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Yamaha RMAX Rock Crawling Review

Putting the Wolverine RMAX2 1000 through its paces in Johnson Valley.

Yamaha RMAX Rock Crawling Review

Yamaha RMAX Rock Crawling Review

Story: The Ghost // Photos: Adam Campbell

It’s no secret that the UTV market is hot right now. More than that, buyers like you and I are more often than not looking for vehicles that can truly “do it all”. Such is the reason why the sport/rec market and vehicles like the General, Teryx, and Wolverine lineup sell so well – all of these UTVs can do it all and do it all well

Yamaha RMAX Rock Crawling Review

The latest sport/rec vehicle on the market is the Yamaha Wolverine RMAX 1000, which has been praised for many reasons, including the fact that it can really “do it all” in terms of hauling a heavy load or trailer around the farm or hauling the mail out on your local trails. So, to switch things up a bit, we had to put it to the test at one of the ultimate off-road rock climbing areas on the planet – Johnson Valley in California, also known as the birthplace of King of the Hammers. No, this isn’t a test of how much the RMAX can haul around the farm (although it can do that, too). This is a test of how well the RMAX rock crawls up some of the gnarliest trails out there. Bet you didn’t think we’d do this in an RMAX… 

For starters, the RMAX comes with a host of standard features that make it willing and able to tackle rock trails like this, including: 30” tires from the factory, full length steel skid plates, a healthy 13.8” of ground clearance, arched a-arms in the front and plated suspension parts in the rear, no rear sway bar for increased articulation and traction, and the all-new D-mode system that allows the driver to change the throttle and engine braking delivery of the RMAX on the fly (on all models but the base model). Right off the showroom floor, the RMAX is a very capable and you can begin to see why someone who buys one of these machines would feel comfortable taking this side-by-side on challenging rock climbs, rutted trails, etc. It’s ready for the adventure! 

Our test day consisted of taking the RMAX2 1000 up the technical and challenging Turkey Claw trail. However, it wouldn’t be enough to do it once and say, “we did it”. No, we put this RMAX through the ringer and went UP Turkey Claw over 25 times in one day to see how it held up, how it clawed its way up the hill on multiple rock-laden lines, and how well the entire package performed in the variety of terrain that Turkey Claw presents, including loose sections, 2-3 foot boulders, and of course the tight and technical curves over and around those aforementioned boulders. At the end of the test session, there were a couple things about the RMAX that really stood out… 

The first thing we noticed is how well this powertrain system is mated together, and it all starts with the Ultramatic transmission. It’s smooth, precise, consistent, and allows the driver to put the RMAX exactly where he/she needs it to be to tackle the rock ledges. Plus, the fully locking front and rear differentials eliminated any worries that we’d lose traction. There were times where we thought that the tires would spin on a 3-foot-tall rock ledge and there wouldn’t be enough pulling power to get the RMAX up and over the obstacle. Every single time we were proved wrong as the RMAX simply put the power to the ground and climbed its way up and over the ledge. We’ve done a lot of rock crawling in UTVs, and the RMAX was extremely impressive with how capable it was out there. 

A lot of credit has to go to the tires in this case, and the all-new 30” GBC Dirt Commander 2.0 tires on this base model are stellar. Not only do these tires have great high-speed stability when you get to the open terrain, but their cornering ability and traction are just wonderful at any speed. The soft compound made those rock climbs disappear with ease, and we really enjoyed how versatile this tire proved to be. Plus, a 30” tall tire on a stock sport/rec vehicle is unique and appreciated, especially in a rock climbing situation where the extra meat and ground clearance are both well utilized. The only negative with this tire is the soft compound will likely wear out a bit faster for those of you who are hard on tires, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that this tire has a ton of traction and proved to be extremely tough with its 8-ply rating and no flats or tears after our brutal day of testing. 

You can check out the pictures closer to verify, but the only accessories we added were steel skid plates in the front for the undercarriage and front a-arms, along with a full UHMWPE skid plates underneath. No winch and no rock sliders, just the basics. Be sure to check out the next issue of UTV Off-Road for more information on these accessory installs, and we can tell you now that the skid plates are a must if you’re going to be in the rocks or gnarly terrain. The plastic-based underbody skid plates make sliding over the rocks easy as they don’t get caught on any of the rock edges. 

Yamaha RMAX Rock Crawling Review

With all of the standard features and just a couple add-ons like this, the RMAX proved to be stellar rock climber on our day of testing. Also, the suspension is tuned to where the vehicle is plush and doesn’t jostle the occupants around on the climbs, but it also holds up well in the high speed sections we found on the backside of Turkey Claw. It still boggles our minds how we went up this trail over 25 times in one day and never had one issue, all while passing other rigs stuck on the trail several times. The overall package of the RMAX is so versatile that we are rethinking what we can do in a sport/rec side-by-side like this. We haven’t even mentioned the fact that the interior is a comfortable complement to this machine’s extreme capability. At no point did our testers say they were tired or sore after multiple hours in the seats.  

I’ll leave it at this – there were some Jeep guys with fully built rigs who saw us complete Turkey Claw twice within 12 or so minutes while they sipped on some cold ones stopped at the top. They weren’t pointing at the birds soaring high above, they were showing us their middle fingers as we completed the trail twice in half the time it took them to do it once, in a stock side-by-side, while everything was still purring along perfectly in the RMAX. What they were really saying is how impressed they were that a vehicle made to be an “all-arounder” can haul supplies or trailers around a farm just as easily as it can conquer a supremely challenging rock climb in the iconic hills of Johnson Valley. Over and over and over, without any issues. We didn’t winch once, or even feel like we were starting to get stuck. Yes, there are more scratches on the bottom and built-in rock sliders than when we started, but that’s what riding is all about, right?! 

The Wolverine RMAX2 1000 (and RMAX4) are available at your local Yamaha dealer now with a retail price on the base model of $19,799. That includes the 10-year belt warranty and a whole host of standard features that make this side-by-side a champion of the rock trails.

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