Each year, companies put gigantic amounts of time, energy and money into developing goodies that riders and racers will just have to buy. From hard parts and helmets to tools and tires, no stone is left unturned when it comes to developing a better, stronger or more cost-effective product to meet a market’s needs. Because of this, innovation is everywhere and riders have an enormous range of options for any given product category.This year saw several new innovations and ideas, many of which focused on achieving a lighter weight, higher strength and lower price than last year’s goodies. And while you, the target customer and core of the industry, were trying to decide which of these companies deserved your hard-earned dough the most, Dirt Rider was busy testing everything we could get our hands on in an effort to bring you the straight scoop on how it all performs. After hundreds of hours and thousands of miles of rigorous testing, here’s our take on the most durable, innovative and high-performing products of 2011.
Product Of The Year: Lithium Ion Batteries
Shorai Motorcycle Battery: $109–$154
www.shoraipower.comOK, a battery is a battery, and how can a battery be such a big deal? Well, for starters, you have to pick one of these babies up; yes, light like you can’t believe! (Sorry, you’ll have to wait till you can do this on your own to get a true feel for it.) On most dirt bikes, the weight reduction is easily three pounds and often more, depending on the specific battery you choose. These are high-placed and handling-effecting pounds, we might add. Yet while lightweight lithium batteries are nothing new, only recently have they become ready for prime time. Early versions could not be charged by the motorcycle’s charging system, were made from less stable concoctions of lithium, packaged poorly and, worst of all, semi-explosive. Now, companies like Shorai and Super B have better packaging, internal circuitry and safe and stable lithium blends that produce plenty of power to crank over your starter and run your lights—all with a longer expected life span and a much better resistance to discharging when not in use. All this at a cost that is only 30 to 100 percent higher priced than a standard lead-acid battery. You cannot lose weight any cheaper than this even at the higher price levels.Are there any drawbacks? Sure, lithium ion batteries don’t like to be stored in a discharged state and will not work with chargers that have desulfate cycles (or poorly regulated motorcycle charging systems) since they cannot withstand charging at over 14.4 volts. Yet with so many dirt bikes being battery equipped, this is an easy pick for Product Of The Year based on performance and mostly weight loss.
First Runner-Up: Moto Tassinari Intake Systems
Air4orce: $298; VForce4: $148
www.mototassinari.comIf you think sucking up is the path to a Product Of The Year award, then you might be mistaken. Unless you double it up like Moto Tassinari, on both two-stroke and four-stroke fronts. With the introduction of the Air4orce tunable intake system and the new VForce4 reed valve for the two-strokes, we couldn’t decide between them, so we chose them both. The swappable velocity stacks that fit inside of the company’s replacement airbox boot can tune your four-stroke’s power for better performance on the low-end and midrange with a longer velocity stack or for more top-end pull via a shorter stack installed. (Custom-tuned stacks, for specific modification setups, may be available as needed, for a price.) It is noticeable, and as much as it helps the part of the power you’re aiming for, it doesn’t hurt the part it isn’t supposed to affect. A win-win. And the new VForce4 incorporates longer reed stops, larger petals and better flow in the two-stroke department. Yes, you can really feel it, and that is even compared to the VForce3, which in itself is an improvement over stock (if it doesn’t already come stock!). Longer powerbands on a two-stroke are always welcomed; more power is just a bonus. These are two of the best ways to blow money on your dirt bike.
Second Runner-Up: Trail Tech Voyager
Voyager Kit: $279.95
www.trailtech.netAs the first off-road motorcycle-specific GPS unit to hit the market, the Trail Tech Voyager sets the bar impressively high as far as on-board satellite navigation for dirt bikes is concerned. This easy-to-install, simple-to-use setup is powered by your bike’s ignition source and includes GPS data in the form of speed, distance, compass heading tracking, waypoints and altitude along with engine temperature. Screen navigation is instinctual, and a gamut of customizable features make the Voyager a dirt-geek’s dream; add in the exceptional durability of the unit and you’ve got yourself a winner. Moreover, Trail Tech’s www.OHVtrails.net website provides a place for users to upload their favorite routes and share them with other responsible off-roaders. Of course, we’d be remiss not to mention the superhero-like reminder that with great power (or, in this case, a great GPS) comes great responsibility. The Voyager is not to be used to map illegal trails or provide irresponsible riders with an easy way of finding new trails to thrash. But when its powers are used for good, the Trail Tech Voyager is one of the most innovative and well-thought-out products we’ve seen this year, and the fact that it isn’t a total budget blaster only confirms that the Voyager belongs on the POTY podium.
