The first thing to think about when riding an ATV through rough terrain is control. For that, you need to be in low gear. This gives you plenty of torque so you can move about at low speed with enough guts and power to get you out of trouble on terrain that can cause you to stick or wheel-spin.
Staying calm is important, as in low gear you will have plenty of horsepower should you wish to put the ATV through its paces. Take it slowly and ride steadily, and you can successfully travel through all kinds of terrain without putting yourself, or your quad, in danger.
You need to be aware of the dangers in the terrain, and your personal safety should be your first priority, followed by taking care of your ATV. Fooling around on rough ground can lead to fatal accidents and wipe-outs can be very expensive, both in medical bills and parts for your quad.
Assuming you already have a quad that is the right size for you, it’s worth making sure you have thought about safety in your clothing. Helmets are obvious, but if you are crossing rough terrain there are some key things to keep in mind.
Goggles are essential on muddy ground, as are gloves. Remember, you may need to wipe your goggles from time to time, so if your gloves don’t have a suitable fabric you may need to carry a small cloth. Bumpy ground will cause vibrations to shoot through your hands and arms; good quality gloves can help to reduce the impact of these vibrations.
Similarly, you need good quality boots to cover rough terrain. Not only should these be waterproof, but you will need them to be padded, and they should preferably cover the ankle to save this sensitive joint from jolting as you bounce around over rocks. Most importantly, your boots need to give you grip as it is easy to slip and fall off on bumpy ground.
To check out some of the tried and tested riding gear that I recommend, visit the Recommended Gear section of this site.
Even in hot weather, you need to make sure your arms and legs are covered when you ride your quad. Anyone can fall off, but being skinned due to wearing just a T-shirt is a tourist’s error.
If you know the terrain will be rougher than usual, it may be worth increasing the padding. Better still, a waterproof set of leathers will give you maximum protection as you negotiate the jungle, even though you may feel a little hot.
Checks and Maintenance
Regular maintenance of your ATV is vital to keep you as safe as possible while you are riding. You need to begin a routine test that includes the brakes, belts and steering, Always check your tires for wear and tear, and make sure they are fully pumped up to the correct pressure. If need help finding maintenance items and tools, check out the Best Maintenance Items article I wrote.
This is even more important in hot weather when they can vary significantly. If you know the ground is particularly bumpy or rocky, you may prefer to keep your tires pressure slightly lower than normal, to help absorb the jarring effect of driving over ruts and rocks.
This will also give you slightly more tire on the ground that can give you more grip in slippery conditions. If at all possible, walk the route beforehand so you can tell what is going to come up next. Sometimes, rough terrain can be easier to negotiate than fairly even tracks if you eliminate the nasty surprises. I go into a lot more detail about the best tire pressure for different uses in this article, Best ATV Tire Pressure.
Move Your Body!
The design of your ATV will decide how you sit or stand to ride it. Large, side-by-side vehicles only give you one choice: to sit at the wheel. Smaller vehicles can let you sit or stand astride. To some extent, whether you stand or sit is up to you. These vehicles have an added danger: they can not be fitted with roll-bars or cages.
One of the biggest causes of ATV accidents is being tipped or thrown from the vehicle, and this risk is obviously higher with a small quad that you sit astride. Some riders feel they have a little more stability if they are sitting.
All ATVs have the capacity to tip, and this risk is even higher on rough ground. Turning quad bikes on the flat requires some help from the rider, and this is exaggerated when the going gets rough. Every rider will need to balance the quad by moving their body in the right direction as they negotiate different parts of the track.
For example, if you are cornering, you will need to shift your weight to the outside of the bend to keep your quad from rising off the ground. Increasing the amount of weight you have sitting in the outside footrest will help your quad to turn with you around the bend.
The sharper the turn, the heavier and faster that shift of weight needs to be. Many riders prefer to stand for this move, or at least keep most of their weight in their lower leg, as they have the freedom to move quickly if needed.
Going up or downhill also requires you to move your body accordingly. To keep safe while riding downhill, you need to drop your weight into your feet and lower leg. Keep your body hovering slightly behind your leg. If you imagine a vertical line from your ankle to your ear, you need to keep your body somewhere behind this vertical if you want to balance your quad and come down a steep hill safely.
You will also need to be very careful with braking as it is easy to be thrown over the front of the handlebars. Look up and straight ahead, if possible, to be able to react quickly when the gradient changes.
To help get your ATV up a steep slope, you will need to lean forward as far as possible. It is best to stand for this. Place your full weight on both the footrests and lean your body as far forward as you can, towards the handlebars.
Always try to keep your weight evenly divided between both feet to keep your ATV balanced, Drive steadily at a low speed until you have reached the top of the incline. The temptation is to rev the quad and try to give it more power, but on a muddy hill, this could lead to getting stuck.
To keep your quad as easy to manoeuver as possible, you need to stay in low gears and try to negotiate each obstacle as slowly and steadily as possible. Be careful, as low gears will increase your torque and one slip could cause a nasty accident.
Only use that power when you need it to help you get out if you have become stuck. Don’t be tempted to put a leg out or a foot on the ground. Many accidents have been caused this way. If you feel you are losing maneuverability, try to shift your weight either backwards to release the front wheels or forwards to help you climb over a stubborn rock.
As a rule of thumb, try to lean into the slope – lean forward uphill, backward to go down and if you are cutting across place greater weight on the foot nearest the side of the slope that faces upwards.
Rough terrain can give you any number of scary and stubborn obstacles to overcome. Some of these might include:
- Overhanging branches (duck!)
- Branches of fallen trees
- Streams across the trail
- Large puddles
- Sharp turns
- Steep inclines and declines
- Thick mud
Food and Drink
Staying hydrated is also very important if you are riding off-road; carrying some water, and even some snacks, can be a wise choice. Things can change very quickly when riding rough terrain, and it is important that your brain is functioning at its best to keep your reactions quick and alert. Alcohol must always be avoided, for obvious reasons.
Energy drinks can affect your thinking power and are, therefore, also best left behind. You should also avoid smoking while riding due to the high number of flammable parts. You might find it helpful to carry a small first aid kit if there is room on your quad. A mobile phone can also bring help should you, or your quad, require assistance.
Remember: stay safe, go slowly, and think carefully.