents today happen with quads, Basil Forssman (manager of Honda’s motorcycle division) informed us during the launch.

Even without caning it, the 650 had me grinning all the time. It was clear that Honda breached two areas with its utility quads - the bikes are designed to play as hard as they are meant to work.

The TRX650 is much more sophisticated with an independent rear suspension that makes for a much suppler ride over the bone-jarring boulders. It also comes with a very useful three-speed automatic gear option that makes riding treacherous trails much more comfortable, because I could stop worrying about being in the right rev-range - and focus on navigating obstacles.

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