2001 Honda Foreman Rubicon

Oct. 01, 2001 By The Dave
This month we have the pleasure of presenting the FourTrax Foreman Rubicon by Honda. I know that the 4x4 crowd out there has been waiting for the Rubicon for some time now, well you will not have to wait much longer.

I have seen one with my own eyes and it's the real deal.

Honda's Guest of Honor, the 2001 Rubicon
My senior editor and I were invited by Honda to their press release for the Rubicon so we were one of the first to get a chance to put the big red 4x4 to the test!

So come along and I will tell you the story of how we got there, what we saw, how it works, and what it is like to ride. It all started innocently enough. I was at my desk doing my "real" job when the phone rings. When I see Mr. Dune on the caller I.D. I know things are going to get interesting (those of you who know Mr. Dune fully understand what I am talking about!).

"Hey Dave, I told Honda you would be available to attend their press release for their new monster 4x4. Call Jessie Carrara at Honda, she will have all the details. It's in about two weeks, thanks!", Click..... Dune.....Dune you there??

With the ball fully in my court, I contacted Jessie as instructed and was sure glad I did. She had all the details, the least of which was that this was all happening right in my back yard, well almost. The Lake Arrowhead Location is just a quick, 4 hour drive from the Bat Cave in Las Vegas! All I had to do is rope somebody into going with me.

Lake Arrowhead was the perfect place to test a 4x4 quad.

Enter my senior editor, ATV side kick, and at least for this trip, action photographer Dean Waters. DW was the perfect choice for this mission and getting him to drive his new Tahoe was just icing on the cake. The day was finally upon us and we packed our trash and headed out.

It was a nice spring day in Las Vegas and the temps were in the low 90's. Everything was in place for a perfect trip right up to the point when we left the Las Vegas valley an ran straight into Mother Nature in all her glory. Winds big time! It blew worse than a trip to the DMV. Once we cleared the wind we got rain and fog.

As we made our way up to Arrowhead rain turned to snow. Snow as in blizzard, farging cold, wet and miserable. I knew I was in for an extreme riding experience as all I packed was a wind breaker and my riding gear. Heck, how bad could it be? Besides, all of the days' events were indoors and surely the weather would blow out by tomorrow.

Honda had arranged a press dinner with their new "Foreman Rubicon" as the guest of honor. Unlike most of the UFO sightings in the high desert I saw it with my own eyes and have pictures to prove it. The first thing that struck me was how big it is. Actually, huge is a better description and it gives you the impression that no job is too big to handle. Standing 47 inches tall, 81.6 inches long and 46.6 inches wide this machine demands attention. Weighing in at 600 pounds dry the Rubicon is no light weight..

The Rubicon is available in Honda red or olive green.
Honda claims that they have worked hard to keep the weight down and the trick large diameter 12-inch aluminum wheels are just one result of this effort. More for less as it were. This machine has such rugged good looks that even a Dune Head like me would consider owning one!

When Honda says it is all new they aren't kidding. The all new Liquid-cooled overhead valve single cylinder 499cc four stroke engine was designed from the ground up for the Rubicon. This is the first production water cooled ATV engine ever and will no doubt be the grandfather of things to come. Employing an "underhead camshaft" located just below the cylinder head to reduce engine height.

Together with an external (but integral) oil tank arrangement the engine height is further reduced resulting in a lower center of gravity and improved handling. The all new cylinder head design uses a four valve arrangement.

This is the new water-cooled 499cc four cycle engine.
Two 28mm intake and two 26mm exhaust valves handle the movement of gasses through the engine. The intake and exhaust valves are operated by a forked rocker arm arrangement and the underhead cam transmits its' movements to the rockers via a pair of very short 77mm pushrods.

The shorter pushrods take less energy to operate and allow the engine to rev higher and are an example of how the Honda engineers thought about every detail of this new engine. Because the engine uses the same oil as the hydraulic transmission a three rotor oil pump is employed to move the life blood through the engine.

Two of the rotors are for scavenge duties and one rotor for pressure delivery to the engine components. The all new Hondamatic transmission has its own pumps, more on that in a minute. The engine is mounted in the frame longitudinally allowing direct drive-shaft alignment to both the front and rear wheels. An all new 33.5mm constant velocity carburetor has a fuel heater built right into its' float bowl giving superior

This view shows the water cooled head and valves.
performance on cold winter days (I can personally attest to this as it was snowing during our test ride).

A powerful 330-watt AC generator handles the electrical duties and tends to the 12-amp-hour maintenance free battery. A solid state DC capacitive discharge ignition (CDI) with electronic advance provides the Rubicon's heart beat. The high capacity coolant radiator and the flat shaped electric cooling fan keep the temperatures under control.

As a matter of interesting fact the cooling fan can move 400 cubic meters of air per hour. Like the modern automobile, all of the engines many life functions are controlled by an array of sensors and probes allowing the rider to do what he or she does best...Ride. Now for the really innovative part, as if a whole newly designed engine weren't enough!

