— Steering wheels versus handlebars —
By Joe Kosch
Like many of you out there, my fun in the dirt didn’t start with UTVs. I began with dirt bikes and then added ATVs to my means of off-road adventure. When UTVs appeared, I had zero resistance to them; in fact, I couldn’t wait to see what they could do. I’m still learning, and UTVs just keep exceeding my expectations. As cool as UTVs are, I’m not giving up on dirt bikes or ATVs. No way. All three machines provide their own kind of performance and fun. UTVs can’t replace dirt bikes or ATVs, but they have made me feel like I have more off-road skill than I ever have. If you drive UTVs and you’ve ridden dirt bikes or ATVs, or tried to, maybe you’ve noticed how UTVs can elevate your dirt skills so dramatically sometimes even your dirt bike and ATV riding buddies notice. Here are a few examples of how UTVs have instantly improved my off-road skills, or at least made it look that way.
Hill-climbs are one of my favorite sources of challenge and entertainment, especially when I make the hill. My failed hill-climb attempts have entertained my riding buddies, though. Some huge hills are tests of a machine’s horsepower more than anything else, but nearly all hills have technical sections that really test your skill. Some are nothing but technical difficulty and don’t need size to deliver their message of violence and intimidation. On a dirt bike, one momentum-killing bobble can end the most promising climb attempt. For me, one fail is likely to be followed by another, because gathering a bike up and turning it around on a steep hillside is usually just draining enough for me to find a worse line and be more out of control on the second try. ATVs have a nearly magical way of ironing out the difficulties on challenging hills. The traction of two or four tires and the assured stability of four wheels have let me laugh at the tops of some hills that have thrown me unforgettable beatings on bikes. Nothing, however, beats the confidence UTVs give on gnarly hills. Fears of flipping, tipping and other nightmare scenarios seem to melt away when I click my seatbelt, push the four-wheel-drive button (or twist the four-wheel-drive knob or whatever) and eye the hill I plan to humble from behind the strong steel tubes of a UTV cage. I have topped the ugliest hills I have ever tried in UTVs, and I am not at all ashamed to say I wouldn’t have even tried some of them on the dirt bikes and ATVs I like so much. Am I using a UTV as a substitute for off-road skill I don’t have? Oh yeah! And, I’ll be doing it every chance I get.
Most off-roaders either love whoops or hate them. On bikes and quads, I can say I’ve really liked the first three whoops of most sections, the ones I float through before all my speed and skill leaves town and my whole whoop game falls apart. In a well-set-up sport UTV, it’s a whole different story; I’m a whoop-eating machine! Well, the UTV is the whoop-eating machine, but I’m there too. I’ve had the throttle matted though whoops in Mexico in Maverick X3s, pinned in the Nevada desert in Polaris RZR XP Turbos, wide open in Johnson Valley in the YXZ1000R and outside Randsburg in Wildcats and the new Honda Talons. Thanks to UTVs, I’m faster in whoops than I’ve ever been, and I’ve discovered how you can love every whoop on the ride.
I thought I was having all the fun with water crossings and mud on dirt bikes and ATVs, but UTVs have opened my eyes to even more. UTVs have dramatically improved my success rate with mud and water obstacles, so my skills in this area must have increased, right? I’ve also discovered I don’t need to be as in touch with nature as I was on bikes and quads. Since I don’t have to wear as much of what I’m riding through, I can enjoy mud and water at any time of year. UTVs have increased my mastery of difficult off-road obstacles almost miraculously, and it has occurred to me that I’m finally using the right tool for the job, but I’d like to think UTVs simply released hidden talent that was always there