Friday, January 31, 2014

ATV Review - 2006 Yamaha Bruin 350

As there is a huge market for used ATV's I plan to start doing reviews on some of the machines I either own or am able to ride. This will be the first. 

2006 Yamaha Bruin 350

We purchased this machine October of 2012. At the time of purchase it had 7000kms on it. We paid $2200 for it and figured that was a good price for a 4x4 ATV. We needed an ATV for our business that we could attach a snow blower to. This was a bit of an experiment because we didn't know how well this concept was going to work so price was one of the main factors for us.

When I first saw the machine, it presented itself reasonably well, the previous owner had just replaced the torn seat with a new cover and it was clean. The red plastics were more a shade of pink from sun fading but this was a work machine and seemed to fit the bill for our needs.

The Bruin engine is a 350cc air cooled unit attached to a CVT (automatic) transmission. It is worth noting that this engine has been made by Yamaha since at least 1987, probably longer which likely accounts for the reliability of it. No EFI here, just a carburetor. Push button four wheel drive, but no “low” gear on the gear box and no locking front differential. It has decent front and rear racks and a comfortable riding position. Front disk brakes and a single rear drum mounted to a solid axle.

There isn't much that really stands out on this machine, and it looks very dull compared to many other machines out there. But….I really like it.

It has performed nearly flawlessly during our time with it, it ran like a charm all throughout the winter, starting in -45 degree weather and doing everything it was asked to do. Once the weather was nice the snowblower came off and it became a recreational machine for the months that the weather was nice. My daughter took her first solo ATV ride on it, my 74 year old Dad rode it a couple times on our adventures to Nisbet Forest. And when we took it to family camp, it was the machine we would ride around the grounds.
It doesn't do anything spectacular, but it does everything well. Shortly after we purchased this machine for our company I personally bought a 2007 Can Am Renegade 800, which was my first 4x4 machine after riding 2wd sport quads for most of my life. The Renegade is spectacular in so many ways; looks, performance and power. But when it broke down, or was too loud to bring where we were going, there was the Bruin.

I had to sell the Renegade last fall, even though it had less Km’s than the Bruin (6000kms) it had a number of pending issues that were going to cost big dollars to fix. While I was looking for a new machine a friend invited me on a ride. I didn't have my big 4x4 machine but I had the Bruin, so I brought it. I cannot believe the amount of fun I had on that ride. I think that sometimes we get locked into thinking we need all the bells and whistles to have fun when riding, but the Bruin breaks that mold. Sometimes simple is still fun. Both my friend and his buddy that accompanied us were surprised at what this little machine was able to do compared to their 700 and 750 machines. It did have a hard time trying to winch the other guys out of the mud but it never got stuck itself, both of which can be attributed to its light weight. And I was easily able to keep up with the other guys on the trails. It's no powerhouse but it does move it's light weight chassis reasonably well and can even hit speed of over 70kph.

All in all I think this is a great machine. It reminds me of my 1984 Big Red ATC, dependable and ready to do what you ask it to, just not flashy. If you are looking to buy one, I would recommend it.

Our first revision of the snowblower, this one was manufactured by Quadivator. Didn't work for our requirements.

This is our second and current revision of the snowblower other than the motorized controls for the chute added this year. It is made by Kimpex and works much better for our application.

My daughters first quad ride with her Dad at the Ottopasso Trails on the Bruin. My 2007 Can Am Renegade 800. 

 My Dad riding the Bruin on a river sandbar near Nisbet Forest 

My wife and daughter at family camp

Bruin beside an Arctic Cat 400, considerable size difference

Update April 23, 2015
It's been over a year since the writing of this article and the Bruin continues to work well. It will no longer be used for snowblowing duty as it has been replaced by a 2008 Rhino 700 and will be used strictly for recreation.
It has been great for recreational riding this last year with only minor issues. It blew a belt while trail riding and had to be towed back to the trucks. We now carry a spare belt with the machine.
The brakes are bad, I never mentioned how poor the brakes were in the original article but they have never been great and continue to suck. The rear drum brake seal has failed so that it now fills with water and does very little to assist with braking. The front brakes don't grab well either and it is almost impossible to lock up any of the tires if you are in a panic situation.
We upgraded the tires to 25" ITP TerraCross tires at all four corners. This has increased the traction dramatically but has also left it feeling less powerful.
My son has mainly rode this machine and only recently is complaining about its lack of power and is wanting an Outlander.

