Bike Review: ATK 260LQ

Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde?

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Transmission

The ATK comes with a six speed gearbox, joining Husky as the only manufacturer shunning five speed trannies. Shifting was somewhat notchy, especially when new, but has improved as the motor has broken in. When new it was near impossible to shift the motor into neutral while idling. Now, with a bit of a drill that includes revving the motor and rocking the bike, neutral can most times be had. Still a chore, however, compared to most other mounts. Clutch action is good as the Rotax engine permits in-gear starts under any condition.

Handling and Suspension

Handling was a real wild card in this project, as the new frame (for '95) and inherent linkless rear suspension design adds considerably to the puzzle. The 260LQ does have a couple of things going for it, most notably the svelte 235 pound weight (wet, no gas), making it among the lightest enduro bikes on the market. Prior to testing, the rear sag was set to 375mm; an amazingly easy chore thanks to the linkless shock access. The factory delivered the bike with the forks raised one notch (approx. 5mm) in the triple clamps. Our testing found that the steering was a little slow in this position, with the tendency to wash the front wheel on occasion. To compensate, the fork was raised to just shy of the second notch, the maximum amount before the rebound adjuster contacts the handlebar. This made the ATK a better turner without making the straight line stability any worse than it already was. More on this later.

The fork found on the '96 ATKs is the latest WP that employs a neat approach to provide adjustable high and low speed compression damping. This is accomplished by simply valving the left and right fork legs differently, the right (brake) side oriented toward low speed damping requirements, the clutch side intended to take care of high speed hits. The fork provides six clicks compression damping adjustment and 24 click rebound. We changed the fork oil a couple of times, settling on Spectro 85/150 (very light, approximate 2.5 wt.) cartridge fork oil filled to a 130mm height. This is a good idea with any new bike, as all too often forks arrive from the factory with contaminated oil and inconsistent oil level (especially WP forks). While the forks were apart, a couple of plastic preload spacers were removed to minimize fork preload. The shock is a WP unit as well and provides six compression damping adjustment positions and eleven on the rebound side.

Out on the trail, the ATK provided good steering manners, exceptional suspension plushness both front and rear, and the well-known WP responsiveness to even minor changes in clicker adjustments. With a single click of any adjuster, suspension action could be tailored to meets the chosen days challenges.

This adjustability is key in light of the wide variety of terrain that we typically see in a given month. One of the most revealing traits of the ATK's WP suspension components was the break-in required in order to achieve proper suspension action. Again, our first few rides were not fun, the stiff shock and fork fighting us the whole time. Fortunately, after a couple of hundred miles, things loosened up considerably, providing a plushness that reacted to the smallest of root, rocks and braking bumps, without undue harshness or bottoming.

Overall we're very pleased with the current suspension setup and overall handling, however, there are a couple of problems. On the minor side, the WP fork has this intermittent habit of deflecting sideways in the rocks. This is by no means an all-the-time thing (not like the older forks), however, it's the unexpectedness that scares you. On the more serious side, the ATK is one of the most vicious head shakers in recent memory. As with most head shakers, the problem occurs mostly at speed when letting off the throttle. This was sometimes severe enough to lead to rear end swapping along with the front end shaking. We fiddled with fork position, rear sag, and even tightened down the steering head bearing to no avail.

Fortunately, we had a WER steering damper left over from a previous installation on a KTM. Installation of the WER steering damper was a snap, using a KTM RXC thumper mounting kit and requiring absolutely no drilling. The transformation was profound. With the WER steering damper installed, and the damping set at minimum, the ATK became stable as a battleship, with no sign of the previously chronic head shake. This thing really works. While we hate to admit that a three hundred dollar add-on is the only solution to any problem, this is one of those cases.

For the record, the suspension settings we settled on for the oil viscosity and air chamber size previously mentioned are: fork low speed compression (brake side); the factory recommended settings are the number two or three position--in our testing we preferred the number one clicker position. Fork high speed compression (clutch lever side)came from the factory set in the number four position, while TR testers preferred the number one slot for rocks, number two for sand. Fork rebound is set from the fully out (ccw) position, the same on both sides. Here we settled on the number six detent. Shock compression damping comes set in the number three position from the factory; which was confirmed as the trick setting once things break in. Prior to break-in we ran things a bit softer, in the numbers one or two positions. Finally, shock rebound came from the factory set at four, and TR riders bumped it to six.

Rounding Out the Package

The ATK comes with Dunlop intermediate terrain tires, a K490 front and K737 rear. These tires provided good longevity over a wide variety of soil conditions. Braking is accomplished using quick change Brembos, the same setup common to late model KTM and Husky dirt bikes. As with these other brands, the Brembos are good performers, providing excellent feel and the right lever (pedal) effort, both front and rear. Our persistent complaint is the questionable pad life exhibited at the rear, which of course is easily solved with a change to an aftermarket sintered metal pad.

The rear end of the bike is shod completely in KTM plastic. Both side panels and the rear fender assembly are right out of a '95 (white) two stroke parts bin. The seat is a KTM clone as well, although much softer. The Pro-Taper handlebars are a mixed blessing, confounding the mounting of handguards and enduro equipment. Instead, we substituted a set of factory KTM handlebars mounted using clamps from a twin shock Honda XR200 (a perfect fit). We'll save the full sized Pro Tapers for hare scrambles. Handle bar controls and levers are Magura, the clutch lever being an older design sans the trick quick adjustment feature. Thin wall DeCrosser grips offer a good feel to the hands while the KTM look-alike seat offers a welcomed improvement over the rock-hard 96 KTM seats.

Light weight tabs are used for mounting of side panels, rear fender, rear master cylinder, etc., and flex whenever subjected to any load. The rear master cylinder mounting in particular, has the tendency to get bent into the frame, misaligning the pedal-driven push rod. This required regular straightening (a simple tug) to realign the master cylinder with the brake pedal, and will surely lead to eventual cracking and failure. We'll beef up the bracket next time we visit Shawn's welding shop. The steel swing arm is constructed from similar thin gage steel painted a charcoal gray color that again looks cobbly. While we experienced no damage/failure to the swing arm, it is however, susceptible to corrosion as ours chipped some paint off near the chain rub block and proceeded to rust.

Show or Go?

What's it all add up to? By now we've spent nearly three months fiddling with our not-so-new ATK. From all of the work and observations presented herein you might be wondering was it worth it. Yes, we think it is. While the ATK may not be as refined as some other machines as delivered, we've succeeded in honing the 260 into a fun-to-ride race mount capable of bringing home the plastic, just like any other quality bike. Unfortunately, we had to change the pipe and install a steering damper to do it. It is an odd machine, but it is also a collection of some of the best components available to off-roaders, and it definitely weighs in as one of the lightest enduro/cross-country bikes you can buy. Spend a little time with it, and you'll probably like it fine. We do.

Specifications
Manufacturer:             ATK 
Model:                   260LQ
Engine Type:             Liquid-cooled 2 stroke
Displacement:            251cc
Bore/Stroke:             67.75 X 69.8mm
Transmission:            Six-speed WR
Gearing:                 14/48
Chain:                   DID o-ring
Tank Capacity:           3.1 gal.
Carburetion:             Mikuni 38 TMS
Ignition:                SEM CDI 160w lighting
Forks:                   WP Model 5
Suspension Travel:       300mm
Front Brake:             Brembo hydraulic disc
Front Tire:              Dunlop 490 90/90X21
Rear Suspension:         WP Super Adjuster
Suspension Travel:       345mm
Rear Brake:              Brembo hydraulic disc
Rear Tire:               Dunlop 737 120/80X18
Seat Height:             37.2 in.
Wheelbase:               58.5 in.
Ground Clearance:        13.5 in.
Claimed Dry Weight:      235 lbs.
Suggested Retail Price:  $5995

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