1997 Yamaha Warrior

story by Billy Bartels, Associate Editor, Photograph by Len Nelson, and Tom Fortune, Created Apr. 20, 1997
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Somebody at Yamaha is pretty smart. As the first ATV manufacturer to kick down a test quad to MO, they avoid the inevitable comparisons between their ATVs and the competitions, pretty much forcing us to report on how their quad performed on its own merits. Which is probably what should happen anyhow.

The Warrior is Yamaha's four-stroke sport ATV. In a world with more product liability lawsuits than people, the sport quads have dwindled to one per manufacturer, with the exception of Yamaha, who has three. Their Warrior is a 350cc, air-cooled, two-valve single. It's equipped with a six-speed transmission with reverse that can be activated in any gear. A rising-rate, rebound-adjustable monoshock graces the rear, while preload-only shocks reside in the front. Thankfully, it sports a manual clutch, while most ATVs are fitted with auto clutches or trannys these days. The Warrior has remained mostly unchanged in the ten years since its introduction - a fact that contributes to its stellar resale value (blue book on the original '87 is still $2100). Its age shows here and there, but as you shall see, the old man wears it well.

 Getting into trouble is twice as fun as getting out  The heart of the beast: a potent 350cc four-stroke
 Nice tail! The source of the big quad's spritely manners  His Majesty, The Jack-of-All-Trades

Stage One : The Ranch


We brought the Warrior first to our secret MO testing facility known only by its code name: The Ranch. The Ranch has a variety of different terrains: rocky technical, motocross/trails, and a TT track, all in a fairly small area. Stage One: The Ranch

Our Warrior found the TT a challenge, as the slightly tacky ground did not allow the 350 to break loose as much as it likes to. If this is the type of terrain you spend most of your time in, you might want to cure this with a different set of tires. The Warrior did score points with its suspension, and was extremely composed on the (mostly) flat surface. Only rarely did it unload on turn exits, which was easily fixed with more rebound damping. The thicker soil of the ranch was the only place we encountered steering problems - on harder packed terrain the torquey 350 would break loose in any gear at most rpm. This is the saving grace of its long wheelbase, as the motor can light up the rear wherever you choose.

The Warrior's stint as a trails bike in the big rocks was cut short by a head-on close encounter with a boulder. Not having a 4X4's instantaneous turning ability, nor the all-wheel-drive to get out of trouble, we seemed to have found the only terrain the Warrior could not handle. The largish front bumper (price as tested: $175) did its job, protecting the vulnerable steering assembly while suffering a slight bend and dent, but close inspection of the frame showed that none of the impact shock seemed to transfer. We also discovered the problematical reverse at this time. Trying to unwedge the Warrior from between the rocks, we threw it into reverse, or tried to. It takes a bit of fiddling or fluttering of the clutch to get reverse selected. We'd prefer a less difficult engagement.

Yamaha's Warrior shined on the MX track, its progressive spring in the rear handling most whoops, never getting out of shape no matter what we threw at it. Its supple suspension soaked big bumps and retained excellent composure while landing from the scariest jumps we could stand. The Warrior's combination of torque coupled with its good top end combined to make the varied layout of The Ranch easy pickings.

 It's not a utility ATV...  Mud-encrusted after a stint at the ranch



Stage Two: The Real World

Associate Editor Billy Bartels showing some daylight under the right rear For our next trick, we brought the Warrior to some of the local riding areas to test its mettle in a variety of scenarios.

First came Wildomar, a small, rutted area in the mountains west of San Juan Capistrano. Wildomar must have been mapped out by trials riders, as the locals leered at the quad as if it were a UFO - the terrain was that bad. Although the Warrior's sport-oriented suspension is good, it couldn't keep the jarring of falling into cracks in the Earth from rattling our bones.

Despite the landscape stacked against it, the Warrior held its own, sometimes surprisingly so. For once, the low first gear came in useful, as it pulled quad and rider up some ridiculously rocky, steep slopes. Its suspension saved the day on countless occassions as unseen ruts or dropoffs appeared from nowhere. Our only problem during this torture test was that the Warrior kept finding false neutrals when it got really hot. This was particularly annoying when climbing perilously steep hills, skidding back down while cursing and searching for gears.

Our next stop, Hungry Valley, has a reputation as the premier off-road riding area around Los Angeles, and the Warrior did not disappoint us here. While much of the terrain was similiar to what we experienced at the ranch, there was just miles more of it. We hear that only the park rangers have seen all of Hungry Valley, its that huge.

Trail riding is an ideal environment for the Warrior. Not being the tops at any one thing is a bonus when the terrain changes every few minutes. One minute you're carving a twisty trail, the next climbing a steep embankment, next you're blasting through a sand wash.

The thing we never got at the ranch was sand washes. While at Hungry Valley we found an untouched wash that went on for over a mile, eventually getting so tight that the adjacent shrubs whacked us in the shoulders. Despite the Warrior's longish 47.2-inch wheelbase, the big quad tore up the tight stuff. Just shift your weight and, with help from the torquey engine, light up the rear and turn. It's that simple - and fun!

Water is no barrierOur final stop on the Warrior's Southern California tour was Texas Canyon, a large riding area close to the city with a meandering stream running through it. As it was a hot February day, we decided to test Yamaha's highly-touted snorkel air intake in the stream. The result? Not a sputter or cough throughout a multitude of shin-deep river crossings.

Texas Canyon also had wide, curving trails that the 350cc motor could really open up on. Luckily the triple disc brakes hauled it down from warp speed whenever the going got rough. One destination was a series of extremely steep and rocky trails where our long-wheelbased Warrior was a blessing both up - and downhill. One tester got so laid back on a particularly wicked slope he flipped over. Fortunately, the rider was unhurt and the ATV suffered only a tweaked bar ($30). Our flattened rider was grateful it wasn't a 600-pound utility beast laying on his chest!

Sliding on packed earth is easy  

What does the Warrior do best, you ask? What doesn't it do? Well, other than towing trucks out of mudholes and hopping boulders, there's not much it can't handle. This quad can tackle most anything and be loads of fun doing it. For $4949, it handles the varied duties of most any sport enthusiast. It's a pity we didn't get a chance to take the Warrior to some dunes. Judging by its performance in the sand washes of Hungry Valley, it would have done really well there. Yamaha's Warrior may be long-in-tooth, but it definitely has the wisdom of the old. It's not a narrow-focus sand machine, or some motorcross monster, it's a sport quad that does a little of everything. We think it's the best all-rounder we know of. Shootout anyone?

Manufacturer: Yamaha
Model: 1997 Warrior
Price: $4,949
Engine: air-cooled, sohc, four-stroke
Bore and Stroke: 83 by 64.5mm
Displacement: 348cc
Carburetion: 36mm Mikuni
Transmission: Six speed with manual clutch
Wheelbase: 47.2"
Seat Height: 30.1"
Fuel Capacity: 2.4 gal
Claimed Dry Weight: 397lbs

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