ATVs & You: Can There Be Peace in the Woods?

Can there be peace between OHV riders and OHV haters?

My mother’s outlook typifies a lot of people’s view on off-highway vehicles (OHV). In the bush behind her home, where she walks daily, it’s commonplace to see — and hear — dirt bikes and ATVs whizzing by on the trails.

And my mom can’t stand them. However, a while back I brought a Polaris ATV to her house — bringing her face-to-face with her sworn enemy.

And she loved it. She rode it more aggressively than I did!

There you have it — when the roar of an ATV annoys you, you want them banned. When you’re using one, it’s the greatest thing ever. Can’t we find some middle ground here?

There’s no denying the popularity and usefulness of off-highway vehicles, whether you’re a caribou hunter with a snowmobile in the Northwest Territories, to an northern Alberta moose hunter hauling out 800 pounds of meat with a side-by-side. Yeah, and they’re pretty fun too.

I spent a couple of days in the mountains of Montana last June, checking out Polaris’ new ATVs, and riding them in the 160 km of trails that wind through a ranch in Cascade, MT. Responsible riding was the order of the day — an exercise in self-control, considering some of these machines had 50 horsepower — but I couldn’t help but notice the mule deer and pronghorn antelope we saw coming and going from the ranch were conspicuously absent during our riding.

Funny how that is — when it comes to game and loud, dirt chewing off-road machines. So it becomes ironic that the nature we’re trying to explore is literally fleeing from us when we use these machines. Therein lies peoples’ concerns.

Full disclosure: I love ATVs and dirt bikes. I spend as much time as possible on my Kawasaki KLR 650, and the ads in this magazine from Arctic Cat, Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha are usually the first I check out.

But I also get why some people want these machines taken out of our woods. To find common ground between the rider and the hater, however, it is the user who must extend the olive branch. Why? Because those on foot are usually not doing anything wrong.

Perception matters so much when it comes to riding off-road. Wearing a helmet, boots, gloves, jeans and long-sleeves is not just the only sensible thing to do when riding an OHV, it also immediately separates you — visually — from the yahoos giving us all a bad name. Further, slow down near hikers and walkers. It only takes a moment, and it shows a ton of respect. And stay on trails — you’re destroying what you love when you go bushwhacking in an ATV. Simple as that. There’s much more — but really, it’s all just a big fat load of common sense.

There is one more aspect that may just bring haters and riders together in the future: electric OHVs. Polaris has one now, and it is as silent as a summer breeze. There are a few electric dirt bikes and motorcycles out there as well, and research has shown that once the noise factor is eliminated, the “hate” factor drops exponentially. If only they could get that battery life up…

Bringing peace between ATV riders and ATV haters is not the same as trying to untie hunters and anti-hunters, because the riders and the haters at least have the potential to see eye to eye. Maybe all the haters could show the riders the joys of a quiet grouse hunt, and the riders could show the haters how much easier packing out that moose carcass can be.

But let’s face it, fellow riders, the responsibility to start the peace talks lies with us.

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