Starting Kids on ATVs

ATV Riding Tips

You know that letting your child ride an ATV isn't a decision you make lightly. We're here to help.

There are a number of physical, emotional and mental assessments that you, as the parent, need to honestly make.

First, figure out whether your child is truly interested in riding ATVs. Most ATV parents are eager to pass their enthusiasm to the next generation, but the interest has to come from the kid.

Next, determine whether your kid is physically ready to ride an ATV. The child should be able to easily stand on the footpegs or floorboards while straddling the seat on the machine. They need to be able to comfortably reach the control levers, and have the hand strength to operate them.

Then there's the mental aspect, which is tougher to evaluate. Can the child comprehend risk, and recognize and reduce risk?

Any activity has risks. While you can't eliminate the risk associated with riding an ATV, you can significantly reduce it with intelligent preparation and careful prevention.

Riding gear is essential for safe riding. You can start out with basic gear like a helmet, goggles, boots, gloves and jeans as your kid learns the sport. If he or she likes riding enough to keep doing it, you'll likely want to buy more specialized gear.

It's important to develop a child's sense of personal safety as early as possible. Don't even allow the child to sit on an ATV without wearing a helmet.

Also, remember that kids are susceptible to peer pressure, which can get them to do things they shouldn't do. Fight that with parental guidance. And a parent who is along for the ride is in the best position to realize when a young rider could be in over his or her head. That's the time to stop and offer guidance.

In addition, it's a parent's job to watch for signs that the kids need a break.

The best way to train your kid to ride an ATV is to get training through a recognized program. But if that's not possible, you'll have to train your child yourself. Here are nine rules you should follow:

  1. Communication is key. Explain in detail each action the child needs to perform. For example, your kid won't know that "shift to a lower gear" actually means "tap the shifter down with your toe" until you explain it.
  2. Take it one step at a time. There's a lot involved in operating an ATV, and just riding safely is a big step. Concentrate on the basics until your child can demonstrate complete control of the machine.
  3. Remember that each skill advances at its own pace. Until all those skills catch up with each other, it's tough to make big steps in learning.
  4. Praise your children for the progress they make. And don't be discouraged if they don't progress as fast as others.
  5. Don't let your kid's frustrations frustrate you. If things aren't going well, sometimes taking a break is the best solution.
  6. Work within your child's limits. Just because your first kid learned quickly doesn't mean your second one will too. Every child is different, and each learns at his or her own pace.
  7. Be the voice of reason. Only let your student attempt something new after honestly assessing his or her ability to succeed at it. If there's any question, err on the side of restraint.
  8. Remember that it's tough for young students to recognize everything that's going on around them. Be your child's eyes and ears while he or she is riding. If you see a danger sign, take action immediately.
  9. New riders need supervision. The best way to assess your child's skills is to be along for the ride yourself, so you can stop and offer guidance exactly when it's needed. Besides, it's a lot more fun that way.

Once your kids learn to handle an ATV, one of the big issues you'll face involves finding a place to ride that's both legal and appropriate.

In some parts of the country, particularly on the East Coast and near large metro areas, finding legal riding areas can be a real challenge.

That's because more riding areas are being closed down by suburban growth and overzealous attacks from environmental groups, while fewer real trail systems remain. In a lot of cases, even operating an ATV in your own yard is becoming an issue.

Local contacts are your best bet for finding elusive legal riding areas. No matter where you live, there are likely ATV enthusiasts near you who can help you find places to ride.

Not just any riding areas will be ideal for a beginner, though. Pick your area carefully.

Where you live, the available riding may be on public land, where you share the trails with hikers, horseback riders and others. In those conditions, it's vital to teach your kids to respect both other trail users and the environment.

That means not just picking up your trash and hauling it out, but also riding in a way that doesn't hurt the environment.