18 Mistakes To Avoid When Learning to Drive An ATV

by Matt Powell | Last Updated:  October 4, 2019

So you have just gotten your new ATV and are ready to go out for a ride. Before you go out and tear up the trails, there are a few things you need to learn. The biggest things that happen for beginners when learning to ride an ATV can result in crashes that damage your property, injure someone, or injure yourself.

The thing about riding any off road vehicle is that you need to maintain a level of respect. You need to respect yourself and your abilities, respect others that are riding with you or are pedestrians, and most of all RESPECT THE ATV because it can make a mess out of a situation very fast if you don’t have the experience on the machine and you don’t respect its power.

Buying The Wrong Size ATV

The first issue for new riders is determining the correct size for their ATV. If you have a child that needs an ATV, the most common mistake is buying one that is too big and too powerful for them to handle. The leading cause in youth injuries and deaths on ATVs is riding improper equipment that is not meant for their age or size. I cover this in more detail in another article I wrote.

This also applies to your skill level and size as well. If you are a brand new rider then you may want to steer clear from a big 1000cc Can-Am Renegade that has a ton of power and is very heavy. One wrong move without any riding experience can cause an injury.

Learn Your New ATV

Whether you are an experienced rider or not, you need to learn your new machine. Each ATV is different in how it handles, how much power it has, and how it responds to your inputs to the throttle, brakes, and shifter. It is the best practice to do a walkaround and learn the quad before you even hop on. It is also a good idea to have your machine operator manual with you and read through it while standing at your machine.

Once you actually hop on, don’t crank it up yet. Grab the controls and see how they feel, find the foot pegs and levers and see how they feel to your feet. Spend about 5-10 minutes doing this so that when you do start up to ride, you are already comfortable with all the controls.

Being Over Confident 

Overconfidence plays a big factor in injuries and crashes in ATVs. Riders often don’t respect their ATV and it gets away from them and they lose control. This can be because someone either doesn’t know the ATV or how to drive, or from someone who thinks they have got it all under control and they neglect to actually learn the ATV first.

I have personally seen people hop on a brand new ATV just to run it into a tree or flip/roll the quad over causing damage. These guys had previously owned an ATV and thought they could just hop on and go thrash without even learning the new ATV. 

Not Understanding Center Of Gravity

The center of gravity is fairly high on an ATV so many riders don’t realize where that balance point is. Each ATV has a different point at which the weight is balanced and going through turns or up and down hills shifts this balance when you have a rider and fluid in the engine and gas tank.

When going up or downhill you must shift your weight accordingly to keep your machine balanced and prevent tipping forward or backward. Any time you go up or down a hill or make a turn at any decent speed, then you need to shift your body weight as well. 

Not Staying Aware Of Your Surroundings

It is crucial to be aware of your surroundings at all times on an ATV. If you are you familiar with a location that you are about to ride, take it slow for awhile and learn where the tree limbs are just around that first corner or that hidden pothole that might try to bounce you off the seat.

Use your peripheral vision at all times and keep a look out for other riders, pedestrians  and obstacles that are in your path, or may suddenly enter your path. People and animals are unpredictable when it comes to a vehicle speeding by them and tend to run towards them instead of away.

I was riding through the woods with a buddy of mine and had a turkey get startled and instead of flying AWAY from us, almost flew right into him in the lead and then started flying at me. Luckily we avoided and impact.

Turning Incorrectly

Understanding your center of gravity was discussed earlier and it does play a factor in turning correctly but the most important thing to remember when turning is which way to lean, which is essentially shifting your center of gravity.

It is not as important when doing very slow turns UNLESS you are on an incline. Knowing where and how to lean will keep you from having a thousand pound ATV roll over on top of you. 

Driving On The Wrong Types Of Trails

There are trails that are more suited for ATVs because they are wider than dirt bikes. Dirt bikes can ride on much smaller trails and if you try to take an ATV on these trails you can get stuck or be injured. 

But utility ATVs don’t need trails, they make their own, right? That may be the case sometimes but this can cause problems if you take a path that you are not ready for, especially as a beginner driver.

Neglecting Maintenance

Just like any other piece of gear, equipment, or machinery with moving parts in this world, ATVs need regular maintenance. Consult your owner’s manual for all of the routine maintenance that needs to be done and make yourself a schedule to complete the tasks when they are needed.

Neglecting to do your regular maintenance can cause long lasting damage and cost tons of money when compared to what it would cost to keep up to date with your schedule.

