Sports: Off-Road Madness

Written by Nathan Winfrey in the October 2010 Issue

All-terrain vehicles, or quads, can provide fun and safe outdoor recreation as well as serve as utility vehicles for activities like farming and hunting.

Having access to private land on which to ride ATVs is always best, says Shawn Garrison of House of Kawasaki, a motorcycle and ATV dealer in Oklahoma City. There are also plenty of trails around the state, like at Sooner Off-Road Park in Norman and Lake Stanley-Draper. “Lake Draper offers miles and miles of trails, and it’s a great place to ride,” says Garrison, whose been riding ATVs for 30 years.

Nikki Smith, with Mid America Cycle, located just 10 miles north of Edmond at I-35 and Seward Road agrees. “ATVs are great recreational vehicles and there are many great State parks and lakes that have trails. However, a large number of Mid America Cycle’s customers are farmers and ranchers,” she said. “ATVs have taken the place of the horse. Many use ATVs on their property instead of using their trucks because trucks can’t fit into tight places and aren’t as good on rough terrain.”

Early ATVs developed in the 1960s were amphibious vehicles sporting six wheels. Honda introduced the world to 3-wheeled ATVs in the 70s which progressed toward the birth of the 4-wheeled ATV in the 80s.

Modern ATVs range from 4-wheel-drive utility vehicles to full-on race quads, Garrison says. Two-wheel-drive sport quads are for closed-track competition and their engines can range from 50-700 cc. Utility ATVs are primarily 4-wheel drive and boast 250-1000 cc motors.

Edmond resident Chad Dugan rides a sport quad, a Polaris Sportsman 550 xp. He’s been riding ATVs for about four years, enjoying everywhere from Crossbar Ranch in Davis, Oklahoma to A to Z Ranch in southeast Oklahoma. “It’s like wheeled freedom – the speed, the ability to go anywhere,” he said. “The rush is amazing, especially when you are on a new trail with cool, crisp fall air and leaves covering the ground.”

Sport quads, popular for racing, accelerate quickly and can reach 80 miles per hour. The top off-road racing series in North America is the Can-Am Grand National Cross Country Series. The ATV National Motocross Championship and Championship Mud Racing are also respected organizations.

Garrison says the big difference between riding a dirt bike and riding an ATV is the difference in the weight of the machines. Quads tend to be a lot heavier than bikes and have a different riding style. It’s important for riders to make sure the quad doesn’t end up on top of them.

As with any activity that involves metal and speed, it’s important to follow instructions and not become careless. “They are very safe, but like any motorized vehicle, you have to be smart about what you are doing and know your abilities,” Dugan says.

“First and foremost, always wear your helmet,” Garrison says. “You’re 60 percent more likely to survive an accident if you’re wearing a helmet.” He also recommends goggles, boots, and jeans. “I don’t recommend wearing shorts and flip flops.”

A common mistake ATV riders make without realizing the danger is putting too many people on a quad at once. Most ATVs are intended to hold one person. Unless the quad is specifically designed to accommodate two people, Garrison urges riders to not take passengers. “There has always been a misconception that ATVs aren’t safe. It’s the people who don’t follow guidelines who are unsafe,” Garrison says. He also cautions that children under 6 years old have no business on a quad.

Smith agrees. “The biggest concern with first time buyers is letting underage children operate an adult ATV,” she said. “The age needs to be appropriate for the size of the ATV.”

It’s also important for ATV riders to know the terrain and be able to see clearly. Especially if not on a designated trail, the ground can quickly drop away and unexpected hazards like limbs and tree trunks can pop out of nowhere. “ATV-riding is a safe, fun activity, but you have to follow the rules,” said Garrison.

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