ATV trail riding with a group of ATVers is great fun. I have ridden with large groups (10 – 20 riders) and small groups (4 – 6 riders). I personally prefer riding with a small group of riders, all with about the same skill level. I recommend always riding with someone else (the ATV buddy system) in the back country, never ride alone.
When ATV trail riding, I like to ride fast, long and hard. To do this safely you really have to understand the capabilities of your ATV. I am referring to the way it handles (suspension and turning), how effective the ATV brake system reacts on different types of terrain and the power. This is critical especially when riding on unfamiliar trails.
When leading the pack, your sense of awareness needs to be increased because trail conditions can change in an instant. Most importantly you have to be aware of other possible ATVs, motorcycles and full size vehicles that may also be on the trail. Your eyes must be watching the immediate trail in front of you plus scanning the trail at a distance.
I remember one time I was leading a small group on a narrow jeep trail, it was late in the day and we were coming down a wooded mountain side with lots of sharp blind switch backs. We were moving at a good rate and I was trying to anticipate another ATV or motorcycle at each turn by staying close to the right side. As I came around one sharp switch back there was a Forest Service truck coming up the trail.
The truck was pretty much taking up the whole trail with no immediate way to pass. I locked both front and rear brakes and slid sideways to a stop within inches of the trucks front bumper. Needless to say I received a well deserved lecture from the Ranger on safe travel speeds.
My point is you never know what may be around the next turn when ATV trail riding. It could be a fallen tree or a rock slide, in the back country anything is possible. Be aware of cross trails and approach with caution. Also, because these are back country trails beware of wildlife that may jump out at any time.
When leading a pack of riders try to have a understanding of the capabilities of the other riders and their machines. As the leader you need to continually look back to verify the others are still with you. Encourage each rider in the group to do the same. If you don’t see anybody behind you stop and wait, don’t immediately turn around. After a minute or so turn your engine off and listen for the others.
If after a minute or so you can not hear the engines of the other ATVs then start your ATV and turn around. Proceed back on the trail with caution looking for the other riders. This is a rough sport and things happen all the time, flat tires, breakdowns and even a crash or two.
If you are not the leader, follow the ATV in front of you at a safe distance. Most newer ATVs have brake lights but they can become inoperative so keep a close eye on the ATV in front of you. Dust from the ATV you are following can cause visibility problems. Problems seeing the trail and potential obstacles.
When following other ATVs closely on a dusty trail it is best to ride in a standing position with your knees slightly bent. This way you are ready to react to sudden changes in the trail. Watch the movements of the ATV in front of you as they may be moving from side to side to avoid obstacles in the trail.
When ATV trail riding in dusty conditions, ATV dust masks help make breathing clean air a lot easier. Nobody likes eating the dust of others on the trail. Also clean your ATV goggles often especially in the late afternoon to help with the sun glare and shadows.
When on a day long ride the trail visibility is constantly changing. In the late afternoon shadows on the trail can be mistaken as rocks, holes, other obstacles and vise-versa. Again clean your goggles often. I actually carry two pair of goggles, one pair with clear lenses and the other pair with tinted lenses. I mainly ride with the tinted lenses but will switch to the clear lenses in the late afternoon to help with the shadows.
When ATV trail riding for long periods of time it’s important to know your bodies limitations. ATV trail riding can be physically demanding. If you are feeling fatigued, slow down, drink plenty of water and try to replenish your bodies energy with a snack (trail mix, jerky, etc.). Be observant of others in your group feeling fatigued and don’t push them too hard.
ATV trail riding is fun but do it responsibly and safely. Always wear a helmet with goggles, ride within your capabilities and use proper trail etiquette. Make sure your ATV is properly maintained and you understand its capabilities. Get the proper ATV accessories to make your ride more enjoyable.