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Full-Monty Four-Wheeling ATVs - An ATV Primer

Atv Splashing
Rob Reaser | Writer
Posted April 1, 2002
Photographers: The Manufacturers

These Little 4x4s Offer A New Twist

"ATVs? Hey, buddy, I got your all-terrain vehicle right here! It's a...[insert your 4x4's year, make, and model]."

We anticipated your reaction when we decided to run a spot on ATVs in this issue of 4-Wheel & Off-Road. But after considering that many ATVs have a four-wheel driveline and are designed exclusively for off-road use, we reckoned that these machines definitely fall within the 4WOR camp, and that it was high time we acknowledged that fact. Furthermore, the ATV industry is exploding right now, with sales skyrocketing and increasingly more powerful and sophisticated trail crawlers coming to market.

But really, in our realm of fullsize, gonzo 4x4 trucks and SUVs, why do we care about these micro-wheelbase four-wheelers, whose engines are measured in cubic centimeters instead of inches? Simply put, ATVs present a fun and exciting means to expand our off-road driving passions.

Full-Monty Four-wheelingATVs offer a new level of off-road action for even veteran trail jockeys. Many of the ATV riding principals are similar to those we employ with our fullsize 4x4s. Whether you are picking lines in a boulder field or manipulating the drivetrain for optimal gearing and traction, the basic rules are the same. There is, however, a difference...and it's a big 'un. In spite of their having four wheels, ATVs demand a high degree of "body English" to correctly and safely maneuver. In essence, the body and the machine become one. You must shift positions while riding in order to change the center of gravity and maintain correct balance on hills, in turns, and while negotiating obstacles-fun skills you never develop sitting in a cockpit.

Expanded Trail AccessAs we are all painfully aware, there is limited access to public land trails where fullsize 4x4s can legally travel-especially in the East. Nevertheless, many federally owned lands offer ATV and motorcycle trail access in areas where fullsize or street-legal trucks and SUVs are not permitted. ATVs thus give us a chance to explore some exciting new country. ATVs also have a high portability quotient, meaning they easily fit into the back of most compact, and all fullsize, pickup beds. When the trail peters out, it's a simple matter to roll out the little four-wheeler and keep on going.

Buddy CompatibleNo one likes to (or should) go 'wheeling by themselves. Many of us have friends without rigs who'd like to join us on the trail, but who wants to be a passenger all day? Throw an ATV in the back of the truck, unload it at the trailhead, then everyone gets a cut of the action.

They Speak Our LanguageThe current line of premium sport/utility ATVs is being built in the spirit of the true off-road enthusiast. ATVs used to be putt-putt machines. Now, due to their expanding popularity among recreational riders, hunters, farmers and commercial interests, ATV manufacturers are racing to outdo each other in power and trail performance. It's similar to what we saw during the 1960s musclecar wars, only the push is on for bigger engines, four-wheel independent suspensions, increased wheel travel, higher ground clearances, locking differentials, improved engine braking, and the like. All the cool stuff we try to incorporate in our big rigs the ATV manufacturers are doing to their out-of-the-box machines. Heck, they're even beginning to look a lot like SUVs. Sure, the platform may be different, but the hardware and the language is remarkably similar.

ATVs come in a variety of sizes, features, and prices. The past year, however, has seen a lot of activity in the development of what is called "premium sport utility" machines-with a serious push toward larger engine displacement, electronic drivetrain controls, independent rear suspensions, and locking or progressively locking front differentials. To give you a taste of what's out there, we present the cream of the '02 crop. In sum, the "A" list of bad boy ATVs.

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