When Honda released this 400 (then called an EX), we raced it in the 1998 Baja 1000
and won. It’s had several improvements since then and is still one of our favorites.
Standard dual A-arms on the front of
this Honda provide 8. 2 inches of travel.
Preload is adjustable, but not compression or rebound. The fully adjustable
shocks off of the TRX450R do fit on this
model and help it out a ton.
nected to a straight axle through ris-ing-rate linkage and provides 9.1 inches of travel. The frame is steel, and it
has three hydraulic disc brakes to slow
things down. The front and rear brakes
are controlled independently by hand
and foot levers. If all this sounds ordinary for a sport quad, there’s a reason
for that; the Honda 400 was the prototype for all that followed.
Here’s an interesting note: dirt in
2013 is pretty much the same as dirt in
1999. The Honda 400 still thrives on it.
As we often point out, great handling
with so-so power is much better than
so-so handling and great power. We
said that in the Yamaha Raptor 250
and Raptor 125 tests, and the same
holds true here. The power, of course,
is significantly greater than either of
those quads, but it’s not so much that
the 400 is hard to handle. Just the
opposite is true. The 400X produces
great torque down low, and that
makes it an easy quad to ride.
Smaller bikes require more mental
work to ride at an aggressive pace.
Between the shifting and the clutch
work, you’re always busy. More pow-
erful quads, on the other hand, take a
physical toll. Your upper body gets
worked, your hands get tired, and
you might even get “thumb pump.”
Does that mean the Honda is slow?
No. In fact, low-rpm roll-on response is
comparable to a modern 450. But in the
middle rpm range, the gap widens.
And on top, the 400X seems to just give
up and go home, where a 450 is just
getting serious. If you ride in sand or
climb hills, the difference is huge. Even
the Suzuki 400, which is the Honda’s
closest competition, makes more
power and revs higher. But on hard-
packed dirt and fire roads, it’s really
not that big a deal. The 400X was
never designed to go racing, and
aside from a few early Baja runs, it
was pretty much ignored by racers. Of
course, there are dozens of big-bore
kits and hop-up items for the X. When
a quad has been around for 14 years,
there’s no shortage of performance
know-how in the aftermarket. The most
common hop-up is an exhaust system.
DG makes one of the most affordable
slip-ons available (starting at $180), but
there are also full systems from FMF
and Trinity. With any exhaust modification, you should be aware of several
things. First, it makes the quad noncompliant with EPA and CARB regulations and might affect the machine’s
eligibility for an off-road sticker in your
state. Second, the quad will be louder.
And third, most of the power gain will
be unrealized until you make other
modifications. The intake on the Honda
is very restrictive, so opening up the
airbox will allow the engine to inhale
as efficiently as it exhales. That, in turn,
will create the need for richer jetting.
The great thing about a good old-fash-ion carb is that jets are much cheaper
than EFI tuners. If the pipe manufacturer has jetting recommendations,
they can be had for a few dollars at
most dealers. If not, then JD Jetting and
Dynojet offer kits.
Beyond pipe and intake modifications, horsepower increases for the
400 become progressively more
expensive. There are several 440 kits
available from companies like L.A.
Sleeve and Trinity, but eventually you
start running into clutch trouble—it
was never designed to deal with
massive output. And remember, you
only have a $1500 gap to most 450s.
The 400 works pretty well as a 400.
TWISTS AND TURNS
We still feel that in the world of performance quads, it’s hard to do much
better than the Honda 400X. It was
designed for trail riding, which
means it has to fit on sections that
were made by motorcycles. The
400X’s 45.5-inch width really pays off
in some areas. It’s only a half-inch
narrower than some trail-oriented
450s, but that half-inch can mean a
lot. There’s nothing fun about catching a stump that you thought you
could clear with the front wheels and
having the bars ripped from your
hands. The 400 is agile and steers
lightly. The narrow stance is also beneficial in ruts, because it’s less likely to
hang up and can be better in whoops
because of greater side-to-side stability. The Honda X remains a great
machine for big, rolling sand
whoops. In the early days of development, much testing was done in the
rough terrain of the SCORE Baja 1000
racecourse, and it shows. The suspension might not be as sophisticated
or have the travel of modern-era
bikes, but it holds its own on the trail.
In cornering, too, the Honda holds
its own when compared with other
trail-width quads. The steering is