Review: Honda TRX500FM2 ATV

By: Tom Dickson

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The new aggressively styled bodywork provides the rider with improved mud and water protection. The new aggressively styled bodywork provides the rider with improved mud and water protection. The new aggressively styled bodywork provides the rider with improved mud and water protection.
Fingertip control for quick engagement of 4WD and front diff lock. Fingertip control for quick engagement of 4WD and front diff lock. Fingertip control for quick engagement of 4WD and front diff lock.
A seat worthy of a king. A seat worthy of a king. A seat worthy of a king.

Tom Dickson tries out a Honda TRX500FM2 ATV for size and says it’s a powerful and comfortable quad bike he’d love to have on the farm.


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The TRX500FM2, the latest all-terrain vehicle (ATV) in Honda’s TRX line-up, includes all the best features of the previous model – the TRX500FPM – and adds a few new ones to improve the overall riding experience.

The new model quad bike includes new ECU mapping of the electric power steering system for reduced driver effort during low-speed turning, and generally improves manoeuvrability.

A completely new double cradle steel frame gives longer suspension travel, increased strength and a reduction in overall weight.

An electronically engaging front diff lock has been added to the selectable 4WD drive system, and the maximum weight capacity of the new FM2 model has been increased by 30kg to 250kg.

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The single-cylinder, four-stroke engine is mounted into the frame in a longitudinal direction, allowing direct drive shaft alignment to the front and rear wheels.

This minimises drive-line friction and maximises power transfer to the wheels.

Honda’s new line-up in the hugely competitive ATV market has a much more streamlined appearance.

Each of the body mouldings – which include a clip-on one-piece fuel tank and side cover – have longer, straighter lines with sharper corners to create a more aggressive look.

Apart from the styling and the mechanical upgrades, not a lot has changed – and why would it?

The superseded model was a fantastic all-round farm bike that helped maintain Honda’s position as the highest-selling ATV brand in Australia since 2004, when official sales figures started being recorded.

It has everything that I look for when buying a good all-round farm bike: a good-sized engine; manual transmission; direct shaft drive; power steering; both two- and four-wheel drive; and, while performance is the top priority, as a bonus  it looks great as well.

It fits perfectly in the back of a 6X4 trailer for transportation, which is a real bonus because you can then attach the trailer to the ATV when you get to where you’re going.

The Honda TRX500FM2 ATV has plenty of power and traction to handle the weight of a 6x4 trailer.

Engine

The Honda TRX500FM2 ATV’s 475cc liquid-cooled engine is a real performer.

It has fuel injection, which would account for the incredible amount of power it generates from either a standing start or on the go.

I immediately noticed there is no lag between pushing on the throttle and the motor responding.

That’s the sort of acceleration I’m looking for when a cow breaks from the mob and a quick responding engine is crucial to heading her off and returning her to the herd.

Take a firm grip on the handle bars when you give it a full dose of throttle, or you may risk getting left behind. The acceleration really is that impressive.

A 12V electric starter motor also has the backup of a manual pull start. There is no decompression switch, so it can give the occasional kick back when pulling on the cord.
Manual transmission

The whole driveline design is exactly how I like my bikes set up. I prefer the five-speed manual transmission because,  unlike automatic types, it allows the rider to maintain a constant speed without having to continually change the revs.

In fact, in first gear I only have to slightly rev the engine to crawl along at a very slow speed. The direct shaft drive eliminates any lag in response that can sometimes be experienced with belt-drive machines.

The five forward and one reverse gear are operated by a lever on the left-foot peg. This means the rider can keep both hands on the handlebars at all times, as opposed to
auto transmission types where hand levers have to be moved to select forward and reverse direction, as well as high and low range.

Finding reverse on the Honda requires a trigger to be pulled on the left-hand brake lever.

Initiating 4WD and diff lock comes from two buttons on the right-hand grip. The
diff lock thumb switch will only engage when the 4WD button is depressed, and should only be engaged when the bike is stationary to avoid damage to the mechanism.

The independent double wishbone front suspension delivers 185mm of travel.

Nice rear

What is interesting is that my first comment to Wayne Grayson, sales manager at Roe Motorcycle and Mower in Warrnambool, is that from behind it looks almost identical to the TRX 350 that I had owned 10 years earlier.

He agrees, saying "the design has been retained because it has performed so well over the years".

The TRX500FM2 has a single rigid rear axle connecting to the frame on a swing arm with single shocker.

It may not provide a ride as comfortable as ATVs with independent rear suspension, but I think it makes it easier to throw the bike around when the need arises for hard riding, especially when dealing with uncooperative cattle.

