By: CJ Rena Johnson
Crash Course in Crash
Never Ride Above Your Experience Level
ATV and dirt bike accidents can result in
serious injury or even death. We’ve all seen the
headlines. It is a story we hear all too often.
However, most of the more common reasons for
these accidents can be avoided by following just
a few simple rules and suggestions.
ASI Safety Course
The first thing to consider when buying an ATV
or dirt bike is enrolling in an ASI safety
course. This is an excellent way to educate
yourself and is now required in many states. The
good news is that when you purchase your new
vehicle, most manufacturers offer a certificate
to take the course for free. The even better
news is a lot of them will even give you cash
back to take the course! If you didn’t buy your
vehicle new, there is still a chance you can get
a free course if the previous owner didn’t take
it. Even if in a worst case scenario, you have
to pay for the course, it is still a lot less
expensive than a trip to the ER!
www.atvsafety.org/asi.cfm for more
information on these courses.
Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned rider,
you always need to wear the recommended
protective gear. If you haven’t had some sort of
accident while riding, you just haven’t been
riding long enough because you will. They happen
to the best and worst of us. Always be prepared
for the accident, so you can enjoy the ride
again and again.
For ATVs, the minimal recommended safety gear
includes a DOT approved helmet, ankle high
boots, goggles, long pants, long sleeve shirt,
and gloves. If you are riding a dirt bike, add a
chest protector to this mix.
Check your vehicle before heading out to the
trail to make sure it is in proper working
- Brakes: Test the brakes to make sure they will
stop the vehicle but are not sticking when you
use them. Check the brake fluid, also.
- Throttle: Make sure it turns or moves freely and
returns completely to off position when
- Loose Cables: Check for loose cables or wires
and repair as necessary.
- Shifter: Like the brake, you need to make sure
it moves freely when you engage it and returns
to the correct position when released.
- Tire Pressure: Be sure all tires have the
manufacturer’s recommended tire pressure.
Improper tire pressure can cause poor handling
and even make your ATV feel “out of alignment.”
- Gas: Make sure you have sufficient gas for the
trip you are planning to make before you hit the
trail. There are not a lot of gas stations along
- Chain or Belt: Check the drive train belt or
chain and make sure it is secure and not to
- Fluids: Top off all fluids. As with any motor,
running out of something like oil is never a
good thing. Check for leaks as well as this can
be a sign of a problem.
- Headlights: If headlights are provided on your
vehicle, make sure they work properly before you
“go too far before it gets dark.” Night riding
takes on a whole new meaning when you have no
lights to even find the trail.
- Loose Nuts or Bolts: Nuts and bolts can be
jarred loose at any time during riding. Check
each time before you head out to make sure you
do not have any loose screws of any kind, on
your vehicle, that is.
Loading and Unloading
Always be aware
of the tail signs.
When using ramps, make sure they are approved
for ATV & dirt bike use and attach them securely
to your vehicle. A loose ramp can kick back and
end your day before you even leave your
Securely fasten your ATV or dirt bike to your
trailer or truck. Even a ¼ ton ATV will bounce
around a lot more during transport than you
Most OHV parks have loading ramps, but many
state parks do not. Always be prepared with
ramps of your own if needed.
Learn the controls of your vehicle before going
out on the trail including throttle, brakes,
gear shifter, steering, and how to use your
posture to maintain vehicle stability.
Never ride above your experience level. Take it
slow and become familiar with your vehicle
before hitting the trail.
Follow manufacturer’s guidelines concerning
passengers, age restrictions, and vehicle
Know your terrain and make sure you are riding
in an ATV or OHV approved area.
Familiarize yourself with a map of the area
before heading out. Watch trail signs carefully
and stay within your limits of trail difficulty.
Even on the easy trails (usually marked with
green blazes), you can run into some difficult
areas where you need to slow down and proceed
with caution. On the more difficult trails,
expect steeper inclines, deeper routes, narrower
trails, sharper turns, bigger whoops, deeper
water crossings, more challenging rock croppings,
and a variety of other obstacles.
Learn specific techniques for the terrain you
will be riding (i.e. mountainous, rocky, sandy,
dunes, mud, water, snow, or ice).
Always be especially careful anytime you have to
cross over any roads or highways. ATVs do not
handle very well at all on paved surfaces.
Speed control is the number one safety concern.
Use a lower gear along with steady braking, to
control speed when going downhill. You also need
to lean backwards on your vehicle to help
control the center of gravity.
When going uphill, lean forward and maintain a
steady speed to prevent shifting which can cause
stalling or a wheelie, as both can be very
dangerous on a steep incline.
Whenever possible, traverse slopes at an angle.
Transfer as much of your weight as possible to
the upper side of the vehicle.
Whenever riding over rough terrain, it is
sometimes helpful to stand up on your vehicle.
Always keep your knees slightly bent to allow
for shock absorption without damaging your
knees. Standing up puts your weight on the
bottom of the vehicle lowering the center of
gravity to help prevent turnover.
Never put your foot on the ground when riding an
Always ride with a friend and let someone know
where you are going and when you expect to
return. If all else fails and you do have an
accident, at least someone will be there with
you to help.
Never use alcohol or drugs when operating an
For more safety guidelines and tips you can