Let’s be honest: most people riding ATVs aren’t looking for a leisurely “stroll” down a flat path. We’d all like something a little more fast-paced and exciting. There are a number of potential skills that you can master on your ATV, but where should you start so that you can safely improve and build your way up to more advanced tricks? For riders looking to grow their skillset, here are some tips to get more comfortable on your quad and take your tricks to the next level.
Before You Head Out
Most skills and tricks start with having the right body positioning and making sure you always are in control of your unit. Before you take off, make sure to:
Wear the right gear
This isn’t as much of a skill or trick, but it’s incredibly important. When heading out for a ride, always make sure you’re wearing the right gear. A helmet, boots, gloves, and googles are all a must. It can be tempting to ditch them in favor of comfort, but — especially if you’re planning to try out some new skills or tricks — you want to be protected.
Pay attention to where you put your feet
It can be tempting to let your feet dangle free off the side of your quad, but while it feels natural to ride that way, you’re setting yourself up to get your feet caught in your back tires as they spin. At a minimum, you should place your feet on the foot pegs. However, if you’re looking to get into serious tricks, you might want to install nerf bars or heel guards that’ll give you more traction.
Know where to find your levers
As we mentioned earlier, being able to master more advanced skills and tricks comes down to body positioning and unit control. In order to have control, you need to know how to accelerate and brake. Before you head out, make sure you know that the clutch is on the left side of your handlebars and the brake is on the right.
Never lock your elbows
No matter what you do – don’t tense up and lock your elbows. Not only will it give you less control, it’s going to hurt like the dickens if you hit a bump or obstacle on the trail. Safety should always be your number one priority when riding your ATV.
Now that we got those basics out of the way, let’s talk about some of the skills to get you started.
Master The Basic Skills First
As you build up your skills, you should start by getting a firm handle on all aspects of trail riding. You want to be confident that you can handle any hill or obstacle you come across on your ride. So, let’s go over the basic skills you need to know.
The first rule of going up or down a hill is to make sure you never ride past the limit of your visibility. You want to have a clear view of the terrain at all times so you don’t run into any unexpected obstacles. If you can’t see clearly, slow down and proceed cautiously until you have better visibility.
When you’re going up a hill, you want to keep your weight uphill at all times and position your torso over the front wheels in either a sitting or standing position. From there, put the ATV in a lower gear and increase your speed to get some momentum as you start to climb.
As you come down a hill, you’ll take almost the opposite approach. Shift your weight to the back of the machine and hinge forward from the waist to reach the gears. Make sure to stay in a low gear and use both your brakes to maintain control. If the hill’s particularly steep, you should slightly straighten, but not lock, your knees and elbows.
If you’re riding across a hill (rather than up or down), there are other things to consider when it comes to how you position your body and machine.
Since you’re on a slope, your body should be leaning uphill at all times to counteract the downhill pull of the slope. If the terrain is particularly soft, you’ll also want to turn your front wheels slightly uphill as well. Make sure to focus on a smooth, consistent ride and avoid sudden throttle changes. If your ATV does begin to tip, turn your front wheels downhill. If that doesn’t stabilize your unit – dismount on the uphill side of the ATV immediately to avoid the unit rolling over onto you.
Whether it’s a downed branch, fallen boulder, or small stream, you’re likely going to encounter some obstacles while you’re riding – that’s part of the fun, right?
To make sure you pass them safely, point the wheels of your ATV straight ahead and stand up as you approach, keeping your arms and knees bent. As your front wheels come in contact with whatever’s in your path, apply a small amount of pressure to your throttle, but be prepared to release it as soon as your front wheels clear. Once your front wheels are over, lean forward, shifting your weight to the front of the machine, and release the throttle before your back wheels come in contact with the obstacle.
Begin Practicing Basic Tricks
Once you’re confident on your machine, you can start incorporating some basic tricks into your ride. When learning tricks, safety should be your top priority, so we advise that you only learn, practice, and perform these tricks under the guidance and supervision of an ATV training professional. Here are a couple simple tricks you to start with:
This trick involves oversteering your ATV to take a sharp turn very quickly. This is a great trick to know because it can really make your trail riding experience more fun and, if you’re interested, set you up for racing. From a technique standpoint, cornering is when you accelerate into the turn, break at the apex, and then re-accelerate to exit. You can think of it as full throttle, chop throttle with full brakes, back to full throttle.
To position your body as you head into a corner, get into a crouch position with your weight shifted towards the back part of your ATV, maybe even hanging off just a bit. Your goal is to get more weight over the rear wheels because that’s where it will be needed when you hit the front and rear brakes. You’ll still need some weight in front, though, to push the tires into the dirt, so hinge forward from the waist and rest your arms on the handlebars.
Now that you’re in position, you’re going to accelerate hard and fast into the turn and, at the last possible moment, hit the brakes. Speeding into a turn can take some getting used to –- and doing it poorly does come with crash or rollover risk — so make sure to start slow. The speed will come with practice, but focus on your form and technique to start and build from there.
From a technique perspective, one thing to keep in mind is that brakes are most effective when your ATV is moving in a straight line – so try to time your chop-throttle full-brake combination for right when you’ve straightened up at the top of the turn. You want to get to the point where you almost feel like your tires are about to lose traction.
As you accelerate out of the turn, shift your weight to the front of the ATV and lean into the turn. You may want to rise up slightly and rotate your hips to help. The shift in your weight is meant to keep all four tires of the ATV firmly planted in the dirt and maintain your momentum. As soon as your machine is pointed straight down the trail, hammer the throttle and slide your weight back again to keep traction on your rear wheels.
The first step to popping the perfect wheelie actually happens off your unit. So that you can maintain a straight line for your wheelie, you need to be sure the tire pressure in both your back wheels are even, so start there. Once your tires are good, let’s talk about body position. You’re looking for a sweet spot that’s not too far forward, but also not too far back. If you sit too far back, you risk crashing backwards, but if you’re too far forward – you’re going to be fighting against your machine and your weight to get the wheelie up, but won’t have the balance to maintain the wheelie. There’s a bit of trial and error to this, so carefully take your time finding your balance.
Once you’ve got your body positioning – it’s time to look at actually performing the wheelie. If you start at speed, ease up on your throttle a bit, and then jam it again. At the same time, shift your weight to the back of your ATV and pull up on the handlebars. Once you find your balance, release the throttle slightly and keep it even.
If you’re starting from a dead stop, it’s a little different. You’ll start by pulling in your clutch and revving the throttle. Then you want to pop your throttle out and give it a firm mash. The goal is to use the power of the ATV’s engine and the torque of the wheels to bring the front end of the unit up. From there, it’s all about maintaining your balance, just like if you had a moving start.
No matter how you started, when you’re ready to come down from your wheelie, make sure to straighten your wheels. You don’t want your machine to jerk when you land and potentially throw you off. Again, safety is your number one priority, so practice tricks with the utmost caution and under the guidance and supervision of an ATV training professional.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ATV skills and tricks, which are a big part of what makes riding so fun. For more off-roading tips, be sure to follow ATV Trader’s blog.