The Hondamatic transmission in all its glory!
The patented Hondamatic transmission is a giant leap forward in automatic transmission designs. No belts or pulleys are used to drive the machine, only hydraulic pressure. Because a liquid cannot be compressed it is the perfect way to transfer energy and the hydraulic principal works so well that every commercial airliner flying today uses hydraulics to operate many of the aircraft systems.

As a matter of fact the Hondamatic transmission works like the hydraulic pump / hydraulic motor combinations that drive the flap systems on airliners. Although the Hondamatic transmission is way more complicated than the aforementioned aircraft systems, its' theory of operation is basically the same. An engine driven hydraulic pump creates pressure which in turn rotates a hydraulic motor.

This hydraulic motor in turn drives the sub-transmission and ultimately the drive wheels. The engine driven pump is of the piston pump design (7 pistons) and its displaced volume is RPM dependant. The drive side hydraulic motor is also of the piston type (9 pistons) and its volume is constantly variable through the use of a moveable

This cut-a-way shows the electric shift motor
jack screw (left) and the sub trans (right).

As engine RPM is increased so is the volume, and consequently the pressure, being produced by the engine driven pump. This volume/pressure is ported to the drive side hydraulic motor and depending on the position of the swashplate turns the output shaft at a given RPM.

As you can see there is no mechanical connection between the engine and transmission, the connection is hydraulic. Because this system is so complicated (yet simple) I will completely describe its inner workings at a later date, when I can dedicate my entire column to it. Controlling the Rubicon's Hondamatic transmission is very easy but took some time to get used to. I was used to a sport model(400ex) that uses a clutch and shifter.

The Rubicon has none of these items so grabbing the lever on the left side of the bars results in you stopping (right now!) rather than operating the clutch. Once I got used to the transmission doing all the shifting I was fine. "So, just

The LCD console and other various controls.
how do you control the transmission", you ask? Mounted on the "dash" is the control knob that allows the rider to select one of three electronic shifting programs.

D1 for max perForemance, D2 for max torque and ESP. When the rider has selected one of the auto drive modes (D1 or D2) the transmission operates in the fully automatic mode and selects the proper "gear" for the given circumstance. All the rider has to do is control the throttle and the rest just happens. The Rubicon also has a large "control box" mounted on the left side of the handle bars.

This control box is used to control the transmission manually. It has two push buttons to control the transmission in a pseudo manual mode via Honda's exclusive Electric Shift Program or ESP. In this mode the rider can select whatever gear he or she wants at will. The Rubicon also has a "dash" mounted shift lever or knob that controls the sub-transmission. The knob has four positions: neutral, drive, low, and reverse.

The quad will only start when this lever is in the neutral position and selecting either of the drive modes as well as reverse is a cinch. Just move the lever to the desired drive mode and you are ready to go. This includes reverse! No levers to pull, buttons to push or pedals to stomp, just put it in "R" and back the truck up! Piece of cheese.

The Rubicon handled the steep trails with ease!
Mounted above the tank area is a multi-function LCD display. Giving the rider a multitude of information this water proof display has readouts for the Hondamatic transmission modes, the gear selector position, speedometer, odometer, resettable tripmeter, and an hourmeter/clock. It also sports LED lights for reverse, neutral, and a temperature indicator.

A waterproof accessory socket serves up 12 volts for rider provided accessories. I am thinking that the information gained from a GPS unit (powered from the accessory port) and the built in LCD display would be very useful in keeping you from getting lost in the back country. The Rubicon also has a built in fuel gauge to keep track of the go juice. Speaking of fuel, the Rubicon has a 3.7 gallon fuel cell with a 1 gallon reserve.

With 10 inches of ground clearance and 6.7 inches of suspension travel both front and rear, the Rubicon is ready to take on whatever the trail throws its way. The independent double-wishbone front suspension uses premium shock absorbers to keep the big quad pointed in the right direction while the rear swingarm has a pair of shocks all its own.

Four shocks total guarantee a smooth and predictable ride. Adding to rider comfort is a form-fitted thickly padded seat. Stopping duties are assigned to a pair of triple-sealed hydraulic drum brakes up front and a sealed single mechanical drum in the rear.

The Rubicon's new torque sensing differential.
Having full-time four wheel drive can be a workout on the arms but with Honda's unique torque-sensing, limited-slip front diff, superior traction is gained and torque steering is greatly reduced, resulting in a "light on the bars" feel.

As mentioned before the Rubicon comes standard with trick-looking 12 inch aluminum wheels shod with 25x8-12 tires in the front and 25x18-12 tires in the rear. These large diameter tires provide additional ground clearance while maintaining excellent handling characteristics.

