During a recent trip to the Big Gun Exhaust shop, we noticed an unfamiliar machine tucked away deep in a dark corner of the facility as if it was being kept top secret. As I made excuses to wander around the shop unattended so I could attempt to get a closer look, it became apparent as to what my eyes had come across. A complete glimmering Laeger's chassis powdercoated candy red housed an unfamiliar engine that looked as if it was installed backward. Upon closer scrutiny I realized it was the engine out of a brand-new Yamaha YZ450F dirt bike, which has been considered a revolutionary design with its forward-facing intake system and rear exhaust. Everyone I know who has ridden that machine has had nothing but positive things to say about the power, and I could not imagine what it could do in an ATV.
After talking with Paul Rivera of Big Gun and Scott Taylor from Laeger's Racing, I was able to unlock the juicy details about the quad. These guys felt this would be an epic build as this motorcycle engine produces 8 more horsepower than the engine found in Yamaha's YFZ450R ATV. In addition to an engine package that produces more power stock for stock, the chrome-moly Laeger's chassis was estimated to drop at least 40 pounds of weight in comparison with the YFZ450R. Taylor also explained that while demand for custom builds has dwindled in the U.S. market, there is still high demand for them in Europe.
The frame of this mixed breed is a completely hand-built Laeger's YFZ450R chassis made of 4130 chrome-moly tubing (versus the forged stock aluminum frame) and features its standard 250R front rake and narrow frame rails. The A-arms mounted to the frame are the Laeger's Pro-Trax that measure at +5 +1 because of the narrow frame rails and provide 11 inches of suspension travel. The steering stem is also built by Laeger's and utilizes a Honda-type steering flag. On the rear a Laeger's YFZ450R standard-length swingarm also provides 11 inches of travel, with modifications being made to the pivot sleeves to accommodate the shifting of the dirt bike engine. A custom brake caliper mount was fabricated for the swingarm to utilize the front dirt bike caliper as the rear braking system. Laeger's recently started manufacturing a six-point subframe for the YFZ-R that is a direct bolt-on replacement for the stock unit and this was also utilized for the hybrid project.
Since the dirt bike engine was being used and there is no electrical system to be utilized with the stock YFZ-R fuel tank and pump system, they opted run the stock dirt bike tank which also incorporates the forward-facing intake system to supply air to the engine. Along with the tank, the stock tank panels and radiator shrouds are also used, giving a very custom look unlike any other machine ever made. To keep the high-tech quad suspended, they put in a call to Elka Suspension, which promptly sent a complete set of Factory Shocks. These are special-edition shocks intended for pro-level racers and are the only shocks that feature the patented TRACK system that helps to provide smooth absorption of hard impacts and high-speed vibration and yet allow further adjustability of the high- and low-speed compression without any compromise.
The YZ engine was left stock since they were curious how it would perform when installed in a quad. Because of the strange location of the motor and lack of electrical system to power the electric start, an extended kickstarter shaft was fabricated and run through the rear of the frame and a Banshee kickstarter installed. The intake system was slightly modified by raising it 7/8 inch to allow improved air-fuel mixture into the engine. Big Gun fabricated an exhaust system that should not only perform well, but they claim will also be legal to run in Europe where sound limits are restricted to 94 decibels. A complete Hinson Racing clutch system was installed to improve the transfer of power from the engine to the drive system since the contact patch of an ATV tire is significantly larger than a dirt bike's. One final item to maintain reliability was the Fluidyne YFZ-R radiator. With the lack of electronics to power a fan, an oversize radiator was mounted up to help keep it cool. Transferring the fluid from the engine to the radiator are a set of CV4 colored radiator hoses which look trick and have a much higher burst resistance over the stock hoses.
Staying with the custom theme, the builders opted to run Lonestar Racing billet hubs on the front and rear. Lonestar also supplied one of its Axcalibar racing axles since this racer was designed for use in extreme motocross conditions. Goldspeed MXR2 rear and SX front tires mounted to DWT's G2 rear and Rockout front wheels were chosen to put the power to the ground. To protect rider and machine, Pro Armor Revolution nerf bars were installed as well as one of its Pro MX front bumpers. Streamline provided brake lines all around along with its new Pro-Lock grips and its SS11 Carbon steering stabilizers. Fasst Flexx bars would top off the Laeger's steering stem, and finally the machine was dressed with a set of Maier White Carbon Fiber YFZ-R front and rear fenders. Once I knew why this machine was made and how much potential it had, I let them know my desire to get some time on board. I don't know who wouldn't.
