Our question about the Yamaha Vmax 600 XT is simple. Was the one we rode
Dr. Jekyl or Mr. Hyde?
This year we started our annual test ride session with Yamaha. The Yamaha
reps were extremely excited about having us get on the all-new, long-travel
suspension. And so were we. We had seen a prototype suspension about two
months earlier out in Cooke City, Montana, but we weren't allowed to ride it. We had to satisfy ourselves with tests of the new computerized SMART Carb and a higher-volume, freer-flowing exhaust on the Vmax 600 twin cylinder engine.
These improvements were noticeable and worked flawlessly. So we were bummed about not having a chance to try out the new rear suspension.
All this is to say that we were expecting great things from Yamaha's new Vmax 600 XT. The suspension setup would be the most significant improvement, but we also viewed the new exhaust and the commensurate power boost as only
slightly less significant.
Somehow, this past winter saw the American Snowmobiler staff ride more Yamahas than anything else. It wasn't any big deal, but going into our first day of test riding, we enjoyed a strong point of reference. Going into that first day of testing, we also derived the benefits of a major snow storm, which would last for days and would totally lay waste to the trails in and around West Yellowstone, Montana. That was the situation.
Our initial test ride had us fully agreeing with Yamaha staff that the all new Pro-Action Plus Long Travel Rear Suspension would be the most talked about new suspension in the industry. Only we weren't thinking positively. Our first experience with the new suspension was awful.
Fortunately, for all concerned, our second ride was what we called a "180" ride. Our impression - and subsequent recommendation - was totally reversed. The sled's ride is equal to the best in the sport. The overall package pushes this sled to the top of our list for a sports performance twin. It has a wonderful engine/clutch package. The front and rear suspension are well balanced. The overall handling is consistent and smooth.
So, back to our question: Which is the true Vmax 600 XT, the awful riding one of our first test ride, or the excellent handling one of our second ride?
Truth? We don't know. We will give Yamaha the benefit of the doubt and say that we truly believe that the sled we rode second was the one Vmax 600 XT owners will get.
There are some mitigating factors. The initial setup we encountered was based on a factory suspension setting for conditions that totally deteriorated prior to our arrival at West Yellowstone. The second setup was predicated on the real conditions of the day we rode. And there were some major adjustments
made to the suspension settings from our first ride and our second ride
two days later. This suggests to us that suspension setup is extremely important
with these long travel units - not just Yamaha's, but all others as well.
We feel strongly that the awful ride of the XT on Day One was a fluke. Trust us. No sled maker wants a magazine test rider getting beat up by their sled. No way, Dude!
Add in the fact that the sensational performance of Ride Two was so totally wicked good means that the existence of a near perfect ride is truly built
into the sled. Way!
Sorry for belaboring the point, but we couldn't let you head off to the Yamaha store without telling about our real world experience and how we felt. Our conscience is clear.
What do we like? Virtually everything. Long-time readers of our test reports realize that we haven't always had a fondness for Yamaha's Telescopic
Strut Suspension (TSS) nor have we been great believers in Yamaha's ability
to build a clutch that could deliver maximum power to the snow. For 1996,
both are non-issues.
Yamaha's Vmax 600 XT is the best Yamaha to date. We can find a flaw or two, but overall, this sled is the equal of anything in the sport. Overall quality is a given: Excellent. Yamaha is the best for fit and finish. Overall engine packaging: Excellent. Drivetrain efficiency: Excellent. Overall ride quality and handling: Excellent.
The heart of the Vmax 600 lies under the hood. The liquid-cooled Vmax 600 twin is first class. It delivers 90-ish horsepower very smoothly over a relatively broad range. Credit the dual 38mm flat slide carbs for efficiently assisting fuel ingestion. Appreciate Yamaha's experience with digital electronic ignitions and you enjoy the benefits of a precision firing sequence from idle to wide open throttle. And your throttle thumb will greatly appreciate the easy throttle pull brought about by the use of a mechanically advantaged rack system on the carburetors.
Yamaha spent a lot of effort reworking its drive package in the last few seasons. The horrific Exciter experiences are over. The creation of the 598cc Vmax twin saw to that. While the basic Vmax 600 drive package is similar to that seen last year, the 1996 twin has the advantage of the high flow exhaust, a derivation of which was made available as the GYT kit. New carb settings and revised timing in the ignition add up to improved performance that is better than what you would realize with last year's GYT kit on a 1995 Vmax 600 twin.
