When More Is Less Is Good

Honda Foreman's Electric Power Steering comes in handy.

After nearly 50 miles of bad roads in the desert, I'm convinced power steering on a mid- to large-size all terrain vehicle is a very worthwhile option!

I was fortunate to get an exclusive (at least for the agricultural press) introduction to the 2007 Honda Foreman EPS (Electric Power Steering) recently in a two-day ride in a California high desert valley where 20 Mule Team Borax became famous. In addition to snaking around on rutted and washboard-like Bureau of Land Management roads, we also rode mine tailing piles and trails around the historic mining town of Randsburg. Throughout, Honda's EPS performed flawlessly, taking the kick-back and bump steer out of rough terrain riding, and taking pity on my left shoulder that still remembers rotator cuff surgery from 6 years ago.

Honda's approach to power steering includes a 15-pound computerized package that actually makes a 475 cc., 600 lb. ATV steer like it weighs about 500 lbs. Outwardly, there's little difference in a Foreman with and without EPS. The EPS model has a decal on the front cowling and a silver-colored bumper...that's it, unless you know where to look up near the base of the handlebars, in front of the cooling fan.

There, you'll find a sealed aluminum housing with a windshield wiper-sized electric motor protruding from it. No hoses, no pumps, no hydraulic lines.

Honda's EPS takes its cues from the driver's manipulation of the handlebars by sensing how far, how fast and how hard the driver is turning. An electromagnetic sensor signals a computer that knows if the ATV is in 2WD or 4WD and how fast it is traveling and compares that with driver input. The computer then signals the electric EPS motor to turn right or left and how fast – which turns a worm gear connected to the vehicle's steering. The result, speed-sensitive power steering that gives you excellent feel of the road, regardless of your speed or terrain.

One of the most tiring parts of riding a large ATV in tough terrain is manhandling the steering through ruts, boulders and logs at slow speeds. EPS solves this.

Another problem with extended rides in rough country is kick-back, or bump steer – the fight you have with rocks and obstructions as they try to take the handlebar away from you. EPS solves this. I pushed the Foreman EPS over a mine tailing field filled with basketball-size and larger rocks with absolutely NO kickback. The same went for piles of railroad cross ties we found along the way out to The Pinnacles (strange calcium carbonate towers) rising up near Searle Lake.

Imagine how well this would work if you were driving, spot-spraying, with one hand on the handlebar and the other with the sprayer. (Come on now, we all know there are times when you're not hanging on with both hands.) Imagine the improvement this would make for those with arthritis or shoulder injuries, or for those who aren't built like lumberjacks.

Honda officials say they were very cautious about adding 15 pounds to the Foreman, and another $400 to the MSRP for EPS. Still, with the driver perception of piloting a lighter vehicle, and the significant improvement in handling, I think it won't be long until the company may be looking at EPS as a standard feature on its larger machines – because the public will demand it.

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