In late 2004, the enthusiast press published a number of articles on two-wheel drive dirt bikes. Some claimed they would become a huge factor in the future of off-road riding.
But will they?
We researched the most visible possible two-wheel drive players, including Yamaha, KTM, Öhlins and Christini Technologies, Inc.
At first it seemed this technology was headed our way. Yamaha France, not the factory in Japan, built a limited supply of the WR450F 2-TRAC, utilizing the Öhlins hydraulic 2WD system, and offers the model for sale in France. Pricing of the machine translates to roughly $12,000.
Fueling the fire was the bike’s visibility in rallies, including Dakar. Many in the United States figured Japan was building this machine and that it would only be a matter of time before a machine was offered for sale here.
KTM also was making all-wheel-drive waves, leaking out that it also was testing a bike fit with the Öhlins’ 19-pound unit. Would this become a production reality for KTM as well?
The Yamaha/Öhlins system uses a hydraulic pump placed above the gearbox, which is driven by a chain. The hydraulic pressure is fed to a hydraulic motor in the front hub by high-pressure hoses. The fluid powers the motor, passes through a filter, and then returns to the pump.
Increased pressure is fed to the pump as the rear wheel loses traction. This is controlled by the rear wheel spin rate and throttle position. Pressure is reduced as the rear wheel regains traction; the front wheel can never spin faster than the rear.
One rider who’s ridden the Yamaha said the bike is awesome to ride, though it does take some getting used to. One of the advantages, in addition to better traction in loose conditions, is that while cornering, the rear wheel follows the track of the front wheel. The rear doesn’t spin and kick out to the side, making for a different kind of ride.
Unfortunately, riders in the United States won’t be experiencing this ride any time in the foreseeable future as Yamaha said it has no current plans to bring this bike into the United States — Yamaha’s European Web site still lists the WR450 2-Track, however.
Öhlins USA said it also does not have anything in the works for the United States. KTM, Suzuki and Kawasaki also said they have no plans to offer an AWD model in the United States any time soon. Honda replied “no comment” as it rarely discusses such matters.
Yamaha calls its version a two-wheel-drive, Öhlins lists it as 2-wheel-drive, and Christini calls it all-wheel-drive or AWD.
Christini, producers of the prototype mechanical system written about by Cycle World and Dirt Rider magazines, has continued to test, lighten (by about 15 pounds) and refine its system for off-road motorcycles. Company President Steve Christini said the company has acquired substantial funding and is actively moving forward with plans to release a limited number of kits (for the Honda CRF250X and CRF450X) as early as this fall.
The biggest barrier to converting a bike to the AWD system, other than a projected price of $6,700, is the machine will need to be completely disassembled and some of the components shipped to Christini for modifications. The company also is working on a program for interested dealers to purchase and assemble the kits on their own, so they can sell modified bikes from their showroom or build a bike for an interested customer. psb
Copyright 2006 Powersports Business