ATVs: Recreational Vehicles With a Practical Side
If you don’t own an ATV, you probably know someone who does. These small, sporty vehicles use for outdoor recreational activities have become ubiquitous over the last several decades. They appear in all sorts of pop culture phenomena, from the Mad Max movies to the James Bond classic Diamonds Are Forever.
Some people just use ATVs to get around, while others have made whole careers out of mastering how to maneuver them and competing in races. Furthermore, ATVs have a less-discussed yet equally important practical side, which we will get to soon. First, let’s get into the history of ATVs to understand how we got where we are today.
The History of ATVs
While ATVs feel like a recent invention — conjuring images of race tracks and fans, or off-roading in brightly colored protective gear — they actually go back farther than you might expect. The first four-wheeled ATV-style motorbike was built in 1893 by a man named Royal Enfield and his company, Enfield Manufacturing Co. This 19th-century invention was not made for outdoor recreational activities, however. It was designed to be driven on the road as a carriage that didn’t need a horse. This was, of course, a far cry from the recreational quad vehicles we know and love today, but it is important to remember these fascinating roots.
By the 1960s and ’70s, the three-wheeled ATV emerged. It came first as Sperry-Rand’s Tricart, designed in Detroit by grad student John Plessinger in ’67, and quickly took off once he sold the patent to a commercial manufacturer. Soon large companies such as Honda entered the market, and by the ’70s three-wheeled ATVs were being mass-produced. While these vehicles were sporty and versatile, they lacked the incredible stability four-wheeled ATVs have.
The three-wheel ATV enjoyed significant popularity all the way up to the mid-80s. When it comes to four-wheelers, Suzuki was the first of today’s major manufacturers to offer quads, starting with the QuadRunner LT125. Before Suzuki made modern four-wheel ATVs so popular, a small company in Louisiana called Adventure Vehicles paved the way with their Avenger 400 model in 1980. This was not a vehicle that could race or go off large ramps like today’s models. as it featured a rigid suspension system. Suzuki’s models were higher-performing, with advanced long-travel suspension, five and later six-speed manual transmission, and a motor that had its own liquid cooling system.
However, once Honda entered the four-wheel arena, they quickly took primacy. Their TRX200 model, released in 1984, took over 69% of all U.S. ATV sales at its height. This massive popularity crushed three-wheel ATV sales, and even led to a temporary ban of sales for one decade when some concerns over their safety arose. With high-performance four-wheel ATVs on the market, racing competitions arose. It started with the Grand National Cross Country series in 1980, and led to the ATV National Motocross Championship series in 1985.
These days, ATV dealers offer three, four, even six-wheel ATVs of all sorts of makes and models. ATV sales have surged way ahead of dirt bikes — according to Motosport, 71,000 dirt bikes were purchased in 2012, while ATVs exceeded 225,000. And their popularity shows no signs of slowing.
Beyond Motocross: The Advent of the UTV
When it comes to outdoor recreational activities, everyone likes extreme sports. The risk and excitement of a race, with hairpin turns and jumps and obstacles, is universally appealing. These competitions are particularly popular in the U.S. and the United Kingdom, with countless fans filling the stands at races or watching on TV. Even more intense is Supercross, a sport similar to Motocross but with a higher density of tight turns, jumps, and obstacles. These sports push riders and their vehicles to their absolute limits. These sorts of activities are the reason people go to car insurance companies and get their ATVs insured.
In such a high-intensity, high-pressure environment, you never know what could happen. It is essential to remember that extreme sports carry with them inherent risks, and should be approached with the utmost caution and preparation. If something happens to your recreational vehicle, not all automobile repair shops are able to service ATVs.
Motocross and Supercross are fascinating sports that make amazing use of the vehicles they rely on for outdoor recreational activities. However, extreme sports and amateur home recreation do not encompass the full extent of this recreational vehicle’s utility. Since the ATV hit mass production, farmers have realized the productive potential they possess. Having a compact, powerful, and versatile vehicle which can effortlessly traverse a variety of terrains is a huge asset for anyone faced with the multitude of tasks farms require each day.
In fact, this revelation led to the development of a very similar vehicle alongside the ATV, one that is not recreational in nature. For decades now those who work in agriculture, or simply in rural settings which involve a large number of outdoor tasks, have been using UTVs. UTV stands for either Utility Terrain Vehicle or Utility Task Vehicle, depending on who you ask — sometimes the name is shortened to just Utility Vehicle.
UTVs generally come in one of three categories: utility, sport, or sport-utility. As you likely guessed, utility-style UTVs are more appropriate for practical tasks — for work, rather than for play. Sporty UTVs, by contrast, are designed to provide exciting, responsive performance for those who want to use them for outdoor recreational activities. While this may be starting to sound like an ATV, it is important to note that ATVs are generally designed for just one rider, while UTVs have a higher passenger capacity. Sport-utility ATVs, as the name implies, offer a compromise between the two.
While you may be thinking that a truck with the right truck accessories could accomplish any task a UTV might be used for, think again. These versatile vehicles are perfect for a very wide array of niche tasks that trucks are simply too large and cumbersome to accomplish. And, of course, they come at a much lower price tag!