After being displayed at the 2010 Indianapolis Dealer Expo, the hybrid made its way back to California for final preparations. Once we were given the green light, a date was scheduled at our secret motocross/off-road test facility in the high desert of California. Since this machine was based around a Yamaha powerplant, we also secured a test rider who is a professional motocross/off-road racer and is familiar with the YZ-F for comparison. After a quick once-over, we sent our rider out to give the machine a shakedown and get acquainted with its handling. Our testing area consisted of long straights, tight corners, a few jumps and, because it hadn't been groomed in quite some time, deep quad-swallowing whoops.
Due to the reverse throw of the kickstarter, limited room is available for kicking as the heel guard area of the nerf bar/heel guard combo is tight. Fortunately for us, the machine fired up on the first few kicks after we pulled the choke assembly on the throttle body. At idle the YZ-F motor and Big Gun Exhaust combination purred like a kitten, but when you cracked the throttle it roared like a lion ready to do battle. The throttle response while in neutral seemed to be a night-and-day difference from the YFZ450R, which made our rider and I anxious to see how the power and weight difference varied from machine to machine.
After a few runs around our course I signaled our rider to come in for one final look over the freshly built machine to ensure everything was good to be run hard and find out his initial impression. He said the machine felt as if there was plenty of power on tap and that first and second gear definitely seemed taller than his race machine, which runs stock internal gearing. Even with the difference in the gear ratio he felt there was no lack of bottom-end when he needed it. On that note, I gave him the green light to run the machine hard and see what the custom package really had to offer. As he rolled on the throttle the exhaust tone let you know just how hard he was pushing as did the wall of roost thrown as he hammered through the huge berms. The dirt was moist from days of being saturated by heavy rains and provided great traction for the Goldspeed tires as he hammered out lap after lap with great consistency.
As I called him off the track, he rolled to a stop sporting a huge grin on his face. This was a sure sign of his approval for the hybrid. He was stoked on this engine package. With this being his first time aboard this quad, the suspension settings were not dialed in for his personal liking, so his opinion could go in any direction. I was surprised when he claimed to be pleased with the suspension. "The suspension handles the rough track really well for not having been dialed in for me. I can tell that there are a few harsh spots in the travel, but I feel that the light weight of the machine helps to make it less noticeable," our test rider claimed. He felt the Elka shocks on this machine worked really well and that this would be an extremely competitive machine for racing. "Whether I'm charging through the deep whoops or hammering the quad into the corners, the overall feel of the machine allows me to feel comfortable anywhere on the track and push hard," he continued.
When I questioned him about the power in comparison to his race bike, he was very surprised at how different the motor in the YFZ450R and the engine out of the YZ450F dirt bike were. "Being a pro racer I need to have my engine built by a performance company to be competitive with other racers in my class. I feel that the engine in this machine is very close if not more powerful than my race bike, which is surprising. I can't wait till we get this kind of technology in ATVs from the factory," he exclaimed.
After an afternoon of testing and shooting amazing photos, we only encountered a few minor problems, some of which I expected to happen. First on the list had to do with the kickstarter system. After being ridden on a sandy track and having the engine torque itself in the frame, the extension piece that went from the shaft to the kicker would get hung up from time to time. Second was an occasional overheating problem when being run at low speeds or in conditions that represent a tight, technical course. Without an electrical system to power a fan, the radiator would overflow at times.
Aside from these minor issues, the Big Gun/Laeger's Hybrid YZ450FR (as I like to call it) was a huge hit and success in our minds. It performed flawlessly and is hopefully an example of the type of technology to soon be incorporated into ATVs. While this machine is the first of its kind, Scott Taylor informed me he has had requests submitted for more of these machines to be built for use overseas. For those interested, prepare to be blown away at the massive price tag of $30,000 with everything needed. If you can dig out all of the lost change from the cushions of your couch, you too can be the proud owner of your own Yamaha hybrid. This mechanical work of art really was incredibly impressive and I'm stoked for the opportunity to ride it. Unfortunately, I'll have to wait for Yamaha to release one of its own if my bills are to be paid.