The fairings and floorboards are outstanding.
The foot pegs are raised above the floorboards
to allow the rider to shift his weight.
Brush guards, front and rear racks, a full set of fairings, triple skidplates, and a giant USDA qualified spark arrestor/muffler round out the package, and the fit and finish on these items is excellent. There is even a ball hitch mount on the rear axle for towing duties.

Twin 30-watt halogen headlights, along with a third headlight mounted on the bars, shed all the light you might need to find your way in the dark of night. A pair of 5-watt tail lights mark your position so your buddies can avoid driving over you (never a good thing). So with the basic description out of the way (I am sure that something was left out, but hey I am only one guy...) let's move on to the test ride.

Like I stated earlier, it was snowing/raining on the day of our arrival. Because the ride was the following day, I was hoping that the weather would clear, or at the very least stop snowing. After beating the alarm clock to death with the telephone receiver, I staggered over to

Lined up and ready to go.
Burrrr, I hate snow!
my window to see what the weather was like, and much to my surprise (not!) it was... yes, you guessed it...snowing!

Not one to run from a challenge, I sucked it up, put on three of my warmest T-shirts and made my way to the meeting place. After a good breakfast, we headed down to the Forest Service shack where the test Rubicons were stabled.

Receiving some pre-ride instruction on how to operate the Rubicon and a brief description of the trails we were going to ride, some trail maps were handed out, guides assigned and things got underway. Did I mention the snow? Our group was the first to head out and the trails were straight up right from the get-go. With about 30 seconds of "getting used to it" time, our group moved right into full-on 4x4 mode.

The trails were covered in two plus feet of snow and very steep going from up hill to down hill and back again. As I am

Bouncin' down the trail!
used to being on extremely steep dunes the sharp angles of the trails did not bother me.

What did bother me is the trees that waited just off the trails to inflict a painful lesson if you misguided the Rubicon even slightly. Sand dunes don't have trees, so avoiding them was something I paid particular attention to. Like Honda says "stupid hurts".

Because of the torque sensing front diff, I was able to keep the big Honda on the trail without incident. This was the first 4x4 quad I have had the chance to ride, and I was amazed at the things it could do. I purposely directed it to the steepest, most rutted part of the trail and it handled it no problem. I ran most of the day in the D1 mode and this seemed to work the best for me.

I was able to climb over stumps and fallen trees with ease and I quickly gained confidence in the quad. In about ten minutes I felt like I had years of experience on this quad. With my "Action Photographer" Dean in tow, we headed out into the "great white beyond" to see what kind of trouble we could get into.

Up hill, down hill, fast or slow, the Rubicon could do it all. If I had to register a complaint it would be the thumb throttle. Those of you who have read my stuff in the past already know that I hate thumb throttles and this was no exception. After about an hour my thumb was toast, thank goodness that my whole hand was freezing up so my thumb just went numb. Other than the TT complaint, I loved riding the Rubicon.

All of the controls were easy to get to and operate. On the rare occasion that reverse was needed it was a simple matter of pulling the shift knob into "R" and

Yours Truly in the deep water!
backing up. The speed-O seemed to work but I had a difficult time looking at it while dodging the aforementioned trees. On the dirt roads it was easily readable. The suspension worked well and most bumps were sucked up without a problem.

It took a conscious effort not to try and slide this quad around corners. With full time four wheel drive, it goes where point you it so trying to "power slide" the Rubicon results in going off in a direction you did not intend! Because of the less than premium weather conditions and fearing the wrath of our Editor-in-Chief if we damaged his 5 thousand dollar digital camera, we don't have a lot of pictures on the trail; but take my word for it, the Rubicon performed flawlessly even if I don't have the pictures to prove it.

We were able to get some pictures in the afternoon as the weather cleared up a bit and one of the locations we liked to take pictures at was a deep water crossing. I think we like doing the water crossings best and we tried to drown the Rubicon to no avail. The sealed intake ducting and snorkel arrangement no doubt

Crossing the deep water was a crowd favorite!
contributed to it's amphibious qualities.

Because of the water tight boots on the front CV joints and purpose designed crankcase venting, water was kept where it belongs, in the river. This is truly an All Terrain Vehicle. Our day ended at 4pm and the only fatigue I was feeling was due to the weather.

I was soaked to the bone. I am certain that I could have gone many more hours on this quad if the weather would have been a little better. We have made arrangements with Honda to take the Rubicon to the trail it was named for. Stay tuned for all the details of that outing! Honda put on a first class show and the closing dinner party was legendary!

All in all we had a fabulous time even if the weather was less than cooperative. Getting to meet the Honda engineers and talk first hand to the crew who dreamed up this fine machine was a real treat. Our crew was impressed with this massive 4x4 and look forward to many days on the trail with it. In our opinion, the Rubicon is worth every penny and with Honda's past performance backing it up, how could you go wrong?

As we get more familiar with the Rubicon, we will be bringing you more details! Stay tuned until next time....... For model specs, click

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