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How To Drive an ATV: Quick Start Guide

How To Drive an ATV: Quick Start Guide

Riding an ATV is a fun way to explore the outdoors, and getting all geared up with appropriate riding clothes and equipment is all part of the excitement. But before you set off into the beckoning trails, it’s essential to learn how to drive an ATV safely and correctly.

To drive an ATV, start with pulling in the clutch. Next, shift from neutral gear to first gear, then press the throttle slowly while gradually releasing the clutch. Once the ATV starts moving, you can shift through the gears to speed up. Brake the front wheels by squeezing the right hand lever. Brake the rear wheels with the right foot pedal.

If you’re new to ATVs and would like to learn how to drive one, here’s a quick start guide to get you started.

How To Drive an ATV: Getting Started

To get started, ensure you have a suitable ATV that beginners like yourself can drive. Try sitting on the ATV to feel how comfortable it is, and make sure that you can easily reach the handles and gears. Also, you want to avoid using an ATV that’s too powerful, big, or unwieldy, as this could end up causing an accident while you’re still learning.

For more info on buying an ATV check out my How To Shop For an ATV Guide.

When you start riding, select a wide, flat, and open space without hazards or obstacles in the way (fallen trees, sticks, ditches). Until you’re comfortable using the ATV’s controls, you may want to avoid steep terrain, vehicles, or objects that would require you to navigate around them.

Do’s and Don’ts Before Starting To Drive Your ATV

  • Pick an open space where you can practice your driving.
  • Wear protective gear like boots, gloves, and a helmet to protect yourself from injury.
  • Wear nerf bars and heel guides to maintain your stability and solid footing.
  • Remember to keep your feet on the footpegs as you’re riding for your own safety and to allow you to change gears if necessary.
  • Keep to off-roads or dirt roads, and avoid driving your ATV on paved roads to protect yourself from cars and trucks.
  • Don’t try anytricks when you’re still learning, as they could result in serious injuries.
  • Check your local ATV laws regarding designated driving areas, licenses, and relevant rules and regulations before you start riding your ATV.

For a beginner, it might be easier to learn how to drive using an automatic ATV. However, with practice, a manual clutch isn’t a bad choice either. The biggest hurdle is getting the coordination between your hands and feet right.

Here’s a helpful overview video before we get started, with more info below:

Now, here’s a step by step guide on how to drive an ATV:

Put the Key in the Ignition & Turn It To Start

To start the ATV, insert the key into the ignition, then turn it to the start position. Next, press the start button located towards the right of your handlebars. Once the engine starts, let it run for a minute or so to heat up. You can leave the engine running for up to 5 minutes before riding when the weather is cool.

Pull the Clutch & Set the Engine Into Neutral

To set the engine into neutral, pull the clutch lever located on the left handlebar. This action places the engine into neutral gear, allowing you to shift gears as you increase your speed. Use your left hand to engage the clutch and put the engine into gear to start moving.

Remember that while in neutral gear, the ATV can continue moving forward, but you won’t manage to speed up at all. That’s because to start moving, you need to put the engine into first gear.

Shift Into Higher Gears Using Your Left Foot

With the clutch still engaged, shift gears with your left foot by lifting the left footrest lever. Next, release the clutch to place the engine into gear, enabling you to keep moving. Then, shift upwards into higher gears as your speed increases.

Practice this move by riding around, increasing your speed gradually, and shifting into higher gears. This practice will help you get familiar with driving your ATV. Remember that you also don’t need to concern yourself with shifting gears if you’re riding an automatic transmission. Still, work on a gradual speed increase to get more comfortable driving the ATV.

Hold the Clutch & Downshift To Lower Gears

When slowing down, you’ll need to downshift to lower gears. Downshifting allows you to match the gear with the ATV speed. Hold the clutch using your left hand and use your left foot to press the gear shift lever down before releasing the clutch. As you shift back to lower gears, you’ll sense the lever click down. It’s a good idea to downshift one gear at a time to give your engine time to adjust to the lower gears and slower speeds.

Brake Using the Hand Levers (Right = Rear)

Levers on the right and left sides of the handlebars control your ATV’s brakes. The right-side lever controls the rear brakes, while the left-side lever controls the front brakes. Start to brake with the rear wheels first by squeezing the right handle. To add additional braking power, slowly press the left handle.

You want to avoid squeezing both brakes at the same time since you might topple over the handlebars. Furthermore, your ATV could also flip over if you press into the left handle to brake only the front wheels.

Lean Your Bodyweight Into Turns

To distribute weight and prevent your ATV from tipping over, shift your weight into the direction you’re turning. For example, if you’re turning right, lean towards the right side of your ATV. Practice distributing your weight so that you can start taking turns at much higher speeds. A helpful trick here is to stand up from the seat when taking hard turns so you can lean further.

Take a Formal ATV Driving Course

While you can take ATV driving lessons under an experienced rider, enrolling in a driving course is the best way to receive proper training. Once completed, you may also need to complete a certified course to enable you to drive your ATV legally.

Below is a short video explaining how to drive a manual ATV:

Safety Tips When Driving Your ATV

ATVs are powerful machines that can become unstable or difficult to manage at high speeds. They can also reach speeds of up to 65 mph (104.6 kph) or higher. And, their high center of gravity, lack of roll bars, seatbelts, or safety cages means they can tip or even roll over easily.

As such, you need to protect yourself from rollovers, collisions, and injuries that may come from riding ATVs. The following tips are useful in helping you stay safe on four wheels:

  • Educate yourself on hands-on ATV safety training first – check out the ATV Safety Institute.
  • Always drive at safe speeds on designated ATV trails.
  • Always maintain the correct posture, keep your feet planted, and have your hands grip the handles firmly at all times.
  • Avoid keeping your elbows locked, but keep your knees bent at all times to absorb any dips and bumps along the way.
  • Practice changing gears over and over until you gain confidence. Do the same with all your other controls before you embark on any long-distance trails.
  • Fill up your ATV with high-octane fuel to keep it running smoother and longer.
  • Start by moving slowly and get accustomed to the throttle’s feel and build your confidence before gassing up your ATV.
  • Learn how to drive an ATV using a simple machine since a high-performance ride might contain too much power, giving you a hard time controlling it.

Final Thoughts

Mastering any skill takes time, and learning how to drive an ATV is no exception. However, with regular practice, you’ll acquire all the skills you need for a fun, long ride. Try out different terrains and work on your coordination to enhance your ATV riding abilities. Soon, you’ll be ready to go on off-road adventures.

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