Quad bike review: Yamaha Grizzly 550

Farm Trader puts the Yamaha Grizzly 550 quad bike to the test.

Almost every week I hear someone telling farmers how unsafe and unsuited quad bikes are for what we use them for in New Zealand. In fact, I’m sure some articles would almost have you believe that a quad bike will jump up, roll on top of you and crush you just for looking at it the wrong way.

I believe that the quad has to be one of the most valuable and versatile machines on the farm and can be just as safe as anything else, so long as it is used in the correct manner by an experienced operator.

A great example of a versatile machine is the Yamaha Grizzly 550, which sits in the mid-range of ATVs, powerful enough to pull a trailer or tackle the toughest tracks yet gracefully nimble.

The Grizzly 550

The Grizzly’s power comes from a 558cc, four-stroke, liquid cooled engine. The compact single-cylinder design uses rubber mounts to reduce vibration below noticeable levels and is cocked 35 degrees to the front to maintain decent ground clearance, without sacrificing on the seat height.

A Yamaha fuel-injection system delivers fuel flawlessly to the engine in all conditions, although care does need to be taken to ensure clean fuel is used. Engine performance is exceptional across the rev range. The bike will up-and-go for it at the slightest touch of the throttle.

Liquid cooling keeps the engine temperature down with a large high capacity radiator and fan mounted high at the front of the bike. Access to the radiator for checks is a little tough under a hatch on the front carrier. Thankfully the oil is a lot easier to check with a hatch on the engine cover to access the dipstick.

Like most fully automatic ATV transmissions, the Yamaha Ultramatic uses a belt drive with a centrifugal clutch that maintains tension to prevent wear to the belt. What sets it apart from most is that it also incorporates a sprag clutch, which gives downhill engine braking to all four wheels – something that I am a pretty big fan of, especially on larger ATVs.

When riding downhill and you take your thumb off the throttle, you can instantly feel the engine slowing the bike without locking up the wheels. A gear shifter on the left-hand side of the 20-litre fuel tank is smooth to operate and has five positions – high, low, neutral, reverse and park.

Grizzly 550_1

Power is transferred to front and rear differentials then out to the wheels. A huge positive in my opinion is that the rear-drive shaft runs straight and true from the transmission to the rear diff, with no universal joints to grease or break. Front and rear suspension use independent double A-arms to smooth out the bumps for the rider, a set-up which is second to none.

Up on the handle bars, a simple thumb operated on-command in/out 4WD button makes it very easy to change between 2WD, 4WD, and locked differential 4WD. While four-wheel drive can be engaged on the move, the diff lock is required when coming to a complete stop. When it is engaged though, the bike will pull it out of some seriously sticky situations.

EPS or electronic power steering is definitely something I’ve been sceptical of in the past, but I have to admit I’m converted. Once you have it, you don’t want to go back. Yamaha has got it just right. It takes all the shock and jarring out of the handle bars when riding over rough terrain and makes turning effortless, even in four-wheel drive.

Hydraulic disc brakes on the front and back make it possible to stop on a dime. Separate levers on the handle bars for front and rear give good control, although I would have liked to see a mechanical lock on one of the brake levers. I find it a lot quicker to lock a brake than move the transmission into park when you get off to open a gate on a hill.

A digital LCD screen is easy to see through the centre of the handle bars and boasts a speedometer, odometer, trip meter, hour meter, 4WD status, transmission position, clock and fuel gauge. Sturdy racks on the front and back allow for decent-sized objects to be carried safely. A cleverly sealed compartment moulded into the front right mud guard with a screw top lid provides a great home for smaller items.

The verdict

The Grizzly 550 is a good choice for those in the market for a mid-sized ATV, with features such as the power steering, independent suspension and an Ultramatic auto transmission making the bike a pleasure to ride, while Yamaha’s proven long-term reliability and a comprehensive three-year full cover warranty will give peace of mind to prospective owners.

Models pictured are fitted with extra Yamaha accessories.

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