By: Jason Giacchino
June 2010 - Off The Pegs
Today is Tomorrow’s
It’s funny how easy it is to forget all of
the twists and turns that got us where we are
today as a collective industry until you’re
forced to map it all out. This reality
landed on my plate a couple weeks ago when I got
a call from a producer from the History Channel
looking for some additional information on the
history of the ATV for an upcoming program.
While I wouldn’t exactly consider myself an ATV
archaeologist, I do admit to taking quite a bit
of pleasure in researching and studying the
evolution of what is now considered a typical
all-terrain vehicle. After all, in a
fairly short period of time (1970 to now), the
ATV has gone through many major evolutionary
phases (including perhaps it’s most
famous--gaining a wheel) and continues to
incorporate ever-advancing technologies even as
I type this. We’ve gone from simple air
cooled, recoil start 3-wheelers to electric
start, liquid cooled, fuel injected,
power-steering equipped, push-button
4-wheel-drive powerhouses in a little over a
decade’s time. We’ve gone from near
extinction to rapid market grown and back again
with alarming frequency. And even now,
with the economy in its dreariest state in
recent memory, ATV manufacturers remain
optimistic about the future.
Having gotten the woman’s message on a Friday
afternoon with plans of returning the call first
thing Monday morning, I had an entire weekend to
think about some interesting facts to bring up.
Would I start at the very beginning? Did
they want to hear about Honda’s first 3-wheeler
exported to the States back in 1970? That
its 90cc engine was putting out an
under-whelming 7-horsepower and that chassis’
only form of suspension came in the form of the
tires themselves? What about the fact that
Honda was the only game in town for an entire
decade before Yamaha finally followed the ATC90
with their Trimoto YT125 in 1980? From
there the “big four” as we now know them were
quickly established: Kawasaki came next with the
KLT200 in 1981, and Suzuki dropped their LT125
(a four-wheeler no less) on the world in 1983.
Suzuki's 1983 Quadrunner LT125
From there I began recounting the American
Motorcycle Association’s involvement in the
budding sport, the formation of the American
All-Terrain Vehicle Association (AATVA) back in
1985 and the introduction of factory-backed ATV
Surely, I thought to myself, she would be
interested to get into great detail about the
controversy that followed in the mid 1980s.
I brushed up on the names, players, and dates
involved: The 1986 investigation headed by the
Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) into
the potential dangers of ATV operation.
The resulting “Final Consent Decree” on April
29, 1988 that would ban the 3-wheeler forever
despite CPSC findings that stated improper rider
behavior and disregard for manufacturer warnings
were the reason for a majority of the injuries
that started the whole ball rolling.
This got me thinking about recent events as well
and how lawsuits targeting Yamaha claiming
design flaws in their popular Rhino UTV
resulting in personal injury very nearly
recreated the grim events of the 1980s.
That these claims were overturned in court is
really just an immeasurable victory for the ATV
industry as a whole and a testament to the fact
that our judicial system is slowly correcting
itself after years of nonsense lawsuit big-buck
payouts. Honestly, with what happened in
the 1980s in the form of the CPSC fiasco, the
message had been sent to the American public
that we could basically be as irresponsible and
carefree as we wanted and, should we end up
hurting ourselves or others in the process, the
blame could be handed off: “Let’s see
here, you weren’t old enough to operate the
vehicle, over the legal limit of intoxication,
and weren’t wearing any protective gear when you
hurt yourself operating an ATC? Sounds
like the manufacturer’s problem to us.”
Then, of course, there was last year’s youth ATV
ban thanks to lead content to consider bringing
up. But then again I didn’t want to focus
only on the negative in our conversation either.
I could tell her about the recent rejuvenation
of factory-backed ATV racing thanks to the
advent of the 450cc four-stroke race engine and
the phasing out of the old two-strokes.
There was the quick growth and uncontainable
popularity of the UTV segment in the form of
side-by-sides to mention. There was, as
touched upon above, the inclusion of high-tech
automotive technology making its way into the
industry like never before.
Satisfied I had enough material to discuss, I
made the call first thing Monday and felt a bit
over-prepared as she asked only a few questions
pertaining to what, if any, off-road vehicles
existed here before the Honda ATC 90 arrived.
“Well, dune buggies, amphibious crawlers, Jeeps,
tractors, and I suppose you would have to
consider each and every time a Model T blew a
corner an off-road excursion,” I said.
Sliced TV Show on The History Channel
We laughed as the reality that my expertise
wouldn’t be providing the narration for an
upcoming episode of “Modern Marvels” sank in.
“By the way,” I asked. “What is the name of the
show you need this data for again?”
“Oh, it’s called ‘Sliced’,” she replied.
“If you’ve never seen it, we literally cut
objects in half to show the viewers at home how
“And you’re going to do this to an ATV?”
“Yup, a 2010 Polaris Sportsman 850 in fact.
We’ll be slicing it clean down the middle.”
“Interesting,” I said, rubbing my chin in
thought. “A shame you didn’t call 30 years
ago, I would gladly have donated my YT125 to the