Wecome To RVs and OHVs

This blog is all about RVs (recreational vehicles) and OHVs (Off Highway Vehicles), camping, and survival
and how they work together to provide wholesome family fun and great learning opportunities.
Many posts are intended to familiarize novice campers and RVers with RV systems and basic camping and survival
skills. But even experienced RVers and campers will enjoy the anecdotes and may even benefit from a new
perspective. Comments, questions, and suggestions are encouraged.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

UTVs or Side-by-sides

UTV stands for Utililty Task Vehicle.   As the name indicates, they were originally designed for utility work.  They are also known as side-by-sides because of the seating configuration.  The Kawaski Mule and the Yamha Rhino  were two of the first.  They were small 4-wheel drive vehicles, usually equipped with bucket seats and a steering wheel so they drive like a car.  The origihal Mules and Rhinos looked a little like a Jeep or a small pickup truck.  Their potential for sport use was quickly recognized and soon there were models that looked more like a custom Baja racer than a utility vehicle.

They are designed for high performance off road use,  often having as much a 13" of wheel travel to absorb some pretty big bumps.  Driver and passenger are secured by seat belts or harnesses.   3-point harness are the norm but for racing and other high impact activities a better 5-point harness is recommended.  They usually have roll bars and a small cargo bed at the rear.  Most if not all are equipped with 4-wheel drive, giving them a "go anywhere" capability, as long as the road or trail is wide enough for them.  There are many trails designed for dirt bikes and ATVs where UTVs are prohibited.  

Most UTVs carry 2-5 passengers, but some, like the Ranger, can carry up to 6 passengers.  That makes them popular for family outings, especially when you have children too young or other family members who don't ride.  And the cargo space means you have plenty of room to bring along a well-stocked picnic basket and cooler for lunch out on the trail.

There are many optional accessories available to customize UTVs to an owner's individual needs and wants, including off road lights and elaborate sound systems.  You can even purchase body kits that fully enclose the passenger space and add a heater for winter riding.

I've seen a number of  UTVs equipped with snow plows for clearing winter driveways and small parking lots.  And, of course, they are capable of towing any off-road trailer.  The cargo area makes them useful for hauling a variety of things, ranging from a cooler full of your favorite summer beverages to firewood, medical supplies, and tools

UTVs are usually too wide to be driven on regular ATV trails and definitely too big for single track dirt bike trails.  They are very much at home on fire roads and other dirt roads and the  wide puffy tires, together with 4-wheel drive, provide excellent traction in sand,  mud, and snow.

Because of their larger size and more complex design, they are more expensive than dirt bikes or ATVs, but being able to carry 4-6 people may make the "cost per passenger" more within reach.

In some cases UTVs might be modified to be street legal, but most are intended and purchased strictly for off road use.  Off road tires won't last long on pavement and can contribute to dangerous  problems in handling.  This might be mitigated by changing the tires but in doing so you usually sacrifice some the off road capability for better on road manners.

UTVs may offer hard core off road enthusiasts a way to continue to enjoy their sport even after age, illness, or injury prevents them from straddling a dirt bike or ATV.  Riding in the cushy seats of a UTV for many hours is always going to be more comfortable than sitting in the saddle of dirt bike or ATV and the strain on the driver's arms from the steering wheel will be much less than that from  wrestling with handlebars.   The tires, suspension, and body weight absorb a lot of the jarring impact that is transmitted directly to the riders of dirt bikes and ATVs.

UTVs are smooth!

ATVs

ATV stands for All Terrain Vehicle.  They are also sometimes know as "quads" or  "4-wheelers".  These fun and versatile off highway vehicles are sort of like a 4-wheeled dirt bike.   Like dirt bikes you straddle the seat and use handlebars to control the steering.  Because they have 4 wheels they are more stable than dirt bikes, but their extra  width limits which trails they can be ridden on.  It also makes them somewhat unstable when crossing hillsides.  I've personally seen several  4-wheelers come tumbling down the hill when their operators tried to ride across or make a  u-turn while climbing a steep hill.  Many ATVs are equipped with a "dead man switch" so the engine shuts off if the rider falls off.  If a rider falls off a dirt bike, the dirt bike falls down.  But without a dead man switch, an  ATV could keep going for miles without its rider.

Some the first ATVs  were initially designed to be ranch or farm vehicles.   Owners quickly saw the recreational potential and manufacturers weren't far behind in catering to the recreational market.  ATVs are often used by search and rescue organizations for both conducting searches and transporting injured victims.  Hunters use ATVs to haul their big game trophies.  Their basic stability and heavy load capacity make them ideal vehicles for these jobs.

ATVs, because of their wide, soft tires, are particularly well suited to riding on soft surfaces like sand, mud, and snow.  4-wheel drive versions deliver especially good performance in these situations.  ATVs can be be equipped with at snow plows for plowing driveways and other small areas.  Most ATVs are capable of towing small trailers.  Dump trailers, like the garden carts designed for lawn tractors are popular for hauling camping equipment and firewood.  You can even buy tent trailers designed to be pulled by ATVs, allowing you considerable camping comforts far off the beaten path.

Racing of ATVs isn't as popular as racing dirt bikes.  For a while there were regular "quad" heats between regular races at Supercross races, but they didn't really catch on.  ATVs are much heavier and somewhat less nimble than dirt bikes, so the quad  races couldn't compete successfully for excitement against the extreme stunts in a Supercross race.

Many ATVs come from the factory or can be adapted to carry a second passenger.   That makes them somewhat popular with families who have members who can't or don't want to ride dirt bikes.  Non-riders can still participate as passengers on trail rides. 

ATVs are often popular win rural areas where they can serve as utility vehicles as well as off road toys.  The same machine folks use for trail riding can also be used to round up and deliver feed to livestock, haul firewood, and for a host of other tasks around the farm or ranch. 

A predecