Driving Miss ATV
By Midwest Traction on June 14, 2018
Observe safety precautions, start slow, wear protective gear, and consult with professional instructors if you’re new to the terrain, vehicle, etc.
B.A.E: Before Anything Else
Safety is king in all things powersports. We recommend safety courses and learning under a licensed professional.
Not every state requires the use of ATV helmets, but helmets effectively reduce serious head injuries that are otherwise avoidable. Make sure it fits properly; it should be snug, not tight. Brands vary in size and fit, so we recommend trying on several before making a selection.
Additional benefits from helmets include:
- sunburn prevention
- debris guard
- bug shield
- protection from branches
- and for those with shields, eye protection
While some accidents cannot be avoided, using a helmet is a critical first step to protecting yourself. We recommend packing a first-aid kit, water, a map, tools, and outfitting your ATV with useful accessories, like a winch. Have a good helmet? Show us on social media and tag us @MidwestTraction!
Where Will You Ride?
Planning ahead is important for safety and prevention of accidents, fines, or arrest. Take a map, plan your course, check your registration, and be familiar with laws in the area you'll ride.
Respect the Ride
ATV riders tend to get a bad rap for not caring about the environment. Here are some great ways to leave a good impression:
- Stick to trails, follow signage, and use existing tracks
- Yield to other riders on narrow passways
- Ride single file
- Recognize that many trails are for multiple uses and be alert for runners, bikers, hikers, etc.
- Respect closed gates. Those trails may have width restrictions farther away or inaccessible trails due to weather. Re-route
- Leave no trace
- Outfit with a spark arrester when riding in dry areas
- Consider stealth accessories if you'll be spending time near residential areas or campgrounds
- Signal clearly when applicable
- Avoid gravel shoulders in residential or campground areas to prevent kicking up dust
- Stow vehicles in designated locations only
Learn the Legal
Familiarize yourself with the types of registration available and make sure you have one that's current. Know that if you’ve been granted specific use for your ATV, there is no crossover. Example: If you’ve been granted exemption for animal husbandry, you may not use that license for recreational use. Many states will require non-residential registration or permits for visitors. Contact the DOT for specifics in each state.
Ensure your vehicle is street-legal where applicable. Things like a rearview mirror, horn, turn signals, lights, a license plate, windshield, speedometer, and ATV hard surface tires are among those on the list. Check with local laws for an exhaustive list of street-legal requirements, as these vary from location to location.
Knowing what you'll be riding on is as important as knowing where you'll be riding. Look for terrain maps so you have a better idea of where rocks, mountains, hills, water, etc. are on your path.
Most fatalities involving ATVs occur while crossing highways and paved roads. Drivers likely won't be watching for you so come to a complete stop before crossing. If there are hills that block your view, locate to a better vantage point. Know that your tires will perform differently on pavement and account for that in your maneuvers.
ATVs are built for muddy trails and shallow waters, so it’s best to avoid deep water or areas with swift currents, as both can flood your engine. Mud and water can be quite deceptive; check depth before plowing ahead. If you’ll be in areas where the depth is unpredictable, it’s wise to invest in an ATV snorkel, which is a water-tight breathing tube to get fresh air to your engine and vent CO2 out. Snorkel kits vary in price, usually in the $70-$200 range, but a worthy investment if you’re riding in swamps or bogs.
When crossing streams, aim for banks with gradual inclines and declines. Look for submerged obstacles and sharp rocks. When exiting the water, test your brakes; you'll want to make sure they've maintained proper engagement. Note that you will need to maneuver your body weight differently under wet conditions. Proceed slowly with caution, and maintain steady speed to avoid spin out.
Your ATV manual indicates the water depth safe for operation. Always follow operator manual instructions. Remember: Your footrests will be slippery so adjust for less firm footing.
Sand tricks your riding instincts. Softer sand can delude riders into a false sense of security; maintain cautious driving and avoid sand with vegetation when wet. Obstacles are more difficult to locate when the sun is directly overhead due to the absence of shadows. Shifting sand can be difficult to locate and predict; monitor the landscape for razorbacks and slip faces, two conditions which pose additional risk to the rider.
