Copyright 2006 Richard Keir
The first ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) actually was built with six wheels instead of four. It was developed sometime during the 1950s in Japan and was primarily desinged to deal with the mountainous topography and isolated rugged regions of that country. Particularly during spring when the ice thaws and river flow would increase substantially, Japanese mountain roads and paths that weren't maintained regularly often become impassable with more typical vehicles. In addition, these early ATVs became popular in rural areas where the absence of roads in rough terrain makes passage difficult despite the need to traverse this kind of terrain efficiently. When Honda first exported an ATV* to the United States in 1970, their US90 was sold primarily as a recreational ride. Though it is still in use, even to this day, the growing number of ATV users quickly discovered that its excellent efficiency over rough ground offers a wide variety of uses for the ATV.
Honda, due to the patents it took out on ATV design and engine placement, enjoyed a virtual monopoly on the market at the beginning. Its initial release in the western market, the US90 was designed by engineers specifically for joy rides. Later that year, Honda once again used clever tactics to trademark the name ATC and proceded to rename the US90 model as the ATC90. The ATC90 had 7 hp passing through a dual-range 4-speed gearbox with automatic clutch and featured large balloon-type tires that can eat up rough terrain. Honda continued forward and released two more ATCs during the '70s which were also revolutionary.
As the ATV moved into the next decade, models were beginning to become clearly divided into two major usage groups. One for sports and one for utility use. Sport models are usually built for performance: they are lightweight with relatively high power, have good suspensions and a low center of gravity. These models can accelerate quickly, have manual transmissions and some can run up to 75 mph. Since they permit traveling in most terrains, these models became highly popular with hunters and thrill riders.
On the other hand, it's value as a utility vehicle is easy to understand. Given its construction, an ATV generally boasts remarkable strength for its size, body construction and cost. With a mechanical structure able to withstand significant loads, and wheels which allow passage over demanding terrain, it becomes a nearly perfect machine for farm use and on construction sites. And, of course, an ATV requires only a fraction of the fuel that typical heavy machinery consumes.
When Suzuki, long a dominant Japanese vehicle company, released their first high performance 4-wheel ATV in 1983, the Suzuki LT250R, it quickly become the leader in 4-wheel ATV development. Later in 1987, the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a decree to shift 3-wheel ATV production to 4-wheel machines. Quite naturally, Honda responded with its FourTrax TRX250R, which then became the most versatile and most popular modle in ATV history. There were other entries as well making a splash in the ATV market. In particular Kawasaki's Tecate-4 250 and Yamaha's Banshee 350 which also became quite a popular machine.
Times have changed and today a new era is beginning as Kawasaki trumps the market with its KFX700 V FORCE. This is the first V-Twin powered, ultrahigh performance sport ATV. Mind-boggling? Absolutely, the sheer diversity of new models is astonishing. Even SeaDoo is sticking in the game with their Bombardier ATVs. Artic Cat also has a brand new 2007 700cc model. And you can check out the Polaris, Can-Am and Cobra ATVs as well as the Hondas, Suzukis and Yamahas. We're talking big, fast, high performance machines these days - and the price has escalated to match. But it's a wild ride if you're up for it.
----- *this was formally referred to as an ATC (All Terrain Cycle) since Honda released 3-wheel design ATVs. However, it was more commonly called an ATV.
Richard is also nuts for moto sports. So for more on ATVs visit http://ATVTrekker.com and for motorcycles check out http://A-Harley-Motorcycle.com