Off-Road Safety: Trail Riding Tips for Dirt Bike & ATVs
The racing season is beginning again and riders are taking their dirt bikes and ATVs out of storage. Some people only ride on Motocross tracks, but others only love riding in the great outdoors. Motocross is about racing and finishing ahead of everyone else. The bikes made for this type of sport are much lighter than a trail bike. Trail bikes offer a smoother ride and are built for the technical difficulty of trails. These bikes are heavier and sometimes add a headlight and kickstand, two things most moto bikes never have. In trail riding, conquering nature’s natural hurdles and obstacles takes priority over making big jumps and whoops. You spend so much of your time navigating shrubs, wild animals, puddles, fallen tree branches and mud that trail riding feels completely different from motocross dirt track riding. However, some of the etiquette remains the same for both. For instance, being aware of non-riders and other riders is most important. Collisions on ATVs happen more often than you think, too. The following are other factors you should also take into consideration when trail riding on your ATV or dirt bike.
Nature is full of unexpected bumps, turns and hidden corners, so you really have to keep your eyes open and look all around you at all times while on your quad. Hikers and other riders will seem to appear out of nowhere, especially when you are whipping by, so stay alert. Whereas on a motocross track, you can take turns at full speed, you need to be more careful when you ride the trails because you can’t see what’s around the bend. This is especially true on hills, where you can’t see the other side at all. Another rider may be heading up the hill at the same time from another direction. If you’re not careful, the two of you could easily collide.
State parks with amazing ATV trails most often require a spark arrestor on ATVs. Yes, on the Motocross track, you can be as loud and dirty as you want to be, but in nature, you’re expected to keep the area quiet and clean for campers and hikers. You definitely don’t want to get caught without a spark arrestor because it you could be held liable in civil or even criminal court. Don’t confuse a muffler or a silencer with a spark arrester.
You’ll want to know hand signals, especially when riding with a group. You also want to signal all oncoming traffic, whether it be other riders or pedestrians or people on horseback. A bike or ATV zipping by without warning is terrifying for hikers, not to mention a potential for a really awful accident.
If you are riding in a group, designate someone as the leader. That person should always signal those approaching, indicating how many riders are in your pack. The last rider should hold up a fist to indicate that he/she is the last rider.
On narrow trails you don’t want to go open throttle. These trails can be crowded and full of obstacles, creating the perfect scenario for a really bad accident. Ride more slowly in areas where you anticipate oncoming traffic. Let groups of fast riders pass. Be aware of everyone around you, just as you would in a car.
At a fork in the road, you should always stop and wait for the rest of your party. Not only do you not want to lose your fellow riders, but some may need to take a breath or get some water. It is best always to have an agreed-upon meeting spot, however, in case you do get separated. Your campsite would be the most obvious destination for you all to reunite before completely stressing out that you’ve lost one another.
Don’t ride into the campgrounds. You never want to make a lot of noise or kick up dust, unless you want your neighbors to hate you.
Accidents Do Happen
Having a fun, wild ride is what dirt biking and ATVing are all about but you should never put yourself in risk of bodily injury. Always give the right-of-way to horseback riders. You’ll often find yourself surrounded by them on the trails. Note that horses are very unsettled by abrupt, loud noises so it can be dangerous if you try to pass them at a fast (and loud) pace.
You should always have a first aid kit with you. There are even first aid kits made specifically for bikes.
Unfortunately, accidents do happen. Buying good insurance for your off-road vehicle is the most important precaution you can take. Repairs are expensive if you have to pay out-of-pocket after an accident. Besides, many state park trails require that you have the proper insurance or else you won’t be allowed to ride. There are many types of coverages available to ATV and dirt bike owners: liability bodily injury and property damage, guest passenger liability, comprehensive collision, medical payments and more. Talk to an ATV & Dirt Bike Insurance Specialist before you take your vehicle on the trails: (866) 501-7335.
Useful Riding Tips
- Don’t forget to breathe. It may sound silly to mention, but many riders tense up their muscles and hold their breaths without realizing it.
- Don’t grip your handlebars of your dirt bike with all five fingers. Try to ride with only one finger on each lever. Be prepared to switch levers to control your bike.
- Make proper adjustments to you’re the controls on your bike before you ride. Set up your brake and clutch correctly and don’t forget the rear brake pedal. If you adjust the levers too low you’ll end up riding in the wrong position, which could end in disaster. If your bars are too far forward, you will have a hard time taking corners.
What Else Do You Have to Remember?
- Wear your gear. Safety helmets, googles, gloves, boots – all of it. ATVs flip over easier than you might think!
- Inspect the bike. Do this each time you plan to take it out. Check tires and rims for damage. Make sure all connections in your controls are intact.
- Don’t go out alone. If anything were to happen to you while you’re out in the woods, what would happen? Let’s say your cellphone gets destroyed too. It’s never a good idea to hit the trails solo.
- Stay sober behind the wheel. Even one or two drinks (or puffs) will impair your judgement while you’re riding on some very potentially dangerous machines.
- Don’t ride if you’re tired. The rules are just as they would be if you were getting behind the wheel of a car. Never ride/drive when you’re sleepy or if you’ve taken any medication that makes you drowsy.
- No double duty. Unless your vehicle is equipped for two people, don’t ride piggy back or side saddle with a friend or, worse yet, a child. For obvious reasons, this is very dangerous and can end up in a very tragic situation.
- Don’t veer off the designated trails. The demarcation is there for a reason. Don’t go into areas deemed unsafe, which is often why they are closed off. Not only will you be prone to injury, you will most likely cause damage to your vehicle by riding on unpaved terrain, which could also be swampy.
- Really get to know your dirt bike or ATV before taking it out on long, difficult trails. In fact, bring your manual with you in case something goes wrong. Many bring along a toolbox too, in case there’s a loose bolt or low air pressure in a tire.
- Make sure the fluids in your quad are topped off before you set off on your next adventure. Low oil or low coolant are problems that are simple to fix and so destructive if not corrected right away. Without the correct levels of both, you can blow your engine!
- Check your tire pressure before riding. Don’t be lazy. There’s nothing worse than ruining a day on the trails by having to walk your vehicle back. Look at the manufacturer’s recommended psi.
- On your ATV, dab dielectric grease all over your electrical connections to protect your vehicle from water damage. It’s always best to avoid large puddles and other wet areas, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. The grease will help repel the water from getting in.
The information in this article was obtained from various sources. This content is offered for educational purposes only and does not represent contractual agreements, nor is it intended to replace manuals or instructions provided by the manufacturer or the advice of a qualified professional. The definitions, terms and coverage in a given policy may be different than those suggested here and such policy will be governed by the language contained therein. No warranty or appropriateness for a specific purpose is expressed or implied.