Slapping Mods On ASAP

As a beginner rider, learn your ATV while it is stock. Adding modifications can cause a beginner rider to underestimate the added power and cause crashes and injury. Grabbing a bunch of modifications and throwing them on enhances a stock ATV and changes key things like handling, throttle response, and torque and makes it very easy to misjudge how the vehicle will respond to your inputs.

Lack Of Throttle Control

Many beginners, myself included, want to hop on an ATV and just go fast. I almost looped out (gave it too much gas and overshot a wheelie, flipping the ATV on it’s back) and had my ATV land on top of me. I was one of the beginners that made one of these mistakes and almost cost me some money. I got lucky, but that doesn’t mean you will.

Not Having Proper Gear

If you have paid attention to any of my other articles then you will notice a recurring theme, having the proper riding gear. Even if you don’t follow any of the previous steps and you crash, wearing the right gear can drastically reduce injuries to you.

I was riding in the mountains near Salt Lake City Utah once and decided to take my quad up the side of a hill that had very large loose rocks. I own a 2 wheel drive sport ATV and had no real business trying to climb up those rocks. I got about halfway up and hit a larger rock and lost traction with my rear wheels and immediately started rolling back down the rocks. I leaned forward to help keep myself and the ATV balanced but hit another larger rock going backwards down the hill and was thrown off the back onto the rocky hill behind me. The quad stayed stuck on the rock and I fell back and hit my helmet on the rocks and landed on my back.

The helmet kept me from having a potentially fatal blow to the head and all I came away with was a sore back for a few days. If I didn’t have the proper gear, things WOULD have been much worse so I always stress using the proper gear. If you want to check out all the gear that I like then head on over to my recommended gear page and take a look around.

Not Inspecting Components Before Riding

A pre ride and post ride inspection is necessary for each outing with your ATV. These inspections allow you to spot any existing damage or wear and address it to make sure it gets fixed before you ride again and endanger your ride and possibly your health.

You should clean your ATV after each ride as well so mud, dirt, and grime can cover up cracks and other damage and make them not noticeable, allowing them to get worse and even cause more damage in the future. This will cost money in the long run if these repairs you find are not taken care of.

Loading An ATV To Transport The Wrong Way

I have seen tons of videos and have watched many friends fail at loading their ATVs. It is not a very hard process and for most people, require you to buy some ramps that are designed for loading. Don’t rely on boards or some crazy tricks to load up and DON’T drive up the ramps to load up either. To see some funny ATV loading fails and to learn to load your ATV the right way, check out this article I wrote.

Riding While Tired 

Riding while tired is something that should not be done with any powered vehicle. I know you have seen the commercials on TV that talk about not driving while tired. When you are tired and decide to drive anyway, your reaction time slows, you are not as aware, and can fall asleep at the wheel, or in this case, the handlebars. When riding on rough terrain, falling asleep may not be an issue but being tired hinders your abilities and can cause injuries or accidents. 

Riding Trails Alone

Beginners and advanced riders alike need to take note of this mistake. Riding alone is dangerous and should be avoided if at all possible. Anything can happen on an ATV and having an extra person there riding along with their ATV can help prevent several events from happening like getting stuck and being stranded.

A second rider can keep you in check and vice versa if you are doing something a little too dangerous or just going about things the right way. They can also be your lifeline if something were to happen. They can be the difference between life and death if they act quickly wby pulling you out of a bad situation or getting medical attention if that is the case.

Trying To Do Stunts Too Soon

Stunts look cool and they look simple to perform when you see guys doing one handed wheelies for miles. Just don’t even try these as a beginner because it won’t end well. From looping out to hurting a bystander, beginners and stunts don’t mix. Stunts are actually very dangerous, even for the experts, so while it looks fun, I would suggest avoiding it completely until you are truly ready and have plenty of experience on the quad.

Riding With Passengers

ATVs are not designed to carry passengers in the first place so it is against the factory design to allow a buddy to ride along. I can’t control what some people want to do and have even ridden passengers myself with no issue but the chance of something happening to you, your passenger, or your ATV are dramatically increased when carrying someone else.

Your center of gravity is completely thrown off and it takes more effort to take turns or go up and down hills and increases the chances for flipping and rolling over your quad on top of both riders.

Use Your Head

Common sense is always the best tool you have when riding an ATV. If a hill looks too steep to climb or descend, then find another way around. If the terrain looks too rough or too slick for you, take it slow and steady. If you are uncomfortable in any situation when out on the trails or even at the track, pull over and think it through before plowing headfirst into a possibly dangerous and life threatening situation.

My name is Matt and I am the owner of DirtWheelRider.com. I want to do my best to give you all the information needed in your offroading endeavors.