The latest version of Bombardier's DS650 sports quad makes no pretensions to being anything other than a racer. This thing has no reverse gear, no speedometer, no storage compartments and no drive shaft.

What it's got, according to Bombardier, is more power than a Yamaha 660 Raptor from its liquid-cooled 653cc Rotax single-cylinder engine (yes Cyril, basically the same engine as in the BMW F650), infinitely adjustable long-travel suspension and 57Nm of noisy, vibratious tree stump-pulling mid-range grunt.

All of which means that as much as it is a serious enduro weapon in the hands of an expert it's also immense fun and very rideable for a relatively inexperienced quad rider like me.

Bakker and I took the quads out to the Atlantis dunes, up the West Coast from Cape Town, on a midweek morning - beats working for a living, that's for sure - but before we got there Bakker surprised me by making a short detour to a private drag strip that belongs to a friend.

This, he said, was our chance to try out the ultimate straight-line performance of the quad on tar, in a safe environment

We found the DS650 pulls a lot harder than most road bikes with similar engines because it's relatively short-geared. It runs out of steam in a straight line at about 125km/h, at which point the big, soft knobbly tyres are beginning to squirm a little.

It remains reassuringly stable under hard braking, though, despite unnerving amounts of dive from the soft, long-stroke front suspension.

It also pulls huge wheelies on demand in the first three gears.

Then it was on to the dunes; before we took off from the car park Bakker warned me that thanks to recent rain there were soft patches on the shady side of some dunes, which could cause the front wheels of the quads to dig in and throw the rider on his head.

He said: "Keep the power on a little going downhill to take the weight off the front wheels - and just relax."

The first few times were quite intimidating but I soon realized that the DS650 wasn't going to run away with me even on quite steep downhills and began to enjoy myself.

There's enough space in the seemingly endless white expanse to give it its head and hold the throttle wide open in third and fourth. The DS650 stays stable and steers accurately even in soft sand; the harder you push it, the better it handles.

The power feeds through a superb clutch and a slick, quick-shifting five-speed gearbox; this is the only one of Bombardier's quad range which has a motorcycle engine - the rest all have purpose-built ATV engines with somewhat more agricultural transmissions.

Loads of torque

The motor is mechanically noisy with a lot of power-thudding up to the torque peak; it gives you the impression it's working hard but always delivers the goods, with loads of torque throughout the rev range.

To my surprise I had difficulty getting it sideways unless I was revving it unmercifully in first or second. Rather than skating over the sand the tyres were digging in and holding the big quad on line - unlike on harder terrain where these big quads will slide more easily.

This has a downside, though; I dug the back end in up to the axle in loose sand at the bottom of a steep slope with one injudicious jab at the thumb-throttle and that was it - we weren't going anywhere. All the power in the world wasn't going to help.

With no reverse gear to help, we had to pick the up the rear of the quad to get the back wheels out of the holes they had dug for themselves and push it back down the slope to where I could get off the trail and turn around.

The DS650 is more at ease on harder sand although the soft stuff was no real problem given the right technique, which is to go in one gear higher than you think you need and keep the speed steady.

Surprisingly comfortable

The Bombardier is unusual among competition quads in that it is surprisingly comfortable despite its uncompromisingly sporting chassis. The wide, deeply padded saddle and long-travel suspension give a smooth easy ride.

Competitive DS650 riders say they are often stronger towards the end of a long enduro because they don't get as tired as the riders of more racy quads.

At non-racing speeds the big Bomber is easy to control; you find yourself riding it faster than you'd ride anything else - because you can. Its stability and strong brakes let you get away with it.

But you can't change the laws of physics; this is still a big, heavy quad and if you do something really silly it will bite you. Serious performance machinery, irrespective of the discipline it competes in, has a way of exacting respect from its rider.

In the final analysis it's difficult to justify owning a DS650 if you're not going to race it - but if you're comfortable with spending the price of an entry-level car on a toy that isn't even street-legal, all the features that make a succesful racer make it a demanding but ultimately satisfying weekend companion.

It redefines fun in terms of aching muscles and overdosing on adrenalin.

Bombardier DS650 X specifications.

PRICE: R74 900.

  • Test quad from Waterworld, Cape Town.