Welcome to the hellish deserts of the American West — an unforgiving expanse once bravely traversed by pioneers and frontiersmen. To this day, surviving these dusty, unpaved roads takes more than steely determination and a sense of direction; it takes a purpose-built off-roader to bolster favorable odds.
V8-powered rock-crawlers run rampant in these parts, but this terrain is known for claiming a suspension arm and a drive shaft or two, no matter how many cylinders are firing at it. So what makes Kawasaki, Polaris and Yamaha think their recreational off-roaders can handle the triple-digit dry heat, tire-shredding shale and 20-foot waves of fiery sediment? Is it the roll cages? An arm’s length of suspension travel? The onboard computers? The beefy, knobby tires?
With a pack of side-by-sides we headed to the Valley of Fire in southern Nevada, gambling machine against nature. We drove these beasts to hell and back — subjecting them to a trial by fire, in the valley named for it.
Driver: Bryan Campbell, Gear Patrol Staff Writer
SxS of choice: Yamaha YXZ1000R SS
Driver: Bradley Hasemeyer, Gear Patrol Contributor
SxS of choice: Polaris RZR XP 1000 EPS
Driver: Rodrigo Cota, Trail Guide, Adrenaline ATV
SxS of choice: Polaris ACE 500
Yamaha YXZ 1000R SS SE
As the only manual-shift side-by-side on the market, the Yamaha YXZ 1000R was a hit with hardcore enthusiasts. The SS model only builds on that success by adding Sport Shift paddle shifters. Out of the machines on this list, the Yamaha is easily the performance driven, lightweight sports car of the group.
Engine: 998cc inline three-cylinder
RZR XP 1000 EPS
Although the RZR could keep up with the Yamaha out in the dunes, the RZR’s Ride Command app, touch screen interface, navigation, connectivity and speaker system brought a welcomed tech focused facet to our off-road outing.
Engine: 999cc twin-cyliner
The Teryx isn’t as low-slung or as sporty as the Yamaha or Polaris, but what it lacks in race-winning cred, it more than makes up for in cargo capacity and utility. The 48 gallons of covered storage the Kawasaki brought along was crucial in hauling our water and food for a full day of riding in the desert — crucial to say the least.
Engine: 783cc V-Twin
Polaris ACE 500
The one person Polaris ACE 500, provided by our host Adrenaline ATV Tours and piloted by our trail guide Rodrigo Cota, may seem like it’s too small to match wits with the 900cc-plus machines at the top of this list, but its small silhouette made it more nimble and agile through the tighter trails.
Engine: 500cc Prostar
VX-Pro4 Helmet by Arai$740
Moto-9 Carbon Flex Helmet by Bell$650
Radar Tracker Gloves by Alpinestars$30
Porkchop MX Moto Goggles by VonZipper$85
Sizzle MX Moto Goggles by VonZipper $55
Beefy MX Moto Goggles by VonZipper$60
Abe Canvas Boots by CAT$152
Graft Boots by CAT$95
Colorado Boots by CAT$120
Roughneck Boots by Red Wing Heritage$270
Mercer Pants by Mott & Bow$108
Crosby Pants by Mott & Bow$96
Wooster Pants by Mott & Bow$118
Fragment Long-Sleeve Tee by Aether$95
Long-Sleeve Slub Henley by Aether$64
Force Extremes Long-Sleeve Shirt by Carhartt$30
A version of this story appears in Issue Three of the Gear Patrol Magazine, 320 pages of stories, reports, interviews and original photography from five distinct locations around the world. Subscribe Now: $39