Riding your ATV for fun

Most sportsmen ATV owners use their vehicles primarily for hunting and fishing, getting to tough places, and taking gear in and game out.

A 1999 survey found that the number of Americans participating in outdoor recreation has steadily increased since 1994, and that ATVing has become an important part of the outdoor recreational scene. Researchers also say more families are answering the call to the outdoors on ATVs, and this is quite often by trail riding.

Trail riding is one of the purest forms of ATV fun. Trail riding can be done individually or in groups, on private or designated public lands. Thousands of miles of ATV trails exist across the country just for pleasure riding.

For information, contact the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council, 800-348-6487, or www.nohvcc.org. The organization is dedicated to educating and helping riders find a place to ride. Another good contact is local dealers. They often can provide information on places to ride in your region. ATV clubs exist in many locales and are a great way of finding riding areas and making new friends. Additional information on trails is available from www.recreation.gov.

The first step is to determine the trail you wish to ride. Obtain maps of the trail or area, and make sure the trail is for off-road use. It's also important to obtain regulations and rules regarding the use of the trail — such as width of vehicles, age limitations, training prerequisites, and the necessary registration.

Some states require a permit for out-of-state participants. Make a plan of your route of travel, and let someone know your route and the time you expect to return. Also, leave a map with that person.

Completely inspect your ATV, and make sure everything is in good working order before the trip. You can go a long way in a hurry on an ATV, and a breakdown miles from the nearest trailhead can be serious.

Make sure the headlights work, that the suspension doesn't have loose or worn joints and that the shocks are in good shape. Visually inspect the handlebars to make sure they are straight, that there is no looseness in the steering and that the grips are securely in place. Check the condition of the tires, and make sure they are properly inflated.

Check all wheel bolts and make sure there are no cracks or dents in the wheels. Check coolant level in liquid-cooled engines and clean dirt off cylinder head and fins of air-cooled models. Check brake pads, shoes, rotors, drums and brake fluid. Lubricate all fittings, check fluid levels and clean air filter.

A tool kit is necessary. This should include a few tools for repairs, such as wrenches to fit, multifunction pocketknife with different screwdriver tips, or screwdrivers, and small gripping pliers. You should also include a headlight bulb, duct tape, tire plug repair kit and hand-tire pump, replacement spark plug and wrench, hose clamps and extra fittings or fasteners for your particular ATV.

An emergency kit should also be included, and it should have a quality flashlight with spare batteries, toilet paper, first-aid kit, map, compass, water purification tablets, signal mirror, tow strap, rope, pencil and paper, waterproof matches and fire starter, space blanket, high-energy food and a folding or cable saw for clearing branches from the trail. You might also wish to add a GPS and cell phone. Carry spare gasoline and drinking water (at least 32 ounces per person).

Make sure you have appropriate clothing, including rainsuits, and be prepared for weather changes, particularly if riding in the mountains.

It's extremely important to obey all trail signs, especially those designating trail closures. Trails are closed for a reason, sometimes to allow them to rejuvenate after heavy use or, in some cases, because the trail is too dangerous for safe use. You should also stay out of designated wilderness areas or those marked with no-vehicular-traffic signs. Do not chase or hassle wildlife, and keep well away from wildlife rearing young.

Stay on the marked trail and don't cut across switchbacks or create your own trail. Ride in the center of the trail to avoid widening it and creating trail rebuilding problems. Avoid areas off the trail that can be damaged by ATV use, including streambanks and lakeshores, steep hillsides, meadows and marshes. Keep off soft, wet and muddy roads that can easily be damaged by ATVs. Don't run over young trees, saplings and brush.

Be courteous to others on the trail, including other ATVers. If you meet mountain bikers, hikers or horseback riders, pull off to the side.

In the case of horseback riders, shut off your ATV so it doesn't spook the horses and cause an accident. Don't make sudden movements, and speak quietly. If you meet other ATVers on the trail, yield to those traveling uphill or passing.

If traveling in a group, maintain a safe distance between vehicles. Don't tailgate, as it can cause accidents. If your ATV has a headlight, turn it on. If stopping unexpectedly for any reason, pull to the side of the trail and hold up your hand and arm.

Follow all safety rules, including one rider per ATV. If you wish to go as a family, youth ATVs are available. Wear appropriate clothing, including a helmet.

Trail riding alone, or with your family or friends can add to your ATV enjoyment and enhance your investment. It also beats weekend TV when the hunting season is closed, and there's not much going on outside except dandelions growing.

Material from Guns & Gear magazine.

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