By SCOT MAGNISH
"They’re fun to use. They don’t require any training to operate. They’re so easy to ride, even a child can get on one and go."
These are some of the things you’ll hear when shopping for an All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) for your cottage.
Unfortunately, only the first statement is accurate.
ATVs are fun to use. It’s why, after a decade of bad press, ATVs are experiencing such a boom in popularity.
They do require training to operate properly, however. And while a child can get in a car and go, too, that doesn’t mean it’s a particularly good idea to give junior the keys to the Jag.
Most ATVs weigh in at about 600 lbs. They have solid rear axles, fat, squishy tires and soft suspensions. They’re capable of speeds in excess of 60 kms per hour and are designed to "interact" with the rider.
What’s more, there are literally hundreds of different models to choose from. There are cammo-patterned ATVs, brightly coloured Baja-style machines, utilitarian workhorses and kiddie models with four wheel drive.
So what kind of ATV should you be shopping for?
"That depends on what you want to do with it," says Warren Milner of Honda Canada.
"Keep in mind bigger isn’t always better: Weight and size can be a big disadvantage, depending on what you’re going to be doing."
The trick, Milner says, is to buy the ATV that’s just big enough to do the job you’ve got in mind.
There are three categories of ATVs: sport, work and hybrid.
"Recreational ATVs are made for trail riding only," Milner explains, describing "sport ATVs" as softly sprung machines with a high centre of gravity and a lot of ground clearance. When it comes to sport ATVs, he says, the smaller the better.
"Work ATVs - the kind you might find in a logging camp or in a marina - are going to be heavier, they’ll have a stiffer suspension and they’ll have a lower centre of gravity, too."
Hybrids span the spectrum in between - and it’s here most cottagers will find what they’re looking for. If blasting around on logging roads is all you’ve got in mind, you not only don’t need a big machine, you may not even need four-wheel drive.
Hauling logs or firewood too? "You’re probably going to want to look at something a little bigger," Milner says.
And if you’re using your ATV for hunting, the demands you’re going to be placing on your ATV’s suspension and transmission are going to be even greater still.
There’s other considerations, too. Is the ATV going to spend a lot of time in the water? If so, you probably want to avoid chain drives and belt transmissions.
Once you’ve defined the reason you’re buying an ATV, you should be realistic about what you can handle - and what you can’t.
"As a rule, you shouldn’t be operating a machine that is more than three times your body weight," Milner continues. "ATVs are interactive machines: You ride them, you don’t drive them."
Milner says getting on one that’s too big for you is akin to "straddling a locomotive and then trying to make it change direction by shifting your weight. You’re just not going to make a difference."
Most manufacturers recommend taking a training course, too. Although they have four wheels, ATV handling characteristics are definitely not car-like - and anything three times your body weight is going to hurt you if it lands on top of you.
Last but not least, Milner says every buyer should factor the cost of safety gear into their purchase, including a helmet, eye protection, a chest protector, gloves and boots.
ATV Do’s and Don’ts: