— Are you a good driver? —
By Joe Kosch
I was at dinner with a bunch of UTV journalists in 2014, and we were talking about driving some recently released 1000cc machines. At the time, 60-inch-wide sport machines were a relatively new thing, and the RZR 800 was the largest-displacement 50-inch-wide sport UTV. Somewhere during the conversation I said something like, “A 50-inch 1000cc machine would be cool.” One of the guys at the table looked at me like I had said, “UTVs don’t need gas tanks. Instead, you could drive with an open bucket full of gasoline on your lap and just toss gas at the engine with a coffee mug. Some would get into the throttle body.”
“A 50-inch 1000 is such a bad idea,” he said, continuing, “people couldn’t handle something like that. It would be bad for the industry.”
“A trail-width 1000 would need to be tuned differently than a 64-inch-wide machine, and the suspension would have to be set up for the 1000, but it would be fun,” I said. The guy I was talking with had the expression I’d expect if he’d been served a plate of foul-smelling roadkill rather than the steak he ordered.
Not too many years later and here we are—big-bore trail-width machines are common. Can-Am has the Maverick Trail 1000, Polaris has the 50-inch-wide RZR 900, and, just as I expected, they are fun.
There’s a lot of smart engineering that goes into making powerful small machines handle well, like well-thought-out weight distribution, shorter suspension travel than larger cars, and front and rear sway bars to keep them flat in corners. It’s not just the vehicles that make them safe; it’s all the good UTV drivers out there. Sure, there will always be some who have bravery well beyond their skill level, but I’m impressed with how many of us are crashing so rarely that manufacturers can relax and continue to offer machines with more performance.
Good driving doesn’t only keep high-performance trail-width machines in manufacturers’ lineups; it helps the cause of high performance in every class of machine. For many people, a UTV is the highest-performance vehicle they’ve ever driven. It’s also true that many first-time UTVers are experiencing the challenges of off-road driving for the first time when they’re driving a UTV for the first time. The impressively low number of accidents proves how safe UTVs really are and how sensible most UTV drivers are.
One of the greatest things about UTVs is you don’t have to have the driving skill of RJ Anderson to have fun and be safe in a high-performance model if you have a reasonable amount of restraint in the way you drive. That includes using restraints like seat belts and basic safety gear like a helmet and eye protection.
Some of the youngest UTV drivers I know are some of the best UTV drivers I know, but the fact that the majority of UTVers are a little older may have something to do with the UTV’s impressive record for safety. It could be experience or maturity that keeps older drivers out of trouble more often, or just that older drivers hate spending money on repairs.
I wonder what the UTV journalist at the table would have said in 2014, a time when the most powerful production UTV had 110 horsepower, if I had said, “110 horsepower is okay for a stock UTV, but we really could use production machines making 160 or 170 horsepower”?