Get Started Riding ATVs

Smiling girl wearing helmet driving quadbike on rural farm
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Riding an ATV is a great experience that can be enjoyed by the entire family. It's exciting, and it teaches respect on many levels, including for the environment, habitat and even respect for others. Learning to ride an ATV can be fun and will make you a safer ATVer.

This guide will help you get well on your way to learn to ride an ATV and help you stay safe by showing you some of the basics about the proper gear, where to get training, the fundamentals of how to control an ATV and other aspects that will provide you with the confidence you need to have a great, safe experience while you learn to ride an ATV.

Getting the Gear

One of the most important things you need to do is get dressed for the occasion, regardless of what type of ATV you buy, where you plan to ride, or what kind of riding you intend to do. At the very least, a helmet is the very first (and best) line of protection from injury in case of a crash.

Other standard safety gear includes gloves, boots that go over the ankle, long sleeve shirt, long pants, goggles and a chest protector.

Choosing an ATV

You first have to decide what kind of riding you'll be doing and that will tell you what type of ATV to get.

For pure recreational riding, a sports quad would be a good bet. If you think you might need to do some work from time to time, you might consider a utility ATV.

If you're buying for the kids to ride, then you definitely need to look at youth ATVs, or perhaps a Side by Side (SxS) if you plan on taking the kids or other passengers on the same ATV.

Get ATV Training

Once you get the right ATV for the kind of riding you'll be doing and get the proper gear, it's time to think about how to ride, and how to do it safely.

Anyone can hop on an ATV and make it go. That's the easy part. It won't fall over like a motorcycle when you first try to take off. The problem is when you need to turn, or stop, or stop quickly in the middle of a turn. Do you know how it's going to react? Do you know how much influence your body position has on a quad? Find out by taking a course.

The ATV Safety Institute has classes all over the country for you to get training.

Your First Few Hours on an ATV

If you're new to riding ATVs you should start out slow and easy until you get used to it. The controls are usually very similar from model to model, with a thumb throttle on the right handlebar and a handbrake that usually activates the front brakes. Some have a twist throttle like a motorcycle.

The left handlebar usually has the clutch if equipped. The rear brakes are applied with the right foot and shifting with the left foot.

After you've gotten completely familiar with the ATV; where the controls are, how to operate everything naturally (without thinking about what does what), how to turn safely using your body-weight then you can start opening up a little bit at a time.

As a new rider, you need to stay completely focused on what you're doing and where you're going. Don't overdrive your line of sight or your brakes. Practice starting, stopping and turning over and over until it's second nature. There's nothing that will increase your riding ability like seat time.

Taking It to the Next Level: Racing!

If you've got the itch from riding ATVs you may not be able to scratch it until you start racing on at least an amateur level. But before you do that, let me ask you something... Are you sure? This kind of racing, while highly exciting for spectators, can be very painful and expensive.

Before you commit to racing you should talk to some people that race. Especially those that race (or have raced) quads. It's a bit of a different sport than most other types of racing because the quads are open wheeled, heavy, and have a bad habit of landing on the rider after an unplanned dismount.

If you're still convinced you won't sleep at night until you've tossed your quad around a track in legitimate competition then go get the ATV safety gear because, well, you're gonna crash.

Then, go look at some of the race-ready quads like the 2011 Yamaha Raptor 125 ATV and hit the track.

ATV Registration and Land Use Permits

Not all states require registration or licensing, but some do. Other's may only require a land-use permit or another type of land pass. Rules and regulations regarding ATV safety may include guidelines for the required safety equipment (like helmets, gloves and riding boots), age restrictions, licensing, sound levels and safety training. Check with your state's Bureau of Motor Vehicles (Department of Motor Vehicles / Department of Transportation). From there, you may need to search for ATV, all-terrain vehicle, OHV or off-highway vehicle to get information about quads. 

There also may be legal requirements to own and operate an ATV on public land and roads. You may need a title (proof of ownership) and registration (annual fees paid to ride on public land). As an ATVer, it's up to you to know the rules and regulations of the area you will be riding in. If you are unsure of any requirements regarding a certain area, you can contact the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for information on legally riding in specific areas.