Bruin sporting the new ITP TerraCross tires
The Bruin (far right) dwarfed among the Can Am's
Update August 25, 2015
With the purchase of the Rhino we couldn't justify keeping the Bruin around and we sold it earlier this summer. It was a great machine and I know it will be missed.
I made a YouTube video of this review which can be seen at the top.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Trail Tech - Backroad GPS Map

As I was doing online searching for Saskatchewan ATV trails a product called "Backroad GPS Maps" kept popping up. My brother in-law had mentioned that a friend of his had some kind of different map for his Garmin handheld GPS, and that he was amazed at how it helped them to find some old abandon trails when they were hunting in Northern Saskatchewan. I wasn't sure if this was what he was using but the manufacturer Backroad Mapbooks does mention that they have ATV trails included with their maps. At a cost of $99 it was too expensive to risk purchasing a product if it didn't have what I was looking for.

A while later, as I was browsing at Wholesale Sports I saw the Backroad GPS Maps case on the counter. I asked the sales person if it was returnable if I couldn't find a decent amount of ATV trails on it. Most software is not returnable and I figured this would be the case here too. None of the salesmen knew so I eventually talked to the manager who didn't know either, so he called other stores to ask them if they knew if it was returnable. He couldn't get a straight answer as it seemed like none of the other stores ever had someone try and return it. So as a good manager he gave me his business card and wrote a note on the back saying he would allow me to return it. So with no risk I slapped down the credit card and told them to "Charge it!".
This product allows you to use it two ways, one is on an SD card that fits into your handheld GPS, the other is a downloadable version you can use on your computer. I do not have a handheld GPS that can accept an SD card, and I wanted a nice big screen to be able to see the entire map so the downloadable version was the way for me.
Backroad Mapbooks is somehow partnered with Garmin, and they use their computer software called BaseCamp to display the map.

After installing, I started exploring. I started in areas where I have rode trails and knew they existed. I was disappointed to see that most were not on the map. "Good thing I can return the product" I told myself. But as I spend more time with the product doing more exploring I started finding trails. Not tons, but enough that I started getting excited.
I need to mention that the product support was amazing! I had no problems loading the software onto my home PC, but I also wanted it on my work PC and my Macbook. All of which I could do because they will let you install it on as many computers as you like, PC or Mac.Backroad Mapbooks tech support guy helped me with getting the other two computers and working perfect.
Since they were so helpful with getting the product installed I decided to call tech support again and ask if they could help me find ATV trails, he recommended putting the SD card in the computer while I did a BaseCamp search for "ATV". Apparently when the SD card is in the computer that the computer will access a database that only exists on it. And he was right!
I was delighted to see that my search turned up 50 different trails all across Saskatchewan. Not all of which were actually ATV trails (such as the Meewasin trails along the river bank here in Saskatoon) but many that were. Also, if you put a flag where you are currently located it will sort your search results by the trails nearest to you.

In this picture of the Nisbet forest area, trails are marked in green are considered multi-use trails.

Overall I am pretty happy with the product, but I won't know how good it actually is until riding season when I will be able to see how many of these trails actually exist.
Even though I could take the software back to the store and I would still have access to all of the software I have downloaded (and my $99) I think I am going to keep it as it looks like it will help in the exploration of our Saskatchewan trails.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Trail Tech - Trail Tire Comparison

 I came across great article comparing some of the common tire brands for trail riding. I like this review as he is riding on a set of tires for and entire season and not just doing a one off review.

If you are in the market for new tires check it out.


Comparison: ITP TerraCross R/T, Maxxis Bighorn and Interco Reptile

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Trail Tech - Hitcase Action Camera Case

 GoPro's are awesome, they are a purpose built camera and I don't think there is any replacement for something that does such a good job at what it is intended for. But, there are a group of people who would rather use their iPhone or Android device to record their videos. In my short time of doing videos I have found that having a GoPro on my helmet is bulky and find that it is constantly getting hit with branches which is usually followed up by me reaching about my head to ensure my expensive GoPro is still there. Imagine how much worse this would be with a big iPhone or worse yet, a Samsung Galaxy. Another issue with this is how to turn the video recording on and off while it is on top of your head, an issue GoPro has overcome with the remote that is included with the "Black" edition or you can purchase as an accessory. 

