See why this quad was booted up with ‘duals’ at the rear

Lightweight all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) have always suffered from a split personality; is their purpose recreation or do they have a more serious role to play as working tools?

Right back at the start, in 1970, Honda saw them only as off-road fun machines – but now, here in Europe, the emphasis is firmly on the company’s quads being business-orientated vehicles.

The first ATVs were three-wheelers; these seemed fine for chasing cattle and sheep about but had an unfortunate habit of tipping over – especially on side slopes.

However, the potential had been recognised; in 1984, Honda introduced its first four-wheel model – known as the TRX 200. It set the template for all subsequent models to follow.

At its heart lay a four-stroke, single-cylinder engine, which drove the rear axle via a five-speed box and a fully-encased prop-shaft.

Holding everything in place was a tubular steel frame, flanked by bright red plastic mudguards and a saddle-type seat – creating the ‘look’ that is still used today with very little change.

At the rear, the beam axle was attached to a trailing swing-arm (cushioned by twin coil springs), while each front wheel enjoyed independent suspension. Again, very little has been tampered with since – in terms of the overall concept.

Three key items

This does not mean to say that Honda has been totally idle; it has developed three significant features over the last few years which have added greatly to the usability of its machines.

Rather than being listed as optional extras they are standard fittings on certain models.

The first is power steering. Quads are relatively light – around 200-250kg – so, on the face of it, there would appear to be little need for steering assistance.

The trouble is that full-lock requires a broad turn of the handle-bars; the steering is not geared down, as it is on a car or tractor. The front tyres are also big and grippy, offering plenty of resistance to being pivoted. This does not pose a problem when moving at pace but, for ‘short work’ or manoeuvring, heaving away at the bars can be tiring.

Honda’s answer is an electrically-powered assister unit that works away quite noiselessly and unobtrusively. Precision steering will never be a quad’s strongest point, so the effect is just to make it lighter, rather than losing any ‘feel’.

A powered gear-shift is the second feature; it makes a great deal of sense when wearing heavy boots that have been made clumsier by the addition of mud.

Placing a shift trigger up on the handle-bars (where there is a simple pair of up/down switches) removes the need to fumble around in wellies.

A double-clutch mechanism is used to keep the shift as ‘seamless’ as possible; it means the engine is disengaged for the minimal amount of time.

The third and most recent innovation is independent rear suspension. This was introduced in 2017 and enables a 600kg trailer to be attached (representing a 215kg improvement over models equipped with the older axle configuration).

There is also a 5kg improvement in the rack’s payload; traction and comfort are also claimed to be “greatly enhanced”.

Field test

One of the great claims for quads is that they open up ground to farming in a way that isn’t possible with ordinary tractors. Rough, boggy and inhospitable terrain often proves a bar to the safe operation of standard farm machines, as do steep slopes.

As it happens, there are few slopes as steep as those found on Martin McCarthy’s farm at Killgobbin in Co. Cork.

AgriLand trekked down to the farm, which overlooks the Bandon River, some months ago. It is, by all accounts, a truly delightful spot in the summer (in other words – now).

Dual wheels on the back

Alas, our visit took place in winter – amidst wet and windy weather that rendered the steep inclines even more treacherous. These were ideal conditions to test the quad’s latest accessories – dual rear wheels.

We were in the company of Gerard Lordan and Eddie McNeil – owners of Agriband (the local Honda dealer that had supplied the machine to Martin).

Also Read: Trade focus: Is a quad the best ‘tractor’ a stock farmer could have?

On arrival, the first job was to secure the dual wheels to the rear – a job that must have taken the whole of 20 seconds per side!

The quad is simply driven onto a block to lift the wheels above ground level. The second wheel is then located to a plate (that stays permanently fitted to the quad’s rear axle). Four lugs guide it into place.

Once ‘in situ’, two bars inside the hub of the dual are twisted to secure it firmly – job done.

It is a remarkably simple affair and the components appear to be solid and well engineered.

Once the wheels were attached, it was off to the valley – which is home to the aforementioned slopes.

This was the first time that Gerard had tried the duals under such conditions, so the inclines were first explored without the trailed fertiliser spreader in tow.

With a steady hand (and a steadier throttle), the Honda TRX 500 crossed the slopes without a hint of instability. Likewise, the climbs and descents passed without drama.

Happy that the quad could cope with the additional weight of the trailed spreader (which remained empty) the implement was hitched on and the routes repeated.

As the combination crossed the slopes it became apparent that the stability of the spreader would be the limiting factor – not that of the quad.

Gerard wisely did not push the envelope too much; side-slip could also prove a threat to safety.

Where the extra grip provided by the duals really came into its own was on the ascents. Under a steady throttle the machine skipped up the slippery grass without pause or hesitation.

However, it did look light on the front-end; more so, Gerard felt, than he anticipated. While this is to be expected in such a situation, there may be a concern that the extra grip at the rear would increase the torque reaction around the axle, thus upsetting the natural balance of the machine.

Altogether, it was an effective demonstration of what the modern quad is capable of…and how useful it can be in extreme conditions.

The Honda TRX 500 range starts at around €10,000; the dual-wheel kit (including tyres) adds a further €1,000 or so to the ticket.