When I was 11, my mom bought me a 1983 Yamaha Tri-Moto 200 three-wheeler ATV. Yeah, I know, three-wheelers aren’t supposed to be safe, but I never got seriously hurt on it. As I got a little older, I saved my money from my “job” at my parent’s restaurant and bought my first four-wheeler, a Yamaha Banshee. Not exactly a tame machine, to be sure, but it sure was fun. Why do I bring this stuff up? To show you that my history with ATVs and the like goes back a long ways, and that I have a special place in my heart for Yamahas.
Cut to the fall of 2013 and the release of the 2014 Yamaha Viking EPS side-by-side (SxS). The Viking is a new machine from the tuning fork company, so-called because Yamaha’s logo is three crossed tuning forks from the music world. I think that plays a part in what they build, as they strive to be “in tune” with what the consumer is looking for. I think they did pretty well with the Viking.
Like many of you, when I saw the press releases and first images of the Viking, my initial response was, “Huh, a wider Rhino.” The Rhino revolutionized the SxS market years ago, but lack of development from Yamaha left the machine in the dust of the competition. The Viking is a new machine built with the single purpose of taking on the competition, in this case, the Polaris Ranger 800.
In an effort to really showcase the new machine, Yamaha organized a trail ride introduction on the Red Reflet Ranch near Ten Sleeps, Wyoming. The ranch is beyond amazing, with just about every terrain type you can think of. Kudos to Yamaha for selecting this place.
Exploring the Viking
Let’s talk first about the initial things you’ll notice right away about the Viking. One of them is that there is a third seat. Yamaha developed the Viking to be a stable three-passenger machine, but unlike other machines where there is a bench seat for all passengers, Yamaha used three bucket seats with the center seat tilted five degrees further back to keep the passenger and driver from trying to occupy the same shoulder space. There is also a nice grab handle for both passengers to use while the machine is in use. There are seat belts for all passengers, too. While there’s a degree of adjustability in the seat belt, I never came to terms with my machine. Others on my trail ride had no issue, but it rubbed my neck.
Another feature I noticed right away was the steel bed with a 600-pound cargo capacity. Most SxSs I’ve used have a plastic bed. Like most other machines, the Viking bed dumps the entire box with a tug on the handle. The tailgate features dual latches instead of a single center handle, like on the tailgate of pickup trucks. When asked, Yamaha reps said it was done for durability.
Durability drives much of how the Viking was designed. The entire bottom of the Viking is protected by steel skid plates, and the sides are slightly swept back several degrees to lower the contact space of the bottom of the machine. The steel bed, by the way, was added because many SxS owners are farmers and hunters. The steel can be bent back if dented, or welded and worked with to conform the machine to their own use. I immediately thought of my father-in-law who welded up his own racks on his old ATV.
The Viking is powered by a 686cc, liquid-cooled engine. It’s not the same engine that Yamaha used before, however. Yamaha redesigned the big single-cylinder to be its most powerful to date. The horsepower rating was closely guarded, but it felt to this tester to be as powerful as anything else in its class. When hitting open stretches of trail, it was pretty easy to get the machine up to 51 MPH, the limit it was set at. The best part of the engine is the torque, however. While I like to open things up and go scooting down the fire road occasionally, I really like tight, gnarly trails and this engine shined in those conditions.
Another element that helped the Viking in the tricky sections is Yamaha’s superb power steering. I’d need one of the Yamaha specialists here to explain to you exactly how it works, but let’s just say this: Yamaha power steering allows you to steer the machine where you want it to go with no hint of bump steer. Bump steer happens when you run into something that normally causes the wheels to suddenly turn in another direction. This can cause you to have the wheel jerked from your grip, or the handlebars too. The problem with power steering is that it can be too light, making the driver feel like they have no real connection with the steering. I’d rather have no power steering than have it be too light. Yamaha has figured out power steering, being the first manufacturer to come out with it. They’ve perfected it. You have just the right amount of feel and control, without getting any bump steer.
Speaking of control, Yamaha did an excellent job with the engine braking. It’s implemented very well—it slows you down, but still allows you to feel in control. Part of our trail ride was a very steep downhill section. It was steep enough that the other writers on the ride were offered the chance to opt out of it. I was game and was going down regardless. I’ve been down some steep stuff before and this hill was pretty intense. How good was the engine braking? I was shocked and impressed that I didn’t need to touch the brake pedal and never once worried about spinning out or anything like it. That’s worthy of praise in my book.
Another nice feature that adds to the control you have as the driver of the Viking is the four-wheel drive system. Yamaha’s On Command Diff-Lock system allows you to run in two-wheel drive, four-wheel limited slip (the front wheels lock in when the back ones slip at all), and four-wheel full-time. We did our rides in limited slip four-wheel, mostly because it adds control. You could honestly feel the front wheels kick in when going around corners at speed, or when the traction really ebbed, which was often during a serious mountain ride. The drive is controlled via a simple knob on the dash. Very nice.
Other nice little touches included Maxxis BigHorn tires, which were specially designed for Yamaha. They offered great traction on the mountain trails. They wouldn’t be my first choice for high-speed riding, but for getting traction in the tough stuff, they were superb. There is a two-inch receiver in the back, tucked nicely into the frame and boasting a 1,500-pound towing capability. Yamaha is also including a plastic sun-cover roof on most models as standard equipment. They have a ton of accessories already developed to make the Viking your own machine.
There was one feature I didn’t like, however. They had a short wind-deflector windshield on all of the machines. I don’t like windshields on SxSs at all, and this one had a bend that helped keep the wind from hitting you in the face. I guess it was nice, but on the tighter trails, I noticed it obstructed my view of what was directly in front of the machine at times.
There is also a digital display that shows speed, drive configuration, and all the other information you’d need. It was a great design, but not a great location—the center of the dash. Not a big deal for some, but when I wanted to look at it, I had to completely look away from the direction I was going. A little thing, but something I noticed.
Another thing that I would have liked to have seen different was the suspension. Don’t get me wrong, it works well. It is stiff enough that it doesn’t let the load direct how the machine handles. You can tow a huge load and have the cargo bed loaded down and the machine drives the same. But in the tough, tricky terrain, the shocks were a little too stiff. I would have liked some adjustability in the shocks. A simple pre-load adjustment would do it.
Hugrs fram inn Viking
That’s Old Norse for “thoughts on the Viking,” for those of you not in-the-know. The Yamaha Viking is a very capable well-thought-out machine. Yamaha had a target in mind when they developed it, and they hit it. When the Viking was announced, there was a lot of buzz surrounding it, with some folks wanting to see a RZR-beater sport machine from the tuning fork folks. They’ll have to wait. Yamaha did say that they will be introducing a new SxS each year for at least the next five years. That’s a lot of machines to come out. I’m sure they’ll have something for every segment. For now, if you’re a hunter or a farmer, you should seriously consider the Viking. It has great handling and is a solid workhorse that was designed and built to run and work for a long time. If durability and dependability are concerns for you, take a look at the Viking.
Images by Frank Hoppen