Looking ahead to 2005, many major ATV manufacturers are adjusting their lenses and focusing on the rising safety and environmental concerns constricting the industry as a whole. The major OEMs that subscribe to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) safety standard, set in 2001, and preach environmental protection are growing increasingly concerned with many new Asian and off-shore manufacturers not adhering to the same standards.
With new manufacturers jumping into the adult and youth ATV market and not following the ANSI standard and testing requirements, safety becomes a big concern. The major OEMs are trying to force a change in this practice, but for now, they are finding other ways to help decrease unnecessary accidents. In addition, with environmental concerns at the crux of land access issues, OEMs are starting to do their part to help remedy the swelling battle. At a recent Honda press intro, Powersports Business was able to witness this first hand.
RIDER EDUCATION CENTER
Honda has made giant strides in its safety program, which was noticed immediately upon first look at its Alpharetta, Ga., Rider Education Center (REC). The facility was built so Motorcycle Safety Foundation and All-Terrain Safety Institute instructors could teach safety classes to students. To better understand what major OEMs are focusing on and trying to teach to consumers, taking the course landed on our to-do list.
As editors in the ATV industry preaching proper riding technique and safe riding habits, taking the same course consumers use as their ATV learning tool became a must.
At the Honda REC in Alpharetta, the ATV Safety Institute’s safety training is made up of six stations. Each station trains on specific activities and deals with various situations a rider may have to react to on the trail. Honda employs two full-time instructors and several part-time instructors at its facility, teaching the art of safely riding an ATV or motorcycle (the Honda facility teaches street endorsement, too). Our instructor for the day was Randy Cooper. Cooper has been an instructor for about 10 years. Recently, he’s come to the ATV side of training, as he started out teaching the street motorcycle course.
The ATV and dirt bike training at Honda’s REC takes place on a one-acre dirt field, which features a small sloping hill. To get started, suiting up with proper gear is a must. No problem. Honda provides gear for those taking the course who do not yet own it. Helmets, jerseys, boots and gloves are all available upon request.
The best part of all, you don’t even need to own an ATV, Honda has a fleet available to ride and train on. Our class was riding the Honda TRX250EX sport ATV. Anyone can bring their own ATV to the course. (Many instructional ranges do not provide ATVs.)
Cooper says the classes can teach eight riders each session and the average age of participants is about 30. The average time spent for each course is around five hours and it is free for most participants, as many OEMs offer money-back rebates for class credit.
The class starts in an actual classroom where the instructor answers questions and talks of proper safety gear and why it is important to use such equipment.
After the initial lesson, students head to the riding range where Cooper teaches the class about the ATV, pointing out the controls, how to shift, how to turn it on. He also points out how many ATVs are similar to control.
Cooper then moved on to the next exercise where students learn how to properly shift, apply the brakes and ride with proper body positioning. The lesson goes through a series of drills that mimic real-life riding situations, and the drills continue until the student successfully completes the lesson. Honda stresses repetition at its learning center, which is the key to success.
ENVIRONMENTAL LEARNING CENTER
As instructional classes on the dirt field wrap up, the lessons move to Honda’s newly created 1.5-mile trail dubbed as the Environmental Learning Center (ELC). Here, riders learn the art of ATVing in a realistic setting that is designed to “instill in them a responsible land use ethic.”
In creating an ideal training environment for off-road enthusiasts, Honda followed the U.S. Forest Service’s lead. As riders enter the trail system, replicas of signage used by the U.S. Forest Service identifying trails are posted.
After entering Honda’s ELC trail system, a challenging real-world course awaits riders. Honda incorporated wet and dry rock beds, step-ups, a sand pit, rolling whoops, a bridge, inclines and declines, and tight corners to enhance the overall lesson. There are even two areas instructors use to teach riders about their surrounding environment.
But the ELC isn’t strictly used for ATV and motorcycle riders. Before we started our riding adventure, Honda gave us a guided tour of its Georgia red clay-based course that winds through unique trees and vegetation. From a signature American Beech tree, to Highbrush Blueberry, the Honda ELC is ripe with interesting vegetation. Honda enlisted the aid of several environmental experts while laying out a plan of the ELC project.
During the tour, Honda was quick to point out that the ELC is more than a center for crafting the art of ATVing. The ELC has several non-riding projects that allow environmentalists and off-road enthusiasts to work together in cooperation toward separate goals. Youth groups like the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and elementary classes regularly visit the ELC to learn about plants, insects and birds present at the facility.
LOOKING BACK AND AHEAD
As the day commenced, we were pleased to see Honda making strides to teach students about safety and the environment at its Alpharetta facility. The REC and ELC are unique ventures by Honda to enhance the sport of ATVing and dirt bike riding, while building a positive bond to the environment and conservation.
If major OEMs can continue their support and growth of programs like Honda’s, and new off-shore and Asian manufacturers start adhering to the same principles, ATVing will have a better outlook for the future.