Sharp turns require a transfer of the rider’s body weight to get the inside wheel to break traction.

Once this occurs, the tail end of the bike can be thrown around very effectively, especially when you’re hot on the heels of an animal that would rather go in the opposite direction to the one you want it to.

To be honest, if I were buying an ATV for the purpose of  stock work, this is the one I would get.

Sceptics will say the ATVs that don’t have a rear axle differential are much heavier in the steering, especially at low speeds. I completely agree, having experienced the bulldozing effect and muscle fatigue in my arms and chest after a long day on my older Hondas – but power steering on this new line-up completely negates this issue and, in fact, I found I could easily steer at loW speeds with just my fingertips. 

I will concede, though, that if the majority of your work is spent on hard paved surfaces, then an ATV with a rear differential would be a better way to go. Steering will be much easier and there will be a huge reduction in tyre wear.


Comfort

Not paying particular attention to the seating position and overall comfort of the ATV can come back and, literally, bite you in the bum. I didn’t bash my knee on any oversized rear carry racks, so we were off to a good start on this test.

The handlebars sit at a nice height, and the full engine cover will deflect engine heat away from the rider during summer. It’s just a thought, but why not have vents in the engine cover that could be opened in colder weather to actually direct engine heat onto the rider?

The two front headlights are complemented by a third that is mounted on the handlebars. The latter tends to illuminate your path during a turn ahead of the front-mounted lights.

As for the seat, it is the most comfortable that I have experienced on an ATV. It is well-contoured to prevent pressure points, and the cushioning feels fantastic. The comfortable seat and positioning will negate the effects of a minimalistic rear axle suspension setup.

I have experienced the pain caused from long hours spent mustering sheep and cattle, even resorting to sitting or kneeling on the seat, or standing on the foot pegs for a while to relieve the pain in my rump.

An uncomfortable ride can quickly turn a pleasant trip into an absolute nightmare.

The TRX500FM2 has full-length under-body protection.

Performance

With the 6X4 trailer attached I put the Honda TRX500FM2 ATV to the test on some extremely steep hills, gullies and creek banks on Neil and Dell Hammond’s picturesque property overlooking the Merri River, just outside of Warrnambool.

While hitching up the trailer, I noticed that the tow ball is mounted well under the bike, close to the rear axle. It means you have to reach further under to attach things, but on a positive note it keeps the drawbar weight closer to the rear axle, which helps prevent the bike from rearing up.

The Honda has heaps of power to pull a trailer on the flat, but on the day of the test we had a bit of rain and the ground was a bit greasy, so I wasn’t sure how it would go controlling the extra weight on the hills.

The manual transmission proved a valuable asset going down hills. I put it in first gear and engaged 4WD for the descent. I crawled slowly down without even touching the brakes, just relying on engine braking.

Using the engine  rather than the brakes greatly reduces the risk of the wheels locking up and losing control.

Turning around and heading back up caused a bit of anxiety because I didn’t want to get halfway up the steep climb with a trailer on the back and suddenly find myself running out of grip and rolling out of control backwards. I needn’t have worried.

With the added grip that the four-wheel drive provided, the ATV easily scaled the hill in second gear using medium revs without any sign of losing traction.

The bottom line

The TRX500FM2’s power, manoeuvrability and speed are great features for operation on larger sheep, cattle, dairy and cropping operations. It’s also proven to be a valuable piece
of machinery on smaller lifestyle and hobby farms as well.

The ATV and trailer combination is more than up to collecting wood, feeding hay to horses, and pulling small spray equipment at a fraction of the cost of a ute or small tractor – and a lot more fun.

It’s powerful, comfortable, easy to control and virtually maintenance-free due to its simple but proven design. And it’s well protected by a bash plate that runs the length of the undercarriage and guards under the front steering and suspension assembly.

The price of a new TRX500FM2 is around $12,699 including GST, and a three-year warranty. It’s fair to say that the price is at the dearer end compared to other ATVs on the market, but I believe you get what you pay for.

I know from first-hand experience that with a bit of common-sense maintenance and servicing, a Honda will return years of trouble-free riding. Both of mine each did about 60,000km before being traded in.

Put simply, I can’t rate the Honda TRX500FM2 ATV highly enough. My gut feeling is that it’s fantastic value for money, and I would not hesitate in recommending it to anyone looking to buy ATV in this size range.

 

HITS

  • Power steering
  • Shaft drive
  • Manual transmission
  • Comfortable seat
  • 4WD with front diff lock

 

MISSES

  • None to speak of

 

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