It’s always good to know how things came to be, as it offers us a better understanding of why things are the way they are. We have covered the evolution of the All-Terrain Vehicle from the first Jiger (June 2014 Go Riding) and on to the three wheelers pioneers by Honda (September 2014 Go Riding). What followed was the natural progression of development. As off-road riding increased in popularity, an alarming number of injuries were being reported. The industry misinterpreted this to mean that a three wheeled vehicle required special skill to ride. Subsequently, the first true four wheeled ATV, the 1983 Suzuki QuadRunner LT125, was released in 1982 and would set the stage for ATVing as we know it today.
“Experience a riding sensation you’ve never felt before! The new all-terrain 4x6 from Suzuki. With the addition of the 4th wheel, all-terrain riding enters the 4th dimension.” That was Suzuki’s sales slogan that changed history, while the other manufacturers raced to release their own four wheel models.
Adding the fourth wheel would have been fairly simple, but designing the geometry of the steering system to provide comfort and control over the two front wheels must have been a real challenge, one that is still being perfected to this day. If you‘ve ever ridden an ATV with a poorly designed lift kit, and or grossly oversized tires, then you know how fatiguing and sometimes painful the ride can be, particularly if you catch a rock or stump with one wheel.
The QuadRunner offered some surprising features for an inaugural model. The six speed gearbox included a reverse gear, and the 2 stroke 124 cc air cooled engine boasted an electric starter. Suspension was provided via balloon tires and a thick soft seat.
Now, by today’s standards this is a small ATV. At 33 inches wide its closer to today’s youth ATVs, but this was the big boy on the block at the time. More than capable of overcoming just about anything the outdoors could throw at it, with a burly adult at the helm.
Although Suzuki was the “First On Four Wheels” it didn’t take long for the other manufacturers to follow suit. Honda released their first four wheeled ATV in 1984 with the TRX200, powered by a single cylinder four stroke engine and a five speed gearbox with reverse and shaft drive. This larger ATV also sported full front suspension, offering the rider not only comfort, but more control with increased ground contact even on rough terrain. Honda also recognized the huge utility market for these machines and equipped the TRX200 with racks both front and rear.
Not to be outdone, Yamaha also released a four wheeler in 1984 with the YMF200 also known as the Moto-4. With a 196 cc four stroke and five speed gearbox with reverse, Yamaha had a real contender. What set this model apart was the snorkel air intake, allowing the ATV to travel in deeper water without damage to the engine. The Yamaha also offered front and rear cargo racks as they too wanted to cash in on the utility market.
Both the Yamaha and Honda models quickly became the machine of choice for hunters, farmers, and anyone with all manner of job site duties. In fact the addition of racks in effect began a sort of split in the industry, as the manufacturers quickly also added sport models (obviously without racks) and gave the racked ATV somewhat of a stigma that hung on for many years suggesting that they were workhorses, and not for fun.
The following year Polaris entered the four wheeler arena with the 1985 250 Trail Boss. This larger engine platform offered fun in the front (no rack) and a small rack in the rear in hopes of capturing both the sport market and the utility in the same machine. This was the first fully automatic ATV, but that’s a story for the next issue of Go Riding Magazine.
Kawasaki also released their 1985 KLF185a, or Bayou which looked similar to the ’83 Suzuki; like they just added two wheels to their three wheeler. The model didn’t offer any racks, but did offer a simple front suspension system to handle the bumps.
There was no arguing, the three wheeler had been replaced, and these safer, more stable off road machines were here to stay. Looking small by today’s standards and often handed down to our kids to ride, these ATVs set the standard for what we ride now, and I’m sure the near future. Most manufacturers today are striving to have the biggest, baddest ATV out there with dimensions and engine size jumping every model year. But these original 125 cc to 250 cc really offered everything a rider needed.
I can tell you first hand after spending over a year riding the largest production ATV available at the time, a 2014 Can-Am 1000 Xmr, that bigger is better, but not always more fun. In my opinion recreational ATVing (and that is what got this whole thing going) is a complete experience. The challenging terrain, the things you get to see, and the people you get to ride with, are what this sport is all about. There is nothing wrong with showing off, and being “King of the Mud Hole” or first in a race, but there is so much more to it. These first generation ATVs are every bit as fun as any other, faster, larger, or upgraded machine out there. It’s all about comradery, working together, and using your skills to navigate the terrain, and I have to point out that the larger machines take less skill, and that sometimes means less fun.
As you can tell, ATVing is my passion, and we all have to give kudos to these pioneering manufacturers for providing us with the machines to make our sport possible. The research and development that goes in to these ATVs to make them safe, and long lasting is a huge investment, but it has paid off.
With ATVing being so young (32 years), these older machines are just now becoming “Classic” or “Vintage” and I hope that, like motorcycles and cars, a whole new breed of restoration begins. We already have Three Wheeler clubs and restored trikes at shows. Let’s see some vintage four wheelers out there. Even a small cc vintage off-road riding club would make for some fun adventures getting these older smaller ATVs with less clearance through some tough bush.
Whether you are restoring a gem, or simply looking for a cheap quadding experience, these early machines are a blast, so get out there and ride! With all the advancements since these models were released in the early ‘80s, I would still rather ride one of them than not ride at all.
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