UTVs: So Many Uses, So Little Time
As a farmer, the tasks are many and the days not long enough. Anything that can help to shorten the eternally long task list just a bit faster is a welcome addition. That’s where utility terrain vehicles come in. These vehicles that are at times used for outdoor recreational activities can be seamlessly integrated into the existing farm workflow, giving a huge boost to efficiency. Here are some examples of ways in which UTVs can change how you work:
You just found a new snowplow
Countless farms, particularly those in New England, have a specific adversary to combat outside the growing season: snowfall. While many of those East coast summers can get so hot you’ll wish you had a more powerful air conditioning system, the snowfall can hit so hard you end up needing roof repair. For over 60% of New York, for example, the average snowfall exceeds 70 inches — that’s around 6 feet. For properties near the Great Lakes or the Finger Lakes, the number is even greater thanks to the infamous “lake effect.” For the Finger Lakes, this snow hits hard on many vineyards, as the region is famous for the amazing grapes its soil produces.
While the growing stops once frost hits the soil, people still need to be able to get in and out of their driveways. This is where UTVs come in. Most models are compatible with some sort of plow attachment which makes clearing the driveway and any other space which needs to be snow-free a breeze. There are also a variety of accessories that can help you to navigate all but the deepest of drifts on your utility terrain vehicle. Extra weights, such as sandbags and wheel weights, can help you get the grip you need. Chains on your tires tend to be particularly helpful for increasing traction in the snow. Thus prepared, clearing that dreaded New England snowfall should be as breezy as enjoying the best outdoor recreational activities.
Save that lawnmower money
The lawn needs to be mown. Let it get overgrown, and suddenly your property looks unkempt and uncared-for. It’s generally recommended that people mow their lawn every 1-2 weeks, though this of course can vary according to climatic factors, including sun, temperature, and precipitation.
A lawnmower can set you back quite a bit, however. While the cheapest models can go for under $100, they tend not to do a very good job, and you’d be hard-pressed to get a uniform cut with one. Particularly if your house is going to be looked at by inspectors, a first impression is key. A cheap lawnmower just isn’t going to get you there. Decent lawnmowers average around $600, and when you get to the higher end can even exceed $2,000.
While with the right company it’s possible to find a zero turn mower without breaking the bank, if you have a UTV you can most likely get away with not purchasing a lawnmower at all. With the right accessories, you can cut your grass on your UTV — you simply need tires that have an appropriate tread that won’t damage your lawn, as well as a pull-behind mower attachment or a mower deck attachment.
Not only does this method save you money, but it also saves you space. If you don’t have the storage space for a lawnmower available at home, using offsite storage facilities can grow costly over time. It makes the most sense, logistically and economically, to take advantage of multifunctional equipment at every opportunity.
You’re ready for fall
With each season comes a new chore, and we all know what happens in the fall. When the weather turns and grows cold, leaves can fully blanket your property if you have a relatively high density of trees. With a large enough property, the task of clearing them all is not among the fun outdoor recreational activities and can feel impossible.
A rake simply won’t cut it, so people often deem it necessary to either purchase a leaf blower or hire someone to handle it. With the former, you are incurring the cost of the leaf blower, as well as having to deal with the same storage issue mentioned above. With the latter, leaf-blowing services tend to be expensive, whether flat-rate or by the hour.
Fortunately, there are rake accessories available to fit most UTVs. And by varying the spacing of the tines on an adjustable rake attachment, you can handle any sort of debris in your yard — fallen branches, pine needles, you name it. With the right rake accessory, your UTV becomes a versatile yard-clearing device.
No tractor? No problem
Tractors are essentially synonymous with farming. There is so much that they’re used for, it’s nearly impossible to imagine farming without one. Yet, with the right accessories, a utility terrain vehicle can perform many of a tractor’s necessary functions.
All it takes is a disc or chisel plow attachment linked to the back of your UTV, and you can turn over your soil to prepare it for cultivation. While an ATV or UTV may not be ideal for a large-scale farming operation, one can be the perfect asset for family farms that are on the smaller side.
When it comes time to harrow your fields, UTVs have you covered as well. Both disc and drag harrow attachments are available to connect to the back of your UTV or ATV, enabling you to harrow your fields with ease.
The same even goes for seeding. Believe it or not, there are manufacturers who produce spreader attachments which you can mount to your UTV. These devices can spread whatever you may need, whether it’s seeds, sand, compost, mulch, or fertilizer. In essence, an ATV or UTV can replace every vehicle you might need save a fishing boat — though there are amphibious models out there!
Small but mighty, ATVs and UTVs run the gamut from pure adrenaline-inducing sport to honest hard work. Technically speaking, these machines have been around for over a hundred years. Though they’ve changed a lot, there is a reason for this longevity. Sporty all-terrain vehicles and handy utility terrain vehicles fit a variety of purposes, from using them for outdoor recreational activities to incorporating them into professional and practical lifestyles.