Riding an ATV can be a lot of fun. But, despite having 4 wheels on the ground, it does take some skill and practice.
It’s important to take the time to learn the proper ATV riding techniques and safety rules.
This page will help you get started with the basics.
For more information, check out other pages within our ATV riding section.
How to Ride an ATV
Learning how to ride an ATV can be a fun experience, but it’s not without its challenges.
Using the proper technique can go a long way. We’ll cover some of the most important things to know to help you learn how to ride a quad or 4×4.
Once you’ve got an understanding of how to ride, be sure to gradually practice your skills in a safe riding environment. It can be a good idea to find the help of a skilled supervisor or to complete a rider training course.
Before you start riding, you’ll first need to put on the necessary ATV safety gear including a helmet, goggles, gloves, long sleeves, and appropriate footwear.
Next, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the machine. Reading through the owner’s manual and inspecting the quad is a good place to start.
After that, you’ll be ready to start the ATV by:
- Making sure the quad is in PARK or NEUTRAL.
- Turning on the fuel valve.
- Setting the ignition and kill switch to the RUN or ON positions.
- Operating the Choke, if applicable and necessary.
- Starting the engine with the electric starter, kick starter, or pull starter.
A good riding posture will give you the best control over your quad.
It will be easier for you to accelerate, shift gears, brake, and turn properly.
When riding an ATV you should:
- Keep your head and eye up and look ahead.
- Sit up straight with your shoulders relaxed and elbows bent in a comfortable outwards position.
- Keep both hands on the handlebars.
- Keep both feet on the footrests with your toes pointed straight, not out to the sides.
- Press your knees against the gas tank.
- Be ready to shift your body weight when turning and riding over obstacles.
You can also practice standing up on the footrests and raising your butt off the seat. This riding position is useful for more aggressive riding and taking certain types of turns and obstacles.
Most ATVs are equipped with a thumb throttle, which is located on the right side of the handlebars.
To operate the throttle, you’ll need to gently and smoothly press the throttle lever forwards.
Avoid giving your quad too much throttle too quickly, as this can cause your front end to lift and/or make you lose control of the vehicle.
ATVs come with a variety of different transmissions and shifting mechanisms. Some common ones include:
- Automatic transmissions.
- Automatic clutches.
- Hand-operated clutches.
- Foot-operated clutches.
If your ATV has a manual transmission, you’ll need to operate the clutch and shift gears depending on the engine speed.
To shift gears on an ATV, you’ll need to:
- Close the throttle.
- Disengage the clutch.
- Shift gears.
- Smoothly release the clutch lever and open the throttle.
ATVs also feature a variety of different braking systems, including:
- Separate front and rear brake controls.
- Linked braking system.
To brake properly on your ATV, you should:
- Close the throttle.
- Shift to a lower gear.
- Apply both brakes smoothly at the same time.
Avoid jamming on the brakes or riding the brakes for too long. When riding on a decline, it is best to shift to a low gear.
You should also avoid using the brakes while turning and cornering.
Getting used to turning on an ATV takes some practice.
The basic turning technique involves:
- Shifting your weight forward and towards the inside of the curve.
- Turn the handlebars in the direction of the turn.
- Turn your head and look in the direction of the curve.
Reduce speed, shift gears, and brake before you enter the turn.
If you feel the ATV starting to tip during a turn, try to lean into the turn more while you slow down and widen the turning radius.
Riding Uphill and Downhill
Riding up and down slopes is another thing you’ll need to practice. However, keep in mind that some hills may be too steep for your skills or your ATV. Always ride within the limits of your abilities and your machine’s capabilities.
To ride uphill on an ATV:
- Shift to a lower gear and maintain momentum.
- Keep your feet on the footrests.
- Move forward on the seat and lean forward, or stand up on the footrests and lean your weight over the front wheel.
When riding downhill:
- Shift to a lower gear.
- Slow down.
- Shift your weight backwards (uphill).
- Avoid riding the brakes.
If you need to traverse across a steep slope, you should:
- Keep both feet on the footrests.
- Lean your weight uphill.
- Keep a slow, steady forward momentum and adjust the throttle gradually.
Riding Over Obstacles and Through Terrain
You’ll encounter all sorts of obstacles and terrain while riding off-road.
