As the number of all-terrain vehicle sales continues to grow each year, so does the number of female ATV owners. In fact, women are one of the fastest growing segments of ATV owners, according to a survey by the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America (SVIA). Eight percent of all ATV owners are now female. That means one out of 12 ATV owners is a woman.
“In the past I think women were intimidated by all-terrain vehicles. They maybe thought they were super dirty and super bouncy,” says Jan Plessner, manager of Discover Today’s All-Terrain Vehicles (DTA), the communications service bureau of the SVIA. “Now we have push-button starting, push-button shifting, and plush suspensions. They’re really comfortable and easy to operate.”
Of those female owners, 83% cited “family activity” as the main reason they’re involved in the sport. “Some of our best family stories come from our riding experiences,” explains Amy Rehnelt, a mother of four from Mission Viejo, Calif. Rehnelt’s been riding since 1987. She and her husband introduced their kids to ATVs at an early age and now the whole family rides together. “We’ll go out riding on trails when we camp. We’ll come back to our campground, have a barbeque and talk about the great experiences of our day riding ATVs.”
Rehnelt enjoys the activity so much that she went a step further and became an ATV safety instructor five years ago. Rehnelt is one of 87 women who have completed the ATV instructor certification course. There are 1,529 instructors in the U.S. During the last two years Rehnelt’s been certified as a chief instructor, one of two women leading the way in this area.
Rehnelt says half of all her students are women, and just as the survey indicates, Rehnelt says she has noticed many women want to learn to ride because it’s something they can do with their husband and kids. “The family aspect is very important to these new riders .”
Plessner adds, “We look at the numbers and we have lots of people riding to go sightseeing, hunting and fishing. They’re in groups, on trails, all over the country.”
Recreation (as opposed to utility) is the main reason people are buying ATVs, according to the survey. Ninety-five percent of ATV owners say they ride for recreational reasons including using their ATV to go exploring and as a way to relax and release stress.
Not surprising, the median age for a female ATV owner is 39; and more than half, 62%, are married. She’s reached a point in her life where she’s ready to do for herself now in a way that involves her children — children who are now in grammar or middle school and at an age to handle an ATV.
“There’s a real sense of freedom,” explains Plessner. “It’s very empowering. ATVs are easy to handle and you just feel great to kind of get away from it all.”
Carole Sovocol, a journalist in her 40s, recently experienced the thrill of riding an ATV for the very first time. “I can see how women would get an empowering thing from riding,” she says. “It was definitely nice to be equal with everyone else.”
And what a way to get around. There are more and more off-highway vehicle areas being designated all over the country. Currently, there are more than 200 trail systems and parks throughout the United States that cater to off-highway vehicles. They can be found at recreation.gov. There are also ATV rider clubs that cater to families and individuals looking to learn more about ATV riding in their area.“A common sight on today’s highways is seeing a trailer carrying one or two ATVs hooked up to the camper or truck with the family on their way to discover vast vistas, forests, deserts, mountains and canyons,” says Plessner. DTA recommends riders contact their local dealer or other sources like ATVsource.com to find out more about clubs in their area.
ATV manufacturers are making it easy to get involved by providing a wider variety of machine sizes, more user-friendly controls and a training course that’s readily available.
It’s no wonder the ATV industry has exploded in recent years, with sales growing six-fold since 1991 and more than 15 million Americans partaking in the sport. “With proper training, just about anyone can ride,” cites Plessner, again, as one reason so many women have jumped in the saddle recently.
The ATV Safety Institute provides training classes at venues all around the country for both adults and children. In some cases, a new ATV purchaser or a family member will receive a $100 incentive from the manufacturer if they enroll in and complete the class. In 2002, 47,000 new riders were trained by the ATV Safety Institute.
Statistics show, too, that female ownership is highest among ATVs under 300cc. Although, Luke Dawson, Yamaha’s coordinator for motorsports communication, sees a trend towards women trading up to larger displacement ATVs. “Women want to get out there, have fun and have the power to get up those hills, so larger ATVs are becoming very popular with women.”
With all the new riders entering the sport, DTA and the ATV Safety Institute have joined together to raise awareness of the industry’s message of safety and that includes making sure children are riding the correct size ATV for their age, and that all riders are wearing proper riding gear.
Rehnelt teaches by example. “My children, at all times, before they even approach their machine, have all their proper gear on. They wear off-highway boots, a long sleeve shirt, long pants, helmets, goggles, gloves and if they don’t have all that on they’re not permitted to ride at all.”