Snow & Ice
Winter conditions can change quickly with little warning. Stick to firm snow or trails that have recently been groomed for riding. Wear proper warm gear and pack emergency safety supplies. Check the forecast and do not go off-roading in deep snow. View our tips for riding your ATV in winter.
It's likely you'll encounter fallen trees during your off-road ride. Consider size and ground clearance in addition to the type of ATV you ride (think handling and suspension). Some logs may be too large to clear; do not attempt anything reckless. If you determine it's clearable, shift to first gear and make your approach. Right before contact, rev the engine, lean back slightly and engage the clutch. As the tires touch the log, your ATV will lift off. Be prepared by shifting your weight forward so it's over the middle of your ATV. Failure to shift weight could result in tipping your ATV backward. This is an advanced skill. Be sure to wear proper safety attire and practice by starting small and slowly upgrading as you master each size. Take an experienced rider.
When encountering V-shaped trails, ruts, and gullies, avoid driving at an angle with one set of tires on the incline. Where possible, straddle the gap while maintaining an upright position. Enter at an angle, and then drop and remove one tire at a time. This prevents two tires from getting stuck. Tracks that are heavily used develop deep ruts, which pose the risk of scraping (or caking) the undercarriage. If the ruts are made by a large vehicle, drive at an angle with one wheel on the hump and the other in the rut. If another ATV made the ruts, don’t follow the path. Instead, straddle one of the ruts with one set of tires on the hump and the other on the outer part of the track.
While climbing a slope, shift to a lower gear to avoid choking the engine and stalling, moving your body weight forward. Release the throttle momentarily to avoid lifting your front wheels. This is something you'll want to have practiced on obstacle-free hills before you attempt with rocks, logs, etc. As you climb, you'll have to increase throttle to maintain speed, but don't go too fast, and allow plenty of space between riders.
If you lose acceleration while shifting gears, make a U-turn and ride downhill in the same low gear. If you do not have enough momentum to make a U-turn, apply the brakes and come to a stop. Never roll backward downhill. Apply the parking brakes, dismount from the vehicle, and, with assistance, physically turn the vehicle. If you happen to roll back, do not apply your rear brakes suddenly; this can cause toppling. Instead, gradually apply the front brakes until your ATV halts.
Before starting, inspect the terrain, ideally choosing a straight path with few obstacles. Switch to a lower gear, and shift your weight back. Your momentum will build, which requires maintaining low, controlled speed achieved by gradually braking as needed. If the terrain is too loose for your tires to grip, go back the way you came.
Before you speed off, make sure the engine is sufficiently warm. Engage the rear brake and shift to forward gear. As you release the brake, slowly apply the throttle. If your ATV has a manual clutch, it should be gradually let out. Releasing too quickly causes the vehicle to lurch, which can launch you off your vehicle. While riding, keep feet firmly planted on footrests to aid balance and avoid leg injury.
ATVs have different transmissions; check your owner's manual for model-specific information. Before riding, know how to shift gears. If handling a manual clutch, practice feeling the point of engagement. This will prevent stalling and allow for smooth transfer between gears. Close the accelerator before shifting, as that will prevent lifting the front wheels. Learning to recognize the various sounds your engine makes at different speeds will help you maintain a fuel-efficient speed range.
Check the manual for the specs on your ATV’s braking system. Some have separate controls for front and rear wheels, while others operate on a single, linked control system. Safe braking techniques vary from system to system and don’t forget to account for terrain.
While braking, remember to loosen the throttle. It is advisable to shift gears to a lower notch before braking, as it will slow down your vehicle. Avoiding hard brakes on corners and apply gently on slippery surfaces. While descending slopes, shift to lower gears. Riding the brakes will burn them out.
Turning can be tricky on the ATV, especially on rough terrain and high speeds along the trail (or on no trail at all). Operate the machine slowly or moderately while turning, moving your body weight slightly forward and into the turn. If driving with a passenger, have them mirror your weight shift. If you need to turn sharply or at increased speeds, you need to move the weight of your body much more towards the inside of the turn to maintain balance.
Check your tires; wear and tear can cause them to slide and will influence the way they perform when you're handling the ATV. While turning, if your vehicle starts to tip, reduce throttle, and make the arc of the turn wider. If you need new tires, our store has plenty to choose from.