Test-Riding a Christini 450 DS AWD Motorcycle
Last year, PopMech got to tour the Philadelphia headquarters of bikemaker Christini and learn how its all-wheel-drive motorcycles work. Now it’s time for a test ride. We took one of their bikes on an off-road adventure through Amish country to see how it handles many rough miles.
The event: A weekend-long adventure ride put on by AltRider, an adventure-parts manufacturer. AltRider laid out a big main loop through the scenic countryside on asphalt and dirt roads. Seven increasingly difficult optional trails deviated from the main loop. Our ride for this journey: Christini’s 450 DS, a $7695 street-legal dirt bike that gets power to the front wheel through Christini’s clever mechanical drive. When you twist the throttle on a Christini and feel the front wheel help pull the bike through tough terrain, you can imagine the joy Mr. Christini must have felt when he first pedaled his original all-wheel-drive mountain bike up a rocky hill and proved his hypothesis that AWD could be as beneficial to two-wheel vehicles as it is to four-wheelers.
The 450 DS certainly doesn’t have any trouble scrambling up a hill, like the boulder-strewn climb on the third optional trail. In fact, the AWD system flatters the rider in a variety of conditions. In deep sand toward the end of the ride, the bike didn’t struggle and sink in, but floated along on top. In sandy corners, a rider can turn the Chrsitini with the bars instead of having to slide through the corner on the power. And all-wheel drive also makes it much easier to start on a steep uphill. Even on the ride’s steepest ascents, all available traction could be put to use and the bike could be coaxed back into motion.
Most interesting, however, is how AWD changed the less extreme parts of the riding experience. On a conventional dirt bike, approaching max speed on a gravel fire road can get exciting (perhaps a little too exciting) as the back end dances over crests or around corners. On the Christini, that just didn’t happen. As soon as the rear wheel started to spin up, some of the power was transferred to the front wheel. In this way, the AWD system acted as a sort of mechanical traction control for the rear wheel. The bike will also happily drag itself through deep mud, as both wheels fight for traction. On a conventional bike, the rear wheel might spin, unable to push the front forward through the mud.
It quickly became apparent why the U.S. Army has ordered a batch of 90 Christini bikes. An AWD motorcycle simply takes less mental and physical effort to ride on difficult terrain. When we pushed the thumb lever that disengages the front drive, the bike suddenly felt distinctly rear-wheel drive the rear wheel would spin up on loose surfaces, and the back end would come out in the corners. We realized that every other motorcycle we’ve ridden hard constantly exceeds available traction, tearing up trails and shredding rear tires. Christini claims that rear tires last more than twice as long on an AWD bike.
The AWD system comes with some disadvantages, starting with 13 extra pounds. It takes more effort to loft the front wheel because the extra weight of the AWD system sits ahead of the countershaft sprocket. And the system adds complexity to the bike: There are three more chains and several more gears, though Christini includes a grease gun with purchase and Zerk grease fittings make it easy to keep everything running smoothly.
During our factory tour last year, we saw that the quality of the AWD parts is top-notch and the additional complexity is more than offset by the bike’s on-trail competence. Whether you’re roosting your friends on a rocky uphill climb or riding happily through deep sand, AWD makes it easier to go fast (or slowly) off-road.