A Brief History Of The ATV

By: John Pawlak

As with many items that have gained strong popularity with the public, the All Terrain Vehicle(ATV) has a very interesting history. What started out as essentially a farming resource has become the machine around which a highly competitive sporting and racing industry has been built.

Long before Honda introduced a vehicle in 1970 which would kick off the "modern era" of the ATV, numerous American companies offered small off-road vehicles which were amphibious in nature and were designed to traverse swamps, streams and ponds as well as dry land. These vehicles were constructed of fiberglass or hard plastic and usually had six wheels, all driven, providing for a strong traction component. They were intended for multiple riders and had steering wheels or control sticks instead of the standard motorcycle type mechanism used with the modern ATV.

In Japan, a similar vehicle was being used in farms that were located in mountainous terrain. In 1970, Honda introduced the US90 and was aided in its marketing effort by the James Bond movie "Diamonds Are Forever"; a motion picture in which the ATV played a significant part. The unique vehicle featured large balloon type tires instead of a mechanical suspension. The ability to go anywhere on country or terrain that most other vehicles could not cross soon made them popular with US and Canadian hunters, as well those just looking for a good trail ride.

In the early 1980's, ATV's were introduced that had a much lower tire profile and suspension. It was at this time that the first three-wheeled ATV was developed for public use. During this decade, numerous manufacturers entered the "sporting" ATV market, among them such high profile names such as Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Polaris.

Safety issues arose with the three wheel ATV and it is a little known fact that the fledgling industry was nearly banned from the public by Congress because of these safety issues. Three wheeled production ended in 1987 due to consent decrees between the major manufacturers and the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the four wheeled ATV became the norm. Although these consent decrees ended in 1997, allowing companies to once again make and market 3-wheel models, very few were actually marketed and sold.

Today's ATV models generally fall into either the sporting or utility camps. The sporty models, for the most part, are small, light two wheel drive vehicles with a manual suspension and rapid acceleration. The utility ATV's, on the other hand, are much bigger four wheel drive vehicles and have a much slower maximum speed than their sporting counterparts. They also have a much needed feature; the ability to haul small loads on attached racks and/or small dump beds. Sporting ATV's are designed for performance rather than utility and can reach speeds of 100 miles per hour or more.

The ATV market has captured the interest of Generation Y consumers(18-24) and the All Terrain Vehicle has exploded in popularity in recent years, even having its own racing circuit. With more and more companies entering the ATV market, it is virtually certain that this unique off road vehicle is here to stay.

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