Electric power steering may be the new technological advancement
Electric power steering may be the new technological advancement in the ATV industry, but Honda claims it has had the technology for almost 20 years. Honda said it attempted to incorporate EPS on ATVs a couple decades ago when the engineering design was more readily available in the automotive field. However, Honda says the market really didn’t need EPS back then, because there were less 4x4 quads 20 years ago, the innovation would have been too costly for such a small displacement machine and it really was not feasible to mass produce it.
Fast forward 20 years and Honda — along with its Japanese competitor Yamaha — has realized 2007 would be a banner year for such an innovation. Honda said the market is now ready for EPS due to larger displacement utility quads with four-wheel drive. Honda also said more recent technological design with EPS in the automotive realm (in particular the Honda/Showa developments) has produced a miniature automotive-like EPS unit designed specifically for ATVs.
Will Honda add EPS to all its 4x4 quads? That time may come, but for the time being Honda selected its high mileage model, the Foreman 500 4x4 ES, as it go-to machine. The Rancher is Honda’s best-selling ute, but Honda said it selected the larger 500 for several reasons. One, it’s a more affordable unit than a 650cc+ machine. Two, it’s Honda’s No. 2 ute and is considered by Honda a value-added quad already. Three, Honda owner surveys say the average Foreman 500 4x4 ES owner logs more than 1,000 miles annually, more than any other Honda quad. These owners also have the most riding experience and average at least 43 years of age. Finally, the Foreman 500 is known for its labor first mentality and EPS is an ideal fit for any chore or farm-related task.
If EPS was needed on any model, the one which travels the most and needs to be the most user friendly seems to be the Foreman 500 4x4 ES.
“When you have a product like electric power steering, you could adapt it to almost any product we make. The Foreman is at a price point, with the addition of a feature like electric power steering, won’t totally adversely affect the price of the unit. It will instill a really good feature value to the machine and enhance its overall appeal, said Jon Row, motorcycle/ATV press department manager.
“I think there’s some excitement in the fact that, as the industry makes products that are easier to fit in their lives and get experience on, there’s a potential for the ATV industry to grow even bigger. We think power streering has the potential [to become a must-have product]. We think the more people try it, they’ll find it’s not just a gee-whiz gadget.”
Honda engineers say electric power steering adds comfort, control, performance and reduces fatigue. All of these positives also combine to create a more attractive machine with a wider appeal. Similar to the Yamaha unit we tested earlier in the year, the Honda EPS was designed to make the rider feel more in control, especially in varying terrain where fatigue and wheel-grabbing obstacles play a part. The device is smart enough to decipher between a square-edge kickback to the wheel and a full-tilt turn in the opposite direction. It does this by acting as a steering stabilizer and instead of sending the kick-back to the rider it continues to add in a full turn and absorb the rough hit.
Adding weight to a modern-day big-bore utility quad may not seem like a benefit, but in this case it is. Why? The improvements in handling, comfort and overall rider enjoyment of the product is vastly improved with EPS. These positives outweigh the additional 15 pounds the EPS parts add to the Foreman. In fact, Honda says the lighter steering effort actually makes the quad feel around 50 pounds lighter, not 15 pounds heavier. We’d have to agree with that statement.
The EPS unit is completely sealed, maintenance free and non-serviceable, said Honda. Mud riders rejoice, Honda said it can be used under water without fear of contamination. However, if a failure occurred, the unit is HDS compatible and can be serviced by a dealer.
The EPS system mounts to the steering stem and uses several components to aid the rider in operation. It offers the rider steering assist only when the key is on and the engine is running. The faster the ATV travels, the less EPS assist provides feedback. Not only does it measure speed, but also handlebar torque input from the rider.
It has a torsion bar, core, sensors, ECU, slider pins, motor, worm gear, nylon ring gear and input and output shaft [see “How It Works” sidebar]. Along with all these parts, Honda says its EPS system added exclusive rubber bushings on either end of the worm gear to reduce free play and chatter.
Honda engineers added 2WD and 4WD maps in the ECU. These were added to reduce the rider feel of resistance. Essentially, with the EPS and maps, the Foreman produces a lighter steering effort and reduced steering angles. This is particularly important at slow speeds in 4x4, but Honda says even 2WD control has been vastly improved.
“Everything is one solid unit developed for an ATV and unique to this system and different from an automobile [application]. Our goal was to offer consistent input [feel] to the rider as they ride the vehicle and we didn’t want to make it too easy,” explained Drey Dircks of Honda R&D in Ohio.
Our test ride was at Honda’s OHV and Environmental Learning Center in Colton, Calif.
This small off-road education center has about 1/3 mile of trails and had enough built-in challenges (sharp turns, rocks, off-cambers, staggered logs) for this initial test.
We rode an older Foreman and the new model with EPS. The direct comparison produced a true difference. Not only did the EPS-equipped Honda have lighter steering effort, we’d say it’s overall handling was superior as well. It seemed to make turns the older unit couldn’t make without scrubbing the surrounding rocks or fauna. In a slow-speed switchback section we tried both models with one-handed operation, as if we were a farmer holding a sprayer in one hand and controlling the throttle with our other. While this chore was manageable with the old Foreman, the new 500 4x4 with EPS made us smile. The steering resistance was so light, we could control the unit with one finger, literally! (Though please don’t try this at home, obviously.)
We purposely found a few square edge bumps and rocks to test the EPS and its effectiveness. The unit absorbed the blows much like the Honda engineers said it would. We still felt the bars naturally pulling in the opposite direction of our turn in the staggered V-shaped log cross. However, where the old front end led to jarring hits and forceful jerks, the EPS Foreman’s front end produced more subtle directional swapping and required far less counter steering from us.
After our first test, we’d say the Foreman 500 4x4 EPS passed with flying colors. It produced a lighter steering effort and better handling ATV that felt lighter than its 600-pound dry weight. Most importantly, the EPS system reduced rider fatigue and meant we could ride longer, and in some cases, harder than we could on the old unit.
Is Honda’s system better than Yamaha’s? Well, we can’t be sure without an in-depth direct comparison. We think the Honda system is more compact. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s superior, though. The important thing with EPS is not product dominance, but rather industry influence. We love products that make ATV riding more enjoyable and both EPS systems do that. It seems as though the shootout isn’t between the two power steering systems, but rather which company selected the correct machine to introduce it to the market. Will consumers want a 700cc unit with EPS or a 500cc 4x4 with power steering? Will they pay extra money for it? Heck, maybe they’ll just want EPS, regardless of price or brand. We’ll find out soon enough.
“Competition is healthy for the marketplace and we don’t have a problem with that,” explained Row. “We think as more people experience the benefit of the feature [EPS], that there will be more demand for that in the marketplace.”
The Foreman 500 4x4 ES EPS will be available in 2007 as a late January or early February release. The EPS will add to the overall cost. Honda has not set the price, but expects it to add about $400 to $500. That would suggest the new Foreman with EPS could retail for a little more than $7,000.