The Sonepat district is known for an early morning breakfast at a numerous local dhabas where most people residing in NCR go over the weekend or simply stop over to have the 'parathas and dahi'. However, now there is another reason, particularly for enthusiasts looking for off-road fun on all-terrain vehicles. The Polaris Experience Zone! At Kundli, a small patch of land carved out for the Sportsman 400 and the RZR 800 is now a permanent playground for these machines and to experience their capabilities where they are meant to be, off-road.
First up was the Sportsman 400 H.O. (High Output) which did not quite strike a relationship with me. However, all geared up, getting on the saddle, there was a realisation that the handlebar in the Sportsman 400 H.O (that is the case with most all-terrain vehicles) does not have a 'twist' action for the throttle. A switch placed on the right side needs to be pushed and all it took was a couple of minutes to get acquainted to the throttling input as the logic was simple. Push switch for throttle and engage brakes, which were not separate for the front and rear wheels. A lever on the left side of the handlebar like gearless scooters engages all four hydraulic disc brakes. Speaking of gearless scooters, the Sportsman's engine is paired to a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) unit. Just so we could get more comfortable with the throttling in real-time, there were two tracks, one being a slightly undulated but simple circular one and the other involving hairpins, steep inclines, declines and more. As you fire up the carburetted engine, the growl is understated, thanks to the single pipe USFS (United States Forest Service) approved exhaust, however, it is evident enough.
A few rounds at in the 'subtle' section of the test track and there was enough confidence to take the Sportsman to the technical part of the track. The best was to tackle off-road terrain on a quad is by standing up with a slight forward inclination wherein your body also works in tandem with the centre of gravity of the vehicle while soaking bumps along the way. This posture also lets you tackle the terrain at a higher speed.
The only bit where one has to be careful is the posture should never be inclined towards the rear of the vehicle, when going up an incline or straight. A position like that would shift the centre of gravity to the rear wheels and get the front end up, which especially for a novice can be unnerving and dangerous. The technical part included some steep inclines and the front-biased posture let the quad get some air as well. That said, the fear of ending upside-down on the other side of the small hill did not encourage me to let the Sportsman's hair down.
Next up was the Ranger RZR 800 with an on demand all-wheel-drive system and an automatic transmission. The 760cc HO or High Output engine develops around 55 hp, although Polaris India hasn't disclosed official power figures. In a vehicle with a dry weight of just 464 kg and driving on off-road tyres, the RZR 800 was designed to fly over obstacles. Once behind the wheel of the Ranger, the instruction was simple, seatbelt engaged, use the outer track and once confident, go into the technical section.
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The RZR isn't as linear as the Sportsman, although they are two very different machines. The ATV has the eagerness of a squirrel to get food and the responsiveness isn't subtle but lethal in an addictive sort of way. The rear wheels (or all wheels) pull you with urgency in the direction you want to do. Changing direction is also crisp, however, pull a turn too hard and the high centre-of-gravity of the RZR would happily go sideways. That is also courtesy the Maxxis Bighorn tyres that can dig through and into any sand or mud with exceptional ease. A noteworthy mention is the ability of both machines, wherein both of them were engaged in rear wheel drive and there wasn't any need of the AWD to be engaged. Coming back to the RZR, it is like playing an off-road game in real life but in a forgiving machine. Yes, there can be incidences where a simple lack of judgement would get you upside down, but the safety of a rollcage in a RZR is consoling.
In case you are planning to pick this expensive hobby up, don't buy either of them as your first investment. Polaris has setup another, smaller experience zone on NH1 at Pacific Mall which has the Phoenix 200. Going through that track with a smaller machine will enable you to understand what would be good for starters and what should one graduate to at a later stage. Since Polaris sells its entire line-up in India, there is no dearth of choice. The only limitation is the huge investment this hobby or, for a number of enthusiasts, this sport entails.