I personally have a GoPro so I am not looking for a case for this purpose. My discovery of the GPS app called EveryTrail for your smartphone (see earlier post for more details) and my excitement to use it on the trails this coming season, I started thinking about just how I would use it. Keep it in my pocket? Sure that will work but I would like to use the camera for snapping pictures of my favorite parts of the trail, I'll likely be wearing waterproof pants and wearing gloves. No, I want it accessible, preferably mounted on my handlebars. And that is what got me started searching for someway to mount my phone but also keep it safe.

There are many options on the market, but you have to know how to search for them. Googling the search terms "iphone case" gets you darn near a million hits. "waterproof iphone case" narrows it down a bit and "mountable waterproof case" gets you closer but it still didn't get me where I wanted. So I searched "can I turn my iphone into a Gopro?" and then I started seeing the results I wanted. Apparently another search term that could have helped would be "iphone action camera".

Waterproof is a very important feature for my use, although I do not plan on submerging the phone I will be getting into mud and don't doubt at all that I will at some point get a big mud plop right on my phone.

After many hours of research I managed to find one locally at London Drugs, it is called iMountz. Being that is was local (returnable) and the price was actually better than most I could order online I picked it up. I was hesitant as I wasn't able to find any actual reviews on it, it was obviously Chinese made and didn't have the look of quality I was looking for but what did I have to loose. As soon as I saw it in person I was pretty sure it was not going to work the way I had hoped. 

  • The screen cover was a thick clear plastic and couldn't see any way that it was going to allow use of the touch screen, also the only button on the phone it left access to was the home button. This presents a big problem for my use as I would have to start the camera app before putting it in the case and leave it on for my entire trail ride with the LCD on which would probably kill my battery before the ride was over.
  • The screen cover had a small section just above the home button that did contact the screen and was intended to allow you to touch the area of the screen where the camera button is. This was very intermittent, it barely worked sometimes and didn't work at all other times.
I took it back to London Drugs the next day and continued looking for another solution.

Otterbox and Lifeproof both make amazing products for everyday protection of your iPhone, so another though was to buy one of these cases and then use velcro or figure out someway to attach a removable clip. This is a viable option but two things kept me from going this driection:
  • The cost. With either Otterbox or Lifeproof I would be looking at close to $100
  • I still wouldn't have the product I wanted as I would still need to adapt a mount which although it wouldn't be hard to do still presented some issues of reliability as I would adapting my own solution rather than it being purpose built
The solution

With more research I came across the Hitcase. This one looks to have it all, full access to the phone and all its functions other than charging or headphone jacks. Waterproof case, slide on mounting point, good price and the cherry on top, compatibility with all of my GoPro mounts.

I was able to read many positive reviews with the only complaint being the bulkiness of the case which is something very difficult to overcome when you are making a waterproof and shockproof case to protect your sizable smartphone investment. The price was about the same as either the Otterbox or the Lifeproof as I opted to go with the Hitcase and not the Hitcase Pro. The only difference between the two is that the Pro comes with a fish-eye lens which would be handy if you were using this as an action camera.
I will do another review later this year when I get a chance to trail test this case.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Fort a la Corne Forest Review

 Located 50km North of Melfort, North East of Gronlid. There are many entrances into the forest, the one on the map is the one we used.

(Note that maps show directions to where the trails start and are not the actual trails)

Terrain: Mostly sand and dirt trails

Tons & tons of trails all in a beautiful wooded area. Lots of wildlife, views of the river and small streams.

Some of the neat places of interest on these trails include

-The Sandberg Creek Rest Stop (located beside the river, gorgeous!)

-Dale Skiftun Memorial

-Large areas of burned out forest

 -River views

 Map of trails found at the shack at the Sandberg Creek Rest Stop

Update January 28, 2014 - I have created a GPS map to the Sandberg Creek Rest Stop from one of the forest entrances and uploaded it to EveryTrail, you can see it here.

Trail Tech - Every Trail GPS App

This is absolutley perfect!! I just found out about an iPhone app called Every Trail and got to see some examples on their website. I am so excited to try this out! It will track your trail movements and then plot them out on a Google Map that you can share with others. You can also post pictures along the way of particularly scenic spots. This is just what I have been looking for, you can check out the sad selection of Saskatchewan ATV trail maps they have posted on their website here.

Make sure you have this app with you this coming season and share your trails with us!

Quad Corral Website

In my attempt to gather information about Saskatchewan Trails I ran across this page by the Quad Corral. On this Page they list a number of places to ride and a brief description of each (although maps would be really nice too), I will be checking all of these out and hopefully posting more information soon.