A lot of unconventional motorcycles were built in the 1980’s, especially in Japan. When one manufacturer released an unorthodox scoot, another manufacturer would often follow suit, just in case one of these novel gambles worked. Forced induction is a good example of this, but the factory ATV-wheeled dirt bikes of the new-wave and cocaine-fueled decade may be the best example. (Nobody wanted to copy Honda’s PC800). In 1985, Yamaha released its “ATC”, the Big Wheel or BW200. The tuning-fork brand was happy with the number of units sold so they would go on to produce the BW until ’89, introducing the BW80 and 350 along the way.
The BW200 was also available in the BW200ES-spec – the only difference being an electric starter. ES or not, the Big Wheel was powered by a 196cc four-stroke, 2 valve, air cooled, SOHC single that was married to a five-speed transmission. The ATV-tired Yammy made 15.4hp and 10.8 ft-lb (some sources say 11.2) of torque at 7,500RPM. The thumper that powered the big set of wheels sat in a steel tube diamond -style frame, dampened by a 160mm telescopic fork up front and dual-shocks in back. The Yamaha ATC came from the factory with front and rear drum-brakes and weighed in (dry) at 258lbs.
Not to be outdone, Honda struck back with its TR200 Fat Cat ATC the following year in 1986. The Fat Cat would only be produced for one more year prior to Honda pulling the plug on it, though this wouldn’t be the only time Honda threw its hat in the ATC-ring. The TR200 was powered by a 199cc four-stroke, two-valve, air-cooled SOHC single paired with a 5-speed transmission with an automatic clutch. This power plant – that was a detuned version of Honda’s ATC200X – sat in a single down-tube frame. Like the BW, the TR came with front and rear drum brakes and a telescopic fork up front, however Honda one-upped the Yammy with a mono-shock rear suspension, though it was slightly heavier than the Big Wheel by seven pounds (264 lbs) and apparently didn’t jump (or land rather) as well as the Big Wheel.
Interestingly much of the success of ATC’s, and three-wheelers came from the lack of entry-level bikes on the market at that point – at least for teens and adults – in the off-road segment. This is why Honda jumped into the class the year after Yamaha, in addition to wanting first time buyers purchasing their first machine to buy a Honda as their first bike as many riders establish brand loyalty, a pattern manufacturers are well aware of. Despite these machines looking more gimmicky than competent, these wide-wheeled off-road-goers could actually hold their own surprisingly well in terms of performance.
In June of ’86, Dirt Bike Magazine did a side-by-side shootout of the TR200 and BW200 in which they romped the hell out of the ATC’s, jumping and sliding them about, ultimately determining the Big Wheel to be the better of the two mid-’80’s ATC offerings. The publication viewed the bikes as decent entry-level machine options, with the biggest difference being the clutch, (or lack thereof). The Fat Cat didn’t have a clutch and instead put a hand-operated rear brake in its place on the left side of the handlebars, while the BW200 came equipped with a normal clutch setup. As a result the Honda was more new rider friendly, though it made stepping up to a bigger bike more difficult as no clutch control would be learned on the Fat Cat and the muscle memory formed using a hand-activated rear-brake would be a difficult habit to break, while the Yamaha took more getting used to, it was a bike that better prepared its pilots for a larger machine.
The BW200 example is in pretty remarkable condition for being a used off-roader, the plastics, seat and paint look relatively pristine, (at least in the photos). The example is said to run strong, though the seller says the carb supposedly needs some attention (the ad mentions the jets in particular). The ATV-knobbies on this example are almost brand new and the current owner claims to have dropped a lot of time and money into this wide-tired two-wheeler in the last six months. This example is also fitted with a functional headlight and brake light, though I’m almost certain it still isn’t street-legal.
The Fat Cat example is in decent shape, albeit not as clean as the Yamaha. The seller says the transmission shifts and operates properly, and that the engine runs great, though immediately following that the ad mentions the example: “smokes a little.” Nonetheless examples of these – and BW’s – are rare and only getting rarer, and restoring one of these would actually be pretty easy as it accepts parts from other Honda ATC’s making sourcing them a breeze. While the TR200 looks to sport relatively clean plastics and seat, the front fender (which is way less cool than the BW’s front fender) does have a small crack on it, and the tires on this TR still have a lot of life left on them.
You can find the red and white 1986 Yamaha BW200 example for sale here on Craigslist in St. Genevieve, Missouri (where I spent a lot of time as a kid as my dad’s from there) with a price of $2,000. The owner also says they are open to the possibility of a trade for “something with (a) motor.”
You can find the white and blue 1986 Honda TR200 Fat Cat example for sale here on Craigslist in Boston, Massachusetts with a price of $1,200.