Slow in, fast out. An age-old adage that racers and bank robbers have stuck to since time began. There’s a very simple reason why people apply this rule, it’s because it works.
On two wheels, only the fearless and the stupid would try and get round a corner in any other way. Unfortunately for me I’m neither of those things, hence my general lack of ten tenths pace on a bike. In a car however, I’m much happier gambling with talent I don’t have and fighting physics. What’s the worst that can happen? Within the confines of Thorney Motorsports purpose built off road facility, I can confirm that the worst thing that can happen is some nice men will have to roll your Yamaha YXZ1000R back onto its wheels while you hang upside down like a bat with a bondage fetish.
We were invited by Yamaha UK to experience the new YXZ1000R with Thorney. A 998cc three cylinder motor, a sequential one down four up gearbox and a speed block paintjob providing just enough of a tenuous reason for a flock of bike journos to spend the day on four wheels.
The YXZ1000R has been built to meet demands in the USA, but thanks to growing interest in the UK and Europe, Yamaha has decided to bring it over here. There are currently six dealers in the UK, but the network will no doubt expand with demand. We were hosted by John Thorne at his motorsport hub near Silverstone. His background is part racing and part tuning, with success in BMW one make races behind the wheel and a stack of tuning experience on everything from Vauxhalls to Mclarens, he knows his stuff when it comes to going fast on four wheels. John prepares YXZs and competes in British Cross Country Championships, he welcomed us with open arms and bacon sandwiches, which was nice.
The format for the day was the test bed for what will become experience days that the general public can pay for, after a simple but detailed safety brief (think track day safety brief) we were familiarized with the Yamaha and then hit the dirt.
In two wheeled terms, the YXZ is a 450 Dakar bike. Just the right amount of power to make rapid progress, but with the kind of suspension travel that can soak up massive punishment. The panels, doors and cage all up to the job of repeated abuse, some of it upside down. Driving the thing is simple once you’re strapped in. A four point harness holds you snug in the adjustable seat, straps around your forearms tether your arms to the harness to stop you putting your arms outside the safety of the cage should you end up the wrong way up and your helmet is attached to a separate body harness to prevent hyperextension (think Leatt neck brace and bondage). You feel super safe when you’re in there, invincible even…
Adjust the steering column to suit, twist the key and that snowmobile derived 998 triple settles into a muted tick over, giving no clue at all as to the performance it can unleash. The gearbox is bike style, one down (forward) and four up (back) means that bikers will get to grips with shifting in no time. We drove the things in 4×4 mode, but it’s switchable so there’s the option to only drive the rear wheels. You can also lock the diff in 4×4 mode should you need to tackle some serious terrain.
We went straight at it, getting some valuable practice laps in on the circuit that we’d be racing on later. Acceleration was manic, but it wasn’t the YXZ’s party trick, that comes when you launch it off a jump.
I don’t like jumping bikes, I never have. I don’t have the skill to judge approach speed nor the talent to adjust a bike mid air for landing, so I don’t bother. If you ever saw me riding mx you’d see me babying the bike over jumps in order to achieve maximum tyre contact and minimal altitude sickness, it just doesn’t float my boat. In the YXZ however, we were all able to launch these things off the various jumps in the circuit. One of which was pinned in third gear and had the thing nosing into the ground on landing like a Kenny Roberts replica javelin. This was where the party trick really got started. Massive, ridiculous amounts of travel in the shocks meant that the thing just boinged back up and carried on. 40cm of travel in the front and 43cm in the rear from ginormous looking Fox shocks equaled plenty of airtime and landings that a drunken BA pilot would be proud of. The safety net felt huge, which meant we obviously pushed harder.
The technique for maintaining speed through the corners brings me back to my opening line about being slow in and fast out. Getting off the brakes in a straight line having scrubbed your speed was critical. Trailing the brakes to the apex resulted in the YXZ suspension loading up the outside front wheel, too much loading obviously pitches the thing from four wheels to three, then two and (if you’re unlucky) then onto the roof. Once we’d stumbled, rolled and somersaulted our way to the correct technique, pace went up further still. Banging through the gears with the motor pinned felt ace, easy enough to make you want to nail it, but with just the right amount of fear lingering for you to keep your cock in your pants. I was fortunate enough to remain the right way up all day long, others less so. These things are brilliant fun and very robust. After a proper feed at lunchtime (all on site and very good) we began the race format for the afternoon. Three laps from flag to flag, setting off three cars abreast guaranteed excitement and the kind of adrenaline dump that you get from a really fast ride. It’s not the winning but the taking part that counts, but I did win a few races and came away with a trophy or two, more through poor judgement than luck, I think.
What I didn’t come away with was a YXZ1000R, mores the pity. I did some more research when I got home and found out that this SxS (side by side two seater) is very easy to make road legal. That 34 litre tank and a load bed behind the seats that’s capable of carrying 136kg had me dreaming of strapping on camping kit and my travel fly rod, then heading off to Scotland to scare the shit out of the locals and a few Salmon. It even has cup holders and a charging point for your phone. You might be wondering why you’re reading about something that has two too many wheels for your tastes, but trust me, a day at this place in one of these is the best days mx I’ve never ridden. You’ll go fast, you’ll do massive jumps and you’ll get to race your mates in safety. You’ll accidentally learn a thing or two that might help with your off road riding as well. I left feeling like I wanted to try and jump a mx bike, something I’ve never felt like doing before. It’d no doubt result in a mangled mess of flames and collarbones, but God loves a trier, right? Plus, the local roads leading into Thorney Motorsport are sweet, making it the perfect place to ride to.
The Yamaha YXZ1000R costs from £14.5k and is available in a range of colours. For more information on it click here, to find out more about Thorney Motorsport and the YXZ1000R experience day, click here.