It’s easy to make false assumptions about ATVing based on all the high-speed racing scenes that tend to dominate the industry. But the reality of riding an all-terrain vehicle tends to be much different. Mastering the trail requires patience, vigilance and lots of planning. You can start off on the right foot by learning about some of the most common mistakes beginners make when riding an ATV so you can do the opposite instead. Avoid these missteps to enjoy a successful ride.
The first mistake you can make is heading out without the proper safety equipment. You will be battling all kinds of debris and terrain that can make it difficult to ride with bare skin. There’s also a risk the ATV could roll over when you’re just starting out, trapping you underneath the vehicle.
Suit up with all the essential ATV riding gear, including a full-face or half-face helmet with goggles, pads, gloves with padded knuckles, durable boots and an ATV riding suit or thick layers that will cover your arms and legs. Wearing a helmet reduces the risk of traumatic brain injury (TBI), according to the National Institutes of Health, so you never want to ride without one.
You don’t have to go it alone. Stay connected to your companions on the trail with off-road communication. Just speak into the device to talk to the next closest rider if you have any questions or need technical assistance.
Hopping on the back of an ATV in need of repairs can be a recipe for disaster, especially if you don’t know what you’re looking for. First-time riders tend to rent their vehicles or borrow them from friends, leaving them with little knowledge about the vehicle’s condition.
Spend a few minutes reviewing the condition of the ATV with the owner, seller or vendor to make sure it’s safe to ride. Make sure it has enough coolant, oil, brake fluid and fuel to make it to your destination and back. Adjust the tire pressure based on the manufacturer’s recommendations.
The small pegs on most factory models won’t do you much good on the trail. It’s a common secret in the ATVing community — and if you show up to the track with them, get ready to incur the wrath of your fellow riders. Your feet can easily slip off the pegs, leaving you to hang your feet at the sides. But your legs can catch on debris or get sucked into the rear tire. You also won’t be able to stand on the pegs for additional stability.
Swap out the factory set for a set of nerf bars — wide, plush foot pegs that will help you keep your balance.
Some people equate ATVing to riding bumper cars, ramming into objects as if they were made of cardboard. But the truth is that your vehicle can only handle so much wear and tear before it starts to break down. If you hit an object straight on, including a log or rock, in hopes of running it over, you will likely roll over. ATVs aren’t very long and have a narrow center of gravity. Submerging the vehicle in water when crossing a river or boggy swamp will cause the engine to seize due to a lack of air.
Avoid oncoming objects that can throw off your balance. Even though ATVs are designed to go off-road, stick to even, non-slippery surfaces. If you plan on getting wet, reposition the air intake valve to protect the engine.
Social media is full of photos and videos of people doing outrageous stunts on their vehicles. Others will use them to cart around their friends like a trolley. Doubling up is one of the leading causes of ATV accidents, along with stunt driving.
ATVs are only designed to accommodate one person at a time. Avoid overloading your vehicle with too much weight to avoid flipping over.
All-terrain can be misleading. In fact, most ATVs aren’t street legal. You incur a hefty fine for driving on paved surfaces, nature preserves or areas meant for pedestrians.
Stick to marked ATV trails where these types of vehicles are permitted. Plan your route in advance to make sure you aren’t straying into forbidden territory. You should only drive on paved roads when crossing the street to continue along the trail.
Riding an ATV isn’t the same as riding a dirtbike. These vehicles are meant for exploring and trail riding, not racing. You will increase your speed by pressing on the throttle using your thumb. But a little goes a long way. Some beginners slam their thumbs on the throttle only to lose control of the vehicle.
Gently press the throttle to get a feel for the controls. Slowly ramp up your speed based on how much power you need to get uphill and take your thumb off the throttle when going downhill. It’s easier to increase your speed than it is to slow down in some situations.
ATVing is a lot easier when you know what to expect. Use these tips to avoid making mistakes that can ruin your first outing. Avoid going off on your own until you have some experience under your belt and don’t be afraid to ask other riders for help along the way.