And best of all, the clutch changes Yamaha made last season were the
answer. The overall improvement was wonderful. The YVXC variable clutch
system is back. The backshifting of the clutch and its response to changing
conditions is excellent.
You will realize these changes and improvements in the base Vmax 600
series. But you won't get the great ride. Once you ride a properly set up
XT model, we predict that you won't settle for anything less.
The reason is how Yamaha arrives at its 10.5 inches of rear suspension
travel. The unique position of the Pro-Action Plus rear shock plays a pivotal
role in suspension design. It's mounted high and virtually horizontal to
the tunnel. This permits maximum use of the rebuildable gas shock's piston
stroke. It also means less unsprung weight for quicker compression and rebound
of the piston's travel. The use of lightweight aluminum for the shock body
further reduces weight.
Yamaha didn't quibble on details with this suspension. The engineers
looked for friction points and found the best ways to relieve them. You'll
find the Pro-Action Plus rear suspension comes with four plain bearings,
six sealed needle bearings, 18 high-density bushings and eight grease fittings
that feed 16 grease points.
Yamaha suspension designers went even further with this performance suspension.
Instead of utilizing bumper stops to restrain final travel, Yamaha took
the more costly approach of using two adjustable weight transfer control
rods at the rear of the suspension. The rods limit the suspension rail angle,
which effectively permits both maximum travel and proper weight transfer
for acceleration as well as deceleration into corners. It's a nifty concept
that is noticeable in comparison to other long-travel suspensions.
You'll find two nitrogen gas shocks in the rear suspension. The TSS front
unit also features nitrogen gas shocks. If you'll recall the adjustable
strut setup on the Exciter SX of a few seasons back, you'll remember that
it had adjustable struts. You merely remove the strut cap and twist the
adjuster through a series of "clicks" to soften or stiffen the
front action. The new Vmax 600 XT features a similar arrangement.
On Ride Two, we had the rear end set up just right, but thought we might
play around with the TSS adjustment. A couple of clicks on the stiff setting
had us wagging the tail way out. We had too much bite. A couple of clicks
on the soft side gave us too much push in the turns. We figured that the
Yama-guys had dialed this sled in just right, but we had to monkey with
the settings for ourselves. It was quick and easy to do. The changes were
also very noticeable.
Another feature that we really like on the Yamahas is the infinite setting of the hand warmers. This rheostat control is a far cry from the pathetic warmers of the past. One thing that Yamaha should add to this sports performance sled is a hydraulic disc brake along the lines of Cat's Wilwood or Ski-Doo's Bremo setup. With the performance potential of the 600 XT, the self-adjusting mechanical disc brake is marginal. We have not been on Yamaha's case about this before, but an incident during our second test ride proved to us that a hydraulic brake would be preferable.
We were probably riding harder than necessary. But one thing we've discovered
with these new long-travel suspended snowmobiles like the Vmax 600 XT, is
that you get going a whole heck of a lot faster than you realize. The ride quality lets you forget your speed. You do need to look down at those big speedometer dial numbers once in a while. At one point, we were cruising along having a great time when, out of the corner of our eye, we noticed the evergreens seemed to be going by faster than we thought they should. We let off the throttle and got way back under 90. The Vmax 600 XT was so smooth we lost track of how fast we were going. The power of the 600cc twin and the ride of the Pro-Action Plus make a wonderful combination, but you need to be under control because it's real easy to exceed your need for speed.
So, what do we think about the Yamaha Vmax 600 XT? It's top notch. This
is Yamaha's best. But we also think that you need to pay attention to the
ride settings. As we discovered, suspension tuning can make the difference
between Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. You want the good guy ride.
1996 YAMAHA VMAX 600 XT
Engine Type: 598cc liquid, 7 port, reed valve
Drive: 3 swing arm
Driven: Torque sensing
Front: Telescopic Strut, adjustable with 72 inches of travel
Rear: Pro-Action Plus with 10.5 inches of travel
Ski Stance: 40 Inches
Overall Height: 44.5 Inches
Overall Length: 109.4 Inches
Fuel Capacity: 10 gallons
Offical Dry Weight: 509 Pounds
Key Features: Adjustable hand and thumb warmers, optional electric
start, optional reverse, plastic ski skins, auto fuel shut-off
Riding Impressions: This sled took us by surprise. The power-train
combination is excellent. The steering is light and precise. And the ride
is outstanding. Yamaha says this is the sled that will have the industry
talking. We're talking the XT talk and liking the fact that Yamaha is walking
the walk. If we could only have one sled this coming winter - it would be
this one. - Jerry Bassett, test rider