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By: Jason Giacchino
Email: offthepegs @

June 2008 - Off The Pegs

Rising Fuel Costs and ATVs

Letís take a moment to talk about a very popular subject of late: gas prices. I know! I know! Before you start to boo in unison and point the finger of blame to one of three sources (the foreign countries who produce the oil, the big oil companies that get rich off it, or our own government for not doing something about it) let me just clear the air by saying that my article will in no way attempt to solve the current oil crisis. That said, letís take a brief look back into high school economics for a quick catcher-upper (Note to those of you not yet in high school: Hereís a preview of whatís to come). Free-trade economics are based on a system of supply and demand. Typically as demand increases while supply decreases, prices begin to rise.  Conversely, as supplies build up and demand lessens, prices fall. While it may be a cop out, the oil industry blames the rising costs of late on the fact that demand for gasoline is really starting to pick up in India and Asia leaving long-time oil consumer America to get in line with everybody else. Hereís the part that gets fishy, though; sure demand is cranking, but supplies arenít in any real jeopardy.  If youíll think back to our brief economics lesson (its a few sentences above in case your memory is as bad as mine), youíll notice that it usually takes an increase in demand and trouble with enough supply to meet the demand for prices to start taking their meteoric rise. Yeah, thatís pretty odd, indeed.

I donít mean to dash off into a whole conspiracy theory; but donít you get the nagging suspicion that the oil companies noticed that even though prices have been steadily rising, we will continue to pay for our addiction to liquid fuel? I suppose they can hardly be faulted for trying to get the most they can for their product; after all weíve proven that the demand will remain strong regardless of the price.

I digress. What I really wish to accomplish by bringing up the rising fuel crisis is to relate the situation to our little corner of the world, which, as Iím sure youíve already noticed, relies upon the liquid-gold from the pump as well. Believe it or not, our sport is considered third (out of three) when factoring those most affected by increases in gasoline cost. The first (as you may have already guessed) is transportation: Fuel for our cars, pickups, SUVs, fuel to power public transportation, subways, buses, airliners, boats, etc. In second place are our gas-powered utility equipment, lawnmowers, weed whackers, tillers, tractors etc. Also, back in the rear of the pack come the recreation vehicles, which ATVs (like motor homes, jet skis, snowmobiles and so on) happen to fall under. Now before you get upset, sure there is some crossover between the positions. Many farmers and landowners use their ATV or UTV for strictly utilitarian purposes and likewise there are surely some individuals out there who rely upon their quad for their basic transportation needs. However, according to the generalized hierarchy, a majority of the ATVs purchased in the United States are put to immediate recreational use: trail riding, exploring, play riding, or racing.

So whatís the point you ask? Well, being last in this line means that we are also in last place as far as innovations and new fuel-saving technologies are concerned. Transportation gets the lionís share of the attention (some of it not by choice but rather by government mandates), and we see this through concepts such as gas/electric hybrids and E85 (ethanol) burning motors. As of yet, as far as I know, nobody has seriously put into action development of a hybrid ATV (but you canít help but think that if anyone would, itíd be Honda).

Hereís the good news. While the rest of the gasoline engine-powered world finds itself scrambling to meet ever-tightening standards, we ATV riders do have a specific advantage in the realm of fuel economy. Once there was a time when it was fairly easy to calculate the average mile per gallon rating of every ATV on the market (after all, most of them were relatively small bore single-cylinders); nowadays that prospect has become a bit more difficult thanks to huge variations in weight (side by sides weigh a bit more than your kidís mini) and the addition of multi-cylinder engines to many fleets. Taking these factors into consideration, conservative estimates still come in placing the average ATV fuel economy somewhere between 19 and 43 miles per gallon. All in all and especially when compared to the auto industry, weíve got it pretty good. While itís still too early to begin considering what will happen to ATVs should an alternative fuel source become the dominant supply in the country, we can at least be thankful for the fact that for about $4 these days a quad can be counted on to deliver somewhere between 19 and 43 of the most exciting miles on the planet.

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