2016 Toyota Tacoma: Desert Sessions
by Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor on July 21, 2016
When work dictated that I bring our 2016 Toyota Tacoma to the High Desert, north of Mojave, I did not argue. I'd been wanting to sample our Tacoma in a more appropriate environment ever since it showed up in our garage. And because I could, I strapped my 1976 Yamaha DT400 into the bed and took it along for the ride.
By the end of the day, I'd learned that one of these things has good low-end grunt and is light on its feet but generally awful, while the other is a little high-strung and unsurprisingly capable but has terrible brakes.
Place your bets.
The Yamaha? Yeah, it's generally awful. While the motor does offer good low-end power (kind of surprising for a two-stroke), and its light weight and less-than-powerful brakes do it a lot of favors off-road, the vintage no-travel suspension ruins its rideability on anything other than faster, hard-packed trails. But it's from 1976 and not a full dirtbike, so that's its excuse. Also, I suck at riding a bike — that's my excuse.
As for the Toyota, it does everything pretty well off-road except for the one thing it doesn't do well on-road, and that's brake smoothly. Such is the confidence you get from driving the Tacoma, with its exceptionally well-sorted suspension, good steering and manageable size, that you can't help but want to get all Ivan Stewart and hustle this thing along. But the brake pedal just doesn't work the same way as the long-travel throttle. The stroke is short and sharp, so when you try to brush the brakes and scrub off a little speed, it's easy to get more braking power than you asked for. What Jay talked about when driving the Tacoma on the street is only magnified in the dirt, where the brakes continually threaten to give you understeer right when you want it the least.
It's really too bad, because as Josh and Brent both noted, the motor makes most of its power up high, which in this context just encourages you to tach it out and have a little fun — especially since you're at no risk of getting a ticket. But when the going gets rutted and a little sandy, the brake-modulation problem puts a damper on things. I might be able to get used to the pedal on the street, but not out here.
On a historical and less negative note, this isn't the first time a Toyota has hauled around a Yamaha enduro bike. Back in 1979, Toyota offered a Yamahauler as part of a sweepstakes held in conjunction with Yamaha. Imagine how cool it would have been to roll up to Saddleback Park in this thing.
Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor @ 10,393 miles