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Wolverine R-Spec: Rocky Top tall in Tennessee

By By Dave McMahon

Yamaha’s newest UTV takes on Brimstone challenges

The concept of engine braking can be fairly intriguing on a PowerPoint presentation. OK, not really. But experiencing it live while driving the all-new 2016 Yamaha Wolverine R-Spec down yet another steep decline at the Brimstone ATV park in Huntsville, Tenn., had me sold.

I’m still in novice-intermediate mode as a side-by-side driver. But when Yamaha officials invited me to take a spin on the new Wolverine R-Spec at Brimstone, I was beyond ready to see what Yamaha Motor Corp., U.S.A. had developed out of Newnan, Ga. Many folks had told me that the 19,000 acres and 300 miles of trails managed by Brimstone Recreation were unbeatable for a day of riding ATVs or side-by-sides, and the ride lived up to its promise.

Rocks and mud presented the 2016 Wolverine R-Spec a fistful of challenges at Brimstone ATV park in Tennessee, but the newest Yamaha side-by-side came away an easy winner.

Rocks and mud presented the 2016 Wolverine R-Spec a fistful of challenges at Brimstone ATV park in Tennessee, but the newest Yamaha side-by-side came away an easy winner.

A dozen or so enthusiast (mostly) and trade media gathered in downtown Knoxville, Tenn., the day prior to the ride. A hearty breakfast set the stage for some riding that left us hungering for more. Heading northwest out of downtown Knoxville on Interstate 75, you’ll know you’re halfway through the drive (it’s less than an hour) when you hit Rocky Top, Tenn.

A mixture of sun and clouds joined us for the ride to the staging area alongside New River in Huntsville, the official hometown of Brimstone. When you see a couple of old faded Coke machines parked in the middle of a driveway, you’re getting even closer. In fact, when you realize those same pop machines are plugged into the home’s electrical outlet and operating (Coke products for $1.00 on the left; 50 cent Pepsi products on the right), you’re so close you can taste it. Of course, the rains weren’t far behind, and because the terrain was soaked from a rainy week, I was in for the muddiest, wettest, most exhilarating side-by-side ride of my not-very-long side-by-side riding tenure.

Brimstone has trails for all levels of riders, but we opted for what I considered the craziest, most breathtaking of them all. Talk about scenery. Parts of three mountains are on the Brimstone map, and based on our constant uphill and downhill travels, I’m pretty sure we saw the tops of a couple of them.

One memorable climb told me all I needed to know about Wolverine, as the saturated uphill trail seemed like it would be formidable task for the machine. Alas, a switch from 2WD to 4WD, and we were off and running. Traction was perfect, and there were no signs slipping, let alone spinning out in the mud. Of course, when we reached the peak, the downhill side of the terrain eventually met us.

That’s when I first remarked about the engine braking. The view was perfect to the front of the Wolverine R-Spec, providing an ideal sightline over the hood. So I could see below perfectly, and below just kept going and going. The engine braking, or compression of the motor slowing down the machine as it mad its way down the hill, proved to be ideal for the terrain. The engine braking offered a sense of confidence and comfort that was I not expecting in such an “Oh crap, how steep is this exactly!” sort of moment.

 Whether on slick rock found in creek beds or any of a variety of terrain, the Yamaha Wolverine R-Spec felt at home.

Whether on slick rock found in creek beds or any of a variety of terrain, the Yamaha Wolverine R-Spec felt at home.

But that was only the start of the memorable drive. Travis Hollins, ATV/side-by-side senior product planning manager for Yamaha Motor Corp., U.S.A., and colleague Pat Biolsi, ATV/SxS testing supervisor, had informed us the night before that the terrain was some of the most aggressive and challenging that they could find. I believe “slippery,” “muddy” and “slimy” were the words they used to describe the adventure. After a day of riding on those conditions at Brimstone, it’s easy to see why the Wolverine R-Spec is being touted for its overall capabilities and durability.

The recreation segment that the Wolverine R-Spec calls home is targeted to those customers who are into exploring, enjoying nature, traveling over aggressive and challenging terrain, big rocks, lot of mud, steep hills and tight wooded or rocky areas. We had encountered all of those and more, and still had a half-day to continue to make our way through tight, technical rocks and through creeks filled with running water on top of slick rock. And the Wolverine R-Spec made every second of it a memorable blast. Somehow not one of the 26-inch Maxxis Bighorns needed a replacement on any of our machines, which I found to be truly impressive considering the rocky and rutted terrain.

The product was built at Yamaha’s Georgia factory to address needs of comfort and confidence that were not being addressed by competitive models, Hollins said.

To do that, the suspension incorporates adjustability and functionality that adds to the comfort level. The 708cc Wolverine R-Spec features 9.7 inches of travel in the front and 10.6 in the back. In addition, plus or minus 10 mm of preload is available to allow for fine-tuning of the driving style. For instance, the unit with the spare tire and accessory bar ramped up the preload a bit, but the standard suspension setting worked ideal at Brimstone.

A drone’s-eye view of the staging area and rental cabins alongside New River at the Brimstone in Huntsville, Tenn.

A drone’s-eye view of the staging area and rental cabins alongside New River at the Brimstone in Huntsville, Tenn.

As Hollins said: “Having suspension that you can tune, adjust and make the way that you want it to establish the type of ride you’re looking for is important. Not everybody wants the same type of ride. With our suspension, we’ve incorporated more adjustability and functionality than any other model in this category.”

With more than 2 inches of sag built into the rear suspension and almost 2 inches in the front, the impressive ruts were no match for the Wolverine R-Spec. I didn’t think it was going to be possible to stay on the high side of one particularly rutted part of the trail, but the tires held their ground, and I was brewing with confidence.

When a hard day’s work is done, drivers can settle in with the Yamaha Wolverine R-Spec in public camping areas at Brimstone.

When a hard day’s work is done, drivers can settle in with the Yamaha Wolverine R-Spec in public camping areas at Brimstone.

That, of course, led to me speeding things up on some parts of the trail system, and I expected a few jolts from bottoming out. But with full-length skid plates, I never got one of those “Ugh!” moments.

Some of the most intriguing moments aboard the Wolverine R-Spec came when Biolsi, leading the media ride, would stop and provide a couple of different plans of attack for the highly technical parts of the ride. Typically some combination of rocks and ruts were involved, and with some mud.

Most often, the end result was a smooth, predictable and natural ride. That’s why they built the Wolverine R-Spec, and that’s why I’ll ride it again at first chance.

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