ATVs—known as four-wheelers among those who use them—have become essential transportation for outdoor enthusiasts of every stripe seeking to access and explore everything from the back 40 to truly remote backcountry. Virtual mini-tanks on wheels, they can travel off-road up and down hills, between trees, over rocky ground and through mud and shallow water.
But, they can also be dangerous if not used properly. According to the latest ATV statistics on record from the Consumer Product Safety Commission there were 317 deaths and 115,000 emergency room visits as a result of ATV accidents in 2010. To make the most of your next ride (and to do it safely), follow these tips from Field & Stream’s Camping Guide and the ATV Safety Institute.
When approaching a steep incline, put the vehicle in the lowest gear that still allows sufficient forward momentum. Lean forward, standing if necessary, to keep your weight centered and low to the ATV, while keeping your hands solidly on the controls and your feet on the footrests. Approach the hill straight on, never at an angle. Maintain a slow but steady speed. Avoid pressing hard on the throttle, as this can spin tires and lessen their contact with the ground, making the ATV less stable.
Aim the ATV directly downhill to keep the weight distributed across all four tires. Put the ATV in the lowest gear to minimize speed, and lightly feather the brakes during the descent. This can prevent tires from locking up, which can cause the ATV to slide on loose or muddy ground. It also helps maintain a safe speed. Lean back as far in the seat as possible without losing reach of the brake controls. This will better distribute your weight over the quad, ensuring a low center of gravity until on level ground.
When approaching uneven ground, logs, rocks or other obstacles, lock the ATV in four-wheel drive and slowly approach from a perpendicular angle. Pull to the edge of the obstacle and then apply enough power to crawl over the log or rock, keeping in mind that it might not be sturdy. Stand or lean if necessary to shift your weight so that the ATV remains balanced and in contact with the ground or other solid surfaces at all times.
Secure heavy loads on the ATV’s rear rack, as close to the center of the vehicle as possible, using ratchet straps or strong bungees. However, if you’re climbing a hill, temporarily place the load on the front rack to keep the front of the quad on the ground during the climb. If at any time a load is so heavy it causes tires to lift or hinders maneuverability, drag the items behind the ATV instead or divide the load and make separate trips.
First, determine the water’s depth and be sure it isn’t so deep it will go over your engine’s air intake. This can lead to a stalled or even ruined engine. You should walk the path to assess the water depth and to spot any submerged obstacles. Avoid fast-moving streams and only cross where there is a gradual incline upon entering and exiting and the bottom is rocky or solid. Maintain a constant speed, watching for submerged obstacles, and remember when back on dry ground that your brakes may be wet and will not work as well until they dry. Speed the drying process by lightly applying the brakes as you ride.
These tips should help your next ATV adventureto be safe and worry-free. What’s the best ATV trip you’ve ever taken?
Photo Attribution: Photo courtesy of ATV Safety Institute