We regularly test adult-size off-road power sports machines, but this time around we decided to recruit some miniature adrenaline fiends—if we could pry them off their X-Boxes for a few hours. So we assembled four ATVs that are built for different age ranges and categories but share a common goal: getting your kids outdoors and doing something fun.
The Beginner Bike
The Honda CRF50F is the reference starter dirt bike. It has a three-speed manual transmission (but with an automatic clutch, so no clutch lever), a kick-start, and a twist-grip throttle. This is a real motorcycle, scaled down for ages six and up.
Despite its small displacement, the CRF sounds mean and goes fast enough that you might want to limit new riders to first or second gear. In third, it tops out at 30 to 35 mph. And the CRF seems virtually indestructible. A friend of ours brought his son out for testing day with his well-used 2005 CRF50, and it looked and ran like the 2019 tester.
The Starter Four-Wheeler
The is more user-friendly than the CRF, in that it has four wheels, electric start, and a fully automatic transmission. Any kid six and up can pretty much climb on and go, especially when the standard speed limiter is in place, capping top speed at a brisk walk. (You can remove it in about two minutes with a screwdriver once your kid gets comfortable).
Like the Honda CRF, Yamaha's YFZ fired up easy and was ready to ride after a couple minutes getting up to temperature. It was also capable out on the trails, as our mud-spattered test riders affirmed. They also affirmed that you don’t want to ride the YFZ into a dead-end trail, because there’s no reverse gear. But the front end is light enough that even kids could drag it around to escape inadvertent wrong turns.
The Mini-Motocross Machine
Stepping to the 10-and-up 90-cc class, the looks like a mini-motocross machine, and that’s basically what it is. The 89.5-cc single-cylinder seems more high-strung than the 50-cc machines, because it takes some time blipping the throttle with the choke engaged before it clears out and is ready to rip. But when it does, it has a whole lot of power for a 90.
The suspension is set up to take advantage, too, with nine inches of front travel and HPG Piggyback shocks. The DS 90X is wide, with square-shouldered rear tires that like to slide (and also have a hard time staying on the bead—we had to smear some sealant on one of them to keep it on the rim). While the DS 90X looks intimidating—or, as some of the kids said, totally sick—it’s a friendly ride, stable and reassuring, with a CVT automatic transmission and reverse. Some of the kids wished it had a twist grip throttle, though, since the thumb throttle requires a lot of effort. Why don’t ATVs have twist throttles, anyway?
The Youth Side-by-Side
Our largest machine was the Polaris Ranger 150 EFI, a youth side-by-side that’s basically like that car Stuart Little drives around in—fully realized transportation for small people. With electronic fuel injection, the Ranger is ready to run from essentially the moment you fire it up. And the digital injection enables a few other cool tricks, like speed-limiting and geofencing from an app on your phone. The Ranger also has a small cargo rack behind the seats, so by all means put your kids to work clearing brush or fetching firewood on the back 40.
For the Grown-Ups Tagging Along
Because we needed a way to keep up with the young ’uns, we brought a few adult-size machines to the test as well. The Can-Am Outlander DPS 650 is a do-anything 4x4 ATV that can play the role of useful farm implement (towing 1,650 pounds, carrying tools on its dual cargo racks) or 62-horsepower off-road entertainment.
The Yamaha YFZ450R SE is, in spirit, the grown-up companion to the DS 90X—except from a different manufacturer, because Yamaha doesn’t build a youth sport bike and Can-Am doesn’t build an adult one. Go figure. Like the DS 90X, the 450R has that purposeful motocross look, wide and low and bereft of racks, hitches or any suggestion that its mission is anything other than fun. And with a full-manual six-speed transmission, balanced chassis and screaming top end, the 450R makes you want to go enter one of the halftime stadium races at monster truck shows.
Finally, the Polaris ACE 900 XC is like the mutant offspring of an ATV and a rock buggy. It’s a side-by-side minus one of the sides, a single-seat trail missile with 78 horsepower, all-wheel-drive and 13 inches of ground clearance. In two-wheel-drive mode, it’s a dirt-roosting machine. In four-wheel-drive, we didn’t find terrain mean enough to stop it. It does feel kind of selfish, in that you can’t take anyone along for the ride. Then again, the kids had their own rides.