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4 tips for beginner ATV riders

By Dr. Jon Schmidt for Intermountain Primary Childrens Hospital | Posted - Aug. 20, 2014 at 10:00 a.m.

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This time of year is the perfect season to pick up a new hobby. That's when I took the opportunity to try four-wheeling for the first time. It was years ago and now riding an ATV is one of my family's favorite activities. However, thinking back to that first summer I spent riding almost makes me cringe. There is so much about riding ATVs that I understand now that I wish I understood then.

For anyone looking to try riding an ATV, I have some suggestions for you to consider before hitting the trails. I want to start with the most important thing I've learned in my time riding ATVs: safety always comes first. It's your ride and your responsibility to make sure you and everyone you ride with stays safe out on the trails. Here are some helpful tips:

1. Get the right vehicle for the job and rider

This might sound like a no-brainer, but there's actually a lot that goes in to finding the perfect ATV to fit your needs. First, there is the physical size of the ATV. While most adult ATVs should fit most adult body types, you should try to find an ATV that allows your knees to be bent at 90 degrees and doesn't require you to stretch to reach the brakes.

Photo: Intermountain Primary Children's Hospital

Ideally you should be able to comfortably place your second knuckle on the brake mechanism. This same rule applies to younger riders. There are plenty of youth ATVs out there, so make certain ATVs are the appropriate fit for their rider.

Keep in mind that you should never allow more riders on an ATV than it was designed for. If you think you'll want to give passengers a ride, plan accordingly and find an ATV made for that. Learn more about sizing up the right ATV.

Beyond the actual dimensions of the machine, you need to think about what size engine you are looking for. ATVs with 500cc or greater (larger displacement) engines pack more punch and will go faster.

They'll also be great for utility tasks like towing a trailer or plowing snow. Conversely, they will be more difficult to steer and control than other lower cc machines and that's something to consider.

2. Get the proper safety gear

Having the right safety equipment is just as important as having the right ATV. I've seen more than a few injuries that could have been prevented had the rider been wearing the proper safety gear.

First, you should never go riding without a helmet. Helmets should preferably be DOT and SNELL certified, a bike helmet is not good enough. When choosing a helmet make sure to find one that fits you properly.

There should be no gaps between the helmet padding and your head, including direct contact with your cheeks. The helmet should be snug enough to ensure there will be no movement in the helmet's fit.

Grab the helmet securely with both hands and try to rotate the helmet side-to-side and back-and-forth. It may be uncomfortable, but if the helmet shows significant movement, or even comes close to coming off, it's definitely too large.

Don't' forget that helmets should always be replaced if they've been in a crash. Helmets do degrade with time, so you'll want to upgrade your headgear at least every five years. This includes goggles, which are another important item for protecting your brain and eyes.

There's more to safety than just a helmet. Wearing proper gear from head-to-toe, including gloves, boots and full-length pants, makes a big difference when it comes to staying protected on your ATV. Learn more about safety gear.

Photo: Shutterstock

3. Plan your trip in advance

Anytime you plan an ATV trip you should know where you are going and what to expect when you get there. This is even more true for someone planning to ride for the first time.

Always let someone know where you're going and when you'll be back. You should also have a plan in place in case something goes wrong.

Knowing the terrain and how to handle it is also very important. If you aren't sure how to climb hills, avoid them. There are plenty of ATV systems out there for beginning riders, so don't over-extend yourself or your fellow riders.

When you are just starting out stick to simple trails and avoid unfamiliar terrain—like crossing a river or stream for example.

4. Get ATV certified online

Finally, if you're going out riding for the first time, take some time and get ATV rider certified today. It's a simple process and the knowledge will help you know how to handle yourself in case things don't go according to plan.

Remember, if you're going to be riding with anyone under the age of 16, or with someone who doesn't have a driver's license, they are required by law to complete the online training. Get ATV rider certified.

I said it before, and I'll say it again: the most important thing to remember when riding an ATV is safety. While the biggest risks involve inexperience, intoxication, excessive speeds and lack of a helmet, I've seen plenty of accidents happen at low speeds or even when the machine was idling.

According to the CDC, Utah has the fourth highest traumatic brain injury hospitalization rate in children, and ATV-related incidents are a significant contributor to this unfortunate statistic. So always stay safe on the trails. Serious fun is sure to follow.

Dr. Schmidt—Dr. Jon Schmidt is a 3rd year pediatric resident at Primary Children's Hospital pursuing a career in general pediatrics. He received his medical degree from the University of Utah. Along with his wife and 4 children, he particularly enjoys the trails surrounding Panguitch and the High Uinta Mountains.

Dr. Jon Schmidt for Intermountain Primary Childrens Hospital

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