Muddy trails, blooming wildflowers and warmer temperatures … that’s right, spring riding is finally here in Mercer County! Whether you are a beginner or experienced rider, it’s always a good idea to brush up on your ATV safety before heading out to the trails. We recently talked with Bill Regas, a lifelong rider and a certified youth ATV safety instructor from Eagle ATV Tours about the importance of off-road safety and the proper etiquette for trail riding. Here are his top five safety tips.
The number one tip that is often neglected is the importance of your riding group’s formation. The leader of your group should know the trail the best, and the least experienced rider should be right behind them. A strong rider should always be the last person in your line.
“Your entire goal when riding is to take care of the person behind you,” Regas says. “So when you are riding, you should always be looking in your mirror or behind you. If the person is no longer there, you need to stop.”
Many people don’t stop because they fear that they will get lost in the woods, but by stopping you are setting off a chain reaction. Regardless of whether there are three riders or 30, if everyone stops it will bring attention all the way to the front of the group. This will let the leader know that something has happened and the group can stay together to figure out the issue.
Luckily, the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System is well marked but hand signals are still essential to riding responsibly no matter where you ride. Certain signals tell other riders how many people are behind you — if you have more than five people behind you, you hold up five fingers, four fingers for four people, and so on. If you are the last person in the group, you hold up a fist.
“I can’t tell you how many times we hold up five fingers and other people just wave at us,” Regas says. “We aren’t just waving! We are trying to quickly and effectively communicate with other riders.”
Remember to use proper hand signals to show how many machines are coming behind you when you are passing in the opposite direction or meeting riders on a trail.
Arguably the most important piece of safety gear you can wear while riding is a helmet. Your helmet should be the first thing you put on and the last thing you take off. A proper helmet fit is snug, and it shouldn’t be able to rotate while you’re wearing it. If you can fit your thumb between the helmet and your forehead, you should size down to a smaller helmet. And just like your car, you should always wear your seatbelt! Other recommended ATV safety gear is gloves, goggles and boots.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
Being aware of who is around you and your impact on the trail is extremely important. Regas suggests giving kids and wildlife a wide berth when riding near them because they can both do unexpected things on the trails. Since kids are just starting on their ATV journey, it is best to pull over and let them pass you if possible. Whereas, the sound of ATVs can sometimes cause animals to be erratic so riders should always be careful when passing.
Always be conscious of your impact on the people around you. Taking care of trails can help future riders. For example, while climbing a hill, use your 4WD when possible to prevent causing ruts in the paths.
According to Regas, most ATV-related accidents occur on the road, not the trail. Since ATV suspensions are big and tire traction is so small, ATVs shouldn’t be going as fast as cars on the road. While on the road, remember that non-motorized traffic always has the right-of-way. Another helpful reminder is to not run your light bars when people are coming toward you, as it blinds oncoming traffic.
ATV riding is always more enjoyable and fun when it is done safely! Now that you have reviewed these safety guidelines, it’s time to take to the trails and appreciate this nice spring weather.
This post was last updated on April 29, 2021