ATV Riding Safety

ATVs, otherwise known as quads and four-wheelers, are all terrain vehicles designed to conquer almost any terrain. 

ATV Riding Safety and Overview

What is an ATV?

ATVs, otherwise known as quads and four-wheelers, are all terrain vehicles designed to conquer almost any terrain.  Like on a motorcycle, the rider is seated on a saddle with an engine between their legs. Although an ATV is ridden similarly to a motorcycle,t balancing is not an issue when riding at normal speeds and conditions. ATVs can handle rugged terrain and perform duties that other vehicles can’t.  For example, hunters use ATVs because they have the ability to carry equipment and also game.  A dirtbike can be used in similar conditions, but does not have the ability to handle storage and extra weight. The four wheels of an ATV provide a stable base for a number of duties. ATVs can have plows mounted for snow removal and racks added for equipment transport.  They come in various two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive configurations and range in size from 150cc to over 1000cc in engine displacement. 

What are the components of an ATV?

When sitting on an ATV, it has similar components to that of a motorcycle.  Handlebar and handle bar controls are used for steering and braking.  A brake lever, turn signals and headlamp switches are usually  located on the handle bars.  The throttle is typically thumb squeeze style.   In front of the rider is usually the gas tank, with the engine located underneath the rider. ATVs can be either manual or automatic transmissions.  A clutch lever will be found on the handle bars, whereas the shifter will be located by the rider’s left foot.  A brake pedal/lever will be found on the right side of the rider. Automatic configurations may just remove the shifting lever and clutch.  Typically the suspension is independent style on all four wheels with the back being the drive wheels.  ATVs typically come with headlamps and brake lights, but not all. Storage racks can be mounted on the front or back or both.  Skid plates are usually an optional accessory to protect the underside of the vehicles from the terrain. 

What gear is needed to ride an ATV?

Just like riding a motorcycle or other types of powersport, protective gear is very important.  The rider needs to be protected from the elements and dangers of the terrain. An ATV rider should always ride with:

  • DOT approved helmet (full face will protect the rider from mud, dust and sand)
  • Protective eyewear
  • Protective gloves
  • Protective jacket (with armor is even better)
  • Long pants /  jeans
  • Rugged boots (covering over the ankle)

How to ride an ATV?

Just like when riding a motorcycle, the rider straddles the machine. If the machine is a manual transmission, the shifting arrangement would be one shift down and the rest up to find the higher gears. With the clutch engaged, and the machine in first gear, the clutch is released as a gradual throttle is applied to move the machine forward. The ATV is shifted into higher gears as the speed and RPMs increase. The clutch should be engaged when slowing down and coming to a stop. Some ATVs will also have a reverse gear. For automatic style ATVs, the throttle is applied until the vehicle begins to roll. When riding in groups, there should be enough space to apply emergency braking if necessary.  In dusty, sandy and snowy conditions, it may not be easy to see the rider in front. A rider should always keep their hands tight on the handlebars as the rugged terrain may cause the machine to jolt in a direction. Different terrains present different handling characteristics. Sand and mud may be hard to gain traction. Extreme terrains may provide no traction at all.  A winch or come-along may have to be used to pull the vehicle from these conditions. 

Turning an ATV is done with pushing and pulling of the handlebar. Be aware of the right-hand throttle and do not push while turning left and accidentally throttle up.  This can cause an unstable turn that can result in a crash or tipping of the ATV. Leaning does not turn an ATV like a motorcycle, but distributing the weight can help balance the machine on uneven terrain. When the foot brake is applied, it usually stops the rear wheels, while the hand brake is applied to the front wheels. Apply both sets of brakes smoothly to bring the ATV to a gradual stop. Pull in the clutch as well if the machine is a manual transmission. 

Where can someone ride an ATV?

In some states, ATVs are street legal, but the vehicle must have a headlight, tail light, mirrors and other DOT approved components. ATVs are commonly used in the agriculture field for getting around farms. Off-road parks and trail systems are great places to ride that have groomed trails. It is common in most public parks and even private parks to carry at least liability insurance on the ATV.  Do not ride an ATV where it is prohibited, like hiking trails and certain beaches. Sand dunes and beach parks are also great places to ride. Paddle tires and other modifications may be needed in order to ride in sandy conditions. Desert and dry lake bed areas are also fun places to ride, but beware of extremely dusty conditions. It is recommended to do your research, before taking your ATV to ride on public land to make sure ATVs are permitted, and if so what requirements need to be met. 

Have fun and ride safely!

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