Rekluse EXP Auto Clutch: $399
www.rekluse.comThe concept of the auto clutch is not particularly new, but for 2011 Rekluse finally took this product to the next level with its revolutionary EXP unit. Relatively easy to install and constructed of burly 7075 aluminum for maximum durability, the EXP finally allows anti-stall and auto clutch technology to be had at an affordable price by pairing the EXP assembly with a bike’s stock clutch components. We’ve worked over these units in several of our test bikes and continue to be impressed with the Rekluse’s adjustability, strength and overall feel, and the company has done an excellent job with customer service via its online install videos and trackside support for the EXP 2.0 technology. Moreover, this product is helping to legitimize automatic clutches as an effective, commonsense modification for both off-road and motocross riders. As a result, the Rekluse EXP is a natural fit for a Product Of The Year mention.Tools
Motion Pro Multi-Valve Tool: $112.99
www.motionpro.comIf you have ever fumbled around with installing valve keepers on a head rebuild, then you can appreciate something that is a little bit magic by making a difficult job easy. Instead of using a funny contraption or needing the help of a friend, not to mention the possibility of damaging parts by doing it wrong, this Motion Pro tool is basically like cheating. Set the keepers in the retainer atop the valvespring, then push down. Click! Your valve is in place. It makes valve replacement, something that should be a lot more common and part of scheduled maintenance, possible for the average man.Product Evolution
GoPro HD Hero Camera And Accessories: $299.99 And $49.99 To $99.99
www.gopro.comHelmet cams have come a long way in the last few years, and one company that’s kept on the cutting edge of capturing your hero moments is GoPro. The little square helmet-top boxes gained popularity with riders because they were fun and they worked. Those first units had narrow-view lenses, so without some careful setup you often came back from a ride with an hour of footage of… your foot! Then GoPro brought out the moto-friendly wide-angle lens, followed by the HD camera with an internal, rechargeable battery and a “Hero Port” for modular additions of an extended battery (double your fun), an LED screen for instant playback and even a kit for syncing two cameras together for some outstanding 3D playback. For continuing to improve on a good thing, GoPro takes the award.Gear
Leatt GPX Pro: $695
www.leatt-brace.comNeck protection is no new concept by any means. The doughnut has graced the top of the chest protector or the bottom of your helmet via zip-ties but was never really proven to do much in protecting you. The Leatt-Brace hit the market in 2006 and literally exploded in popularity. Like just about everyone else, I jumped on the bandwagon and began wearing this convincing product. In 2011, the superlight material carbon fiber found its way into the Leatt laboratory and out popped a brand-new brace with a Kevlar-reinforced carbon-fiber Matrix chassis weighing in at only 600 grams. I never noticed the traditional GPX Club to be heavy, but after wearing the new carbon-fiber GPX Pro, I don’t know how I’ll ever go back. Not to mention it has stylish new venting, easily removable hook-and-looped free padding and spring-loaded, quick-release, red-anodized aluminum buckles.Liquid Products
Slick Offroad Wash: $5.99 per 6 oz Slick Super Concentrate
www.slickoffroad.comWith as much time and energy as we riders put into getting our bikes dirty, it’s a wonder that we don’t put more effort into getting them cleaned up. Realizing that most enthusiasts take a hose-and-sponge approach to cleanup, Slick Offroad Wash has developed an extremely easy solution by way of its six-ounce Slick Super Concentrate, which can be used to create one gallon of biodegradable, soapy goodness. Easy on plastics and delicate components but extremely effective against even the most clingy strains of dirt, Slick has been our bike wash of choice for some time now due to its ease of use and effectiveness against dirt, mud and muck. And with several high-profile teams including Mitch Payton’s Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki squad endorsing Slick as their clean-up solution, you know that this is good stuff.Tires
Maxxis EN 7313/ 7314 Knobbies: About $113 and $133, check with your local dealer
www.maxxis.comMaxxis introduced a new tire this year, and we were pretty impressed. Leaving off just a little of that legendary Maxxis durability in favor of a lot more performance, they struck a sweet spot to us. The EN is a tire that works on all types of terrain without any single terrain drawbacks and still wears as well as, if not better than, the other high-performance tires. Available only in 18-inch rear in 120 and 140 sizes, plus a 90/90-21, they are definitely worth a try if you are searching all over the place and on all kinds of dirt for off-road traction.DVD Video Game
THQ MX vs. ATV Alive: $39.99
www.mxvsatv.comThe current version of the MX video game from THQ may just be the last—at least for a while. What used to be a pretty popular video-game segment has been dominated by the guys from what used to be Rainbow Studios ever since Motocross Madness on the PC, which was developed by Rainbow Studios and released by Microsoft way back in 1998. As the series evolved, it eventually headed to console video gaming, was rebranded MX vs. ATV, and we have seen four incarnations of the game under that branding—Unleashed, Untamed, Reflex and the current version, Alive. By most accounts, as it should be, Alive is the best in the series so far; it allows bar-banging action, the online play is great, and it’s the cheapest. At only $39.99, THQ is letting people buy add-on stuff online, so you can pick what you want in your game and what you don’t. The tracks are cool, the deterioration of the dirt (and development of lines) during the races is awesome, and bike controls are fluid and pretty realistic. But you may want to go out and buy it now, because the latest news is that THQ laid off a bunch of people, including a big chunk of the people at the MX development studio in Phoenix, so this may be the final game in this franchise, and it may not be available for very long. But it’s definitely worthy of a POTY nod in the DVD/Video Game category.