The new Honda 420FM is a small machine packed into a large ATV’s body. First impressions of it might leave the rider thinking the under-500cc machine will be underpowered, but much to the contrary, the 420 motor and attached transmission give the bike ample power.
This power band is capable thanks to a super-heavy-duty automatic clutch and ultra-low first gear. The low-rpm engagement allows for excellent driving capability and towing power.
On the back trails surrounding the Sacacomie resort in isolated northern Quebec, I got a chance to work with this transmission in some fairly adverse conditions. The morning in late November was cold, foggy, and rainy, making the trails slick and offering the occasional snow and ice patch to navigate.
The transmission had a full automatic setting and manual selection mode. I found that the gearing on the 420 was set up for fairly long gears and this got a bit annoying in some of the longer hills in the Sacacomie back country. While running at a higher RPM, the machine has difficulty up-shifting. The rider needs to back off on the throttle and allow the machine to shift before getting back into the throttle.
Aside from this minor power band issue, the transmission makes the 420 feel like a 500. This is thanks in part to the longitudinally-mounted design which eliminates 90-degree power transfer and boasts exceptional horsepower and torque. The motor is a liquid-cooled single-cylinder four-stroke design with fuel-injection.
In overall ride, the 420 feels like a 500 insomuch as it matches a 500’s size specifications. The 420 has a length of 2,055 mm and width of 1,172 mm which is comparable with most 500cc models in the same category.
Sitting at a height of 165 mm, the 420 was easily able to navigate some of the rougher terrain in the Sacacomie Forest. Riding solely on glacial rock faces for several hours gave me an excellent chance to work the suspension on the machine.
The front suspension features an independent double-wishbone set up with hydraulic shocks that allow for 160 mm of travel. In the rear you’ve got a swingarm design with a single hydraulic shock which also allows for 160 mm of travel.
The travel and overall softness in the suspension gave the 420 a very “light” feeling in terms of handling. This is also thanks in no small part to the machine’s curb weight of 266 kg which includes fuel and fluids. The lightweight manoeuvrability of the machine lessened rider fatigue on our day-long trail ride, even in the adverse conditions.
Around noon on that grey day, the skies decided to open up with a 20-minute torrential downpour. After it cleared up and we all dried off a bit, we set back out on the now extremely muddy and slippery trails.
In one particular section, we got into some mud around 20 cm deep. The 420’s direct front and rear drive shafts with torque-sensing differentials in the front and rear helped the four-wheel drive system haul us through the mud without getting stuck. We did manage to get a bike stuck in the mud on a subsequent trip through the hole while attempting to take pictures, though. We were all blessing our luck at the light weight of the machine that time, as we had to manually remove the bike from the hole!
Another major effect of the rain was to make the rocky sections of the trail supremely slick. The nimble handling of the 420 and overall rider ergonomics made handling these sections a little less treacherous. While crossing the top of a narrow beaver dam (long since integrated into the trail and abandoned by the beavers, I was later told), I got a real sense of the handling capabilities of this bike. White knuckled on the handle bars thanks to the four-foot plunge into frigid waters on either side, I slowly yet confidently made my way across the top of the dam.
Speaking of water (one of the largest adversaries facing ATV riders), we had plenty of puddles and the like to go crashing around in that afternoon. One particular spot, though, was deep enough to bring the water level up to just below the seat line of the 420. The snorkel-type air intake system is specially designed to resist water and is located at the highest point under the seat just behind the 13.3L fuel tank. Rule of thumb for riders: if your butt’s soaked, your engine’s about to choke.
Under that same thickly-padded comfortable seat you will find a large storage space which can be accessed even when the racks are loaded. The rear rack has a weight capacity rating of 60 kg while the front can hold only 30 kg. This is plenty of payload for this machine, whose application is intended for cottagers and farmers. In this respect, the 420 also has a towing rating of 385 kg which is not very large but should be enough for most small trailers and recreational type towing.
Mud, mud, and more mud. That was the feeling we all had during the afternoon portion of our ride. The large flared fenders offer excellent protection for the rider from flying clumps of mud. Adversely, the rider behind you had better keep well back as we found the 420 throws a lot of mud straight back.
Overall, the 420 provides the feeling, power, and performance of a 500 with a smaller more fuel-efficient package. To this end, the 420 would make a great machine for first-time buyers or riders, or a welcome addition to any cottager’s tool kit.