Yamaha introduced the local press to their new weapon, the YZF450 four-wheeler, at the Mtonjaneni Lodge, a stone's throw from Ulundi in the heart of Natal. Dingaan lived in the valley beneath the lodge, and apparently sent many (2000) of his maidens to fetch water from the spring outside the lodge every morning before sunrise. Eishh, times were tough those days, if only they had a quad like one of these, I'm sure they would have fought each other to death, to go fetch water for their king.

Seriously, this is one mean machine (pronounced ma-chine). The 439cc, four-stroke, DOHC engine is based on the world championship winning YZ450F motorcycle. The single cylinder breathes in and out through a five Titanium-valve head, which is fed by a 39mm Keihin FCR carburetor. Power delivery starts from about 2500rpm and gets stronger all the way up, until the rev-limiter kicks in, so you have to rev the motor slightly and slip the clutch to launch without stalling the motor, once you're past first the rest is easy, the five-speed gearbox is smooth and precise. The clutch lever features an oversize barrel adjuster for easy, no tool adjustability of lever/cable play. Yamaha fitted this really neat park-brake lever on their YFZ450, which can be operated with only one hand.


Suspension on the Yamaha is superb, with fully adjustable competition spec Kayaba piggyback shocks on the front wheels, with separate pre-load, rebound and compression damping settings, they're also revalvable and rebuildable, and have 231mm of travel. Rear YZ linkage-type Showa shock is also fully adjustable for pre-load, rebound and compression damping, with 257mm of travel. Rigid cast aluminium swingarm is light weight and won't flex with suspension action.

In the braking department the YFZ has a 160mm disc with twin-piston calipers on each front wheel, while the rear axle is stopped by a single 200mm disc gripped by a two-pot caliper, bringing the four-wheeler to a stop in a very short space.

Riding after sunset poses no problem at all, the dual 30-watt Halogen headlights no only look menacing, but light up the darkest road and for added safety the dudes at Yamaha have even incorporated a brake light into the tail light.

After spending a good couple of hours in the YFZ saddle, I can guarantee you much fun and excitement can be had on the 450. You'll probably drill everyone at the track, we didn't have a 660 Raptor to put it up against, but I think the 450 is better handling and faster off the mark. It certainly is less of a handful than the bigger quads and easier to handle.

Thanks to the guys at Yamaha for the ride, now they will know what to put in my Christmas stocking this year, along with a R1.          Kenn Slater.