Bouncing through the mountains in Honda’s premier UTV

We are about an hour into the Honda Pioneer 1000 press demo day, high in the northeast Tennessee mountains, when a large flat uphill rock looms before me. The photographer is beckoning me to climb it towards him, but I can’t see beyond him, and at the last moment lose my nerve and veer off to the left, hoping I can firmly plant man and machine back on the trail that circumvents the rock outcropping. Matt, one of Honda’s reps is strapped in next to me, and he inhales sharply, leaning hard right into the web netting over the door as the Pioneer Trail 1000 lurches hard left, almost on two wheels. “Uh oh, don’t go over, don’t go over,” he exclaims, and amazingly, we don’t. I turn into the deep left lean, and the big UTV holds its line, bumps down onto a lower ledge, then back onto the trail, still right side up.

“Man, that was fantastic, Rob!” Matt slaps me on the shoulder. “Great handling of it! Are you sure you’ve never driven one of these before?” I had not, and only ever sat in a UTV once before, at a Honda Talon hot lap demo I was invited to a couple of summers ago.

My momentary lapse of nerve made for one of the best photo ops of the day, according to a couple of the photographers later that evening. Here’s a sequence of shots from the near mishap-

Close but no rollover. Note Matt’s helmet pressed against the right door web netting.

Okay, a bit of background is in order. Yes, we are a motorcycle publication. No, these are definitely not motorcycles (although there is a connection forthcoming). So why was I in Pioneer, TN (appropriately) for a Honda Pioneer 1000 debut/demo event? Several weeks prior, Colin Miller at American Honda called me about working a time to pick up the CRF300L we’ve had as a long-term loaner, and he asked, “Hey, we’ve got this demo event taking place up in Tennessee later this month… I thought you’d have fun with this, so I wanted to invite you.” He outlined the details, and I replied, “Heck yeah, I’m game for something different!”

So here I am, deep in the woods on miles of mountainous Tennessee trails, bouncing/banging around in Honda’s all-purpose UTV/side by side. These trails, of which there are over 600 miles criss-crossing this portion of the state, would be entertaining for trials motorcycle riders. We are climbing over rock formations, negotiating deep gullies, fording mountain streams and large mud puddles, and climbing up/down steep mountain trails.

I’ve never done anything like this before. And I’m thoroughly enjoying myself.

Deep in the northeast Tennessee mountain trails.

Honda has a long history in the dirt and in the woods. As well as their off-road capable motorcycles dating back to the 1960s, in 1970 they introduced their first three-wheeler, the ATC 90. A new genre was born. In 1984, Honda debuted their first four-wheeler/quad for the woods, the TRX200, and the competition scrambled to keep up again. The TRX singularly created the outdoorsmen’s ATV, or “all-terrain vehicle”. Then came the Big Red in 2009, as brands began developing and producing more capable, well-rounded machines that would come to be known as the UTV “utility terrain vehicle” or “SxS/SSV” (side-by-side). From 2014-16, Honda renamed and expanded the lineup with a Pioneer 700, then a 500, and the 1000. The sportier Talon 2P and 4P that we turned some hot laps in two years ago came in 2019 and 2020.

Adding some layers of trail dirt and mud to man and machine.

Honda’s Pioneer 1000 comes in two iterations, the Trail and the Forest. The Trail is a bit more sporty, with Fox shocks and a more aggressive, stiffer ride, while the Forest has an auto-leveling rear suspension so steers and handles somewhat smoother over variable surfaces. I drove both, the Trail in the morning and the Forest in the afternoon, and thought they both were practically undefeatable over the terrain we negotiated. I’m no expert in these types of vehicles, but I certainly found them quite capable and thoroughly entertaining.

Matt with Honda, who rode with me all day, referred to the Pioneer 1000s as “four-wheeled billy goats”, and the longer we rode, the more I was convinced he had an apt description. From that first near tipover, to diving into several deeply rutted trail sections, and ultimately a steep 45-degree hillclimb to a summit overlook, everything Matt challenged me to do with the Pioneer, the “billy goat” was up for it. This isn’t my normal wheelhouse, but it was fun, and I was impressed.

Some interior shots, before we coated everything in a nice shade of TN tan.

The Pioneer 1000 models have several what we motorcycle riders would call “ride modes”. The driver can either operate in AT automatic transmission, or MT manual trans, using the paddle shifters on the steering column. That reminded me of the Polaris Slingshot we rode around last fall, so I used it for some of the afternoon, switching up-down according to the terrain difficulties. The Pioneers also have two 4WD drive options, 4H (high) and 4L (low) as well as a 2WD. I ran in 4H most of the day, using the 4L when going got difficult, and discovered the 2WD is quite capable as well, traversing with ease much of the milder terrain we traveled throughout the day.

Here’s the motorcycle connection: The powerplant in these rigs is an inline twin, with the same basic design as Honda’s Africa Twin and Rebel 1100 DCT. In fact, the Pioneer 1000 utilizes its own DCT system like the Rebel 1100, but as a sub tranny bolted on to the mill with Reverse, Park and the aforementioned drive modes.

As you can see in the photos and footage, I’m wearing a neck brace due to a cervical spinal surgery I underwent a few years back, and its good I did, as we certainly bounced and banged around all day up on the rugged Tennessee mountain trails. I had such a blast riding these, and while the brace kept my neck stable, the rest of me feels like I could use a chiropractic adjustment.

Would I do this again? Oh heck yeah.

Grit filled grins across the day.

Toward the end of the day, I was feeling froggy with the Pioneer, and drove harder into some berms where the trails would make hairpin turns, sliding the UTV around a bit and slinging dirt out into the woods. This is a fun machine as well as practical for all kinds of outdoor chores, absolutely. I think some of my favorite moments came splashing across mountain streams and through several mud bogs, drenching the UTV in muddy water and on at least one occasion, soaking a creekside photographer.

My father and uncle built a woods buggy out of a Volkswagen Beetle when my brothers and I were kids, and the impish thrill of making a dirty mess was revived during my day strapped into the Pioneer. These vehicles are fully functional as well as fun, with a short bed in their back but also rear seats that can be pulled up for more passengers, as in the Pioneer 5 edition. Whether hauling friends and family, or hauling logs and wild game, the Pioneer 1000 models are quite utilitarian and entertaining.

Huge thanks to Colin, Matt and the whole crew at American Honda for the wonderful opportunity, to Chris and the Jonnum Media folks for fantastic photos and footage, and to Ride Royal Blue ATV Resort for being great hosts!

Rob

For more on the Honda Pioneer line, click here:

Pioneer 1000

*Rob’s gear- Bilt Amped Evo helmet, Bilt Spirit 2 gloves, Bilt Pro Tourer Waterproof boots:
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