Many ATVs and off-road vehicles are designed to climb over logs, boulders, ruts, and mounds.
To ride over an obstacle:
- Stand up off the seat and keep your knees bent.
- Slow down as you approach the obstacle.
- Keep the ATV pointed straight.
- Keep your head up and eyes looking forward.
- Maintain a firm grip on both handlebars.
- Give it some throttle as your front wheels climb the obstacle.
- Release the throttle after your front wheels cross it.
- Lean forward to help your rear wheels get over the obstacle.
Use caution when riding over soft terrain, water, snow, and mud. Avoid trying to ride over surfaces you’re not sure of or through deep water.
ATV Pre-Ride Inspections
Just like you would for a street motorcycle, you should always perform a pre-ride inspection before you ride your ATV or UTV.
The ATV pre-ride checklist is pretty much the same as a motorcycle’s or dirt bikes. You can use the T-CLOCs checklist to make sure you inspect all the key components. This is recommended by both the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) and the ATV Safety Institute (ASI).
T-CLOC is the acronym for the checklist of major components you should inspect before your ride. It stands for:
- T: Tires and Wheels.
- C: Controls and Cables.
- L: Lights and Electrics.
- O: Oil and Fuel.
- C: Chain/Driveshaft and Chassis.
Your inspection should go over each system to check that:
- Everything is properly inflated, tightened, and adjusted.
- All parts move and function as they should.
- There is no visible damage.
- There are no fluid leaks.
- Nuts, bolts, cotter pins, and safety wires are tightened and secured.
- Electronics including lights and switches are functioning properly.
Riding off-road can put a lot of stress on your ATV, which is why inspecting it before every ride is key.
The worst thing would be to neglect your inspection and have something go wrong or break down when you’re out on the trail.
If something goes wrong or your ATV won’t start, you’ll need to know how to troubleshoot it.
Beginner Mistakes to Avoid
There can be a lot to learn if you’re new to riding ATVs. Just like with any new activity, beginners tend to make a lot of mistakes.
Here are some big beginner mistakes to avoid:
- Keep your feet on the designated footrests and avoid dangling them over the ground.
- Avoid turning too sharply or riding over difficult terrain.
- Avoid jamming on the brakes or throttle too abruptly.
- Always wear the proper riding gear all the time.
- Never ride an ATV for something it is not designed for (e.g. riding with more passengers or riding on paved roads).
Next, check out the safety tips below for ATV riders.
ATV Safety Tips
Some people have the misconception that riding an ATV is safer than riding a motorcycle or dirt bike because it has 4 wheels.
That’s not true. ATV accidents are more common than you think, but can be prevented with the right safety measures.
Riding an off-road vehicle like an ATV is always a dangerous activity. If you want to have fun and stay safe, it is important that you follow the recommended safety precautions.
Use the tips and advice below to stay safe when you ride.
First, you should take the time to get to know your ATV and its controls. Along with choosing the right size ATV for yourself, you should also get familiar with the layout and functionality of it.
You can also consider completing an ATV rider course to gain more skill, knowledge, and experience.
If you’re teaching your child how to ride an ATV, be sure to put them on a Youth ATV that’s right for them. Learn more about recommended ATV age ranges here.
Additionally, children should always be under direct adult supervision when they operate an ATV.
Next, you should always wear the proper ATV riding gear every time you get on an off-road vehicle. This includes:
- A DOT-approved helmet.
- Goggles/face protection.
- Long jacket.
- Long pants.
- Over-the-ankle shoes or boots.
Take the time you need to practice riding your ATV and learning how it handles. Don’t push yourself for riding and terrain you’re not ready for. ATVs can be fast and powerful, if you don’t know how to control them, you’re likely to crash.
You should only ride your ATV where and how it is intended.
For example, ATVs should not be ridden on paved roads. Your chances of losing control and crashing are greatly increased when you ride on terrain the vehicle is not intended for, such as a paved highway.
Ride only in designated areas and places where ATVs are safe and allowed to operate.
You should also never ride with more passengers than the ATV is built to carry. Many ATVs are only designed for a single rider.
Finally, never attempt to operate an ATV (or any vehicle) under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Follow these simple tips, and you’re much more likely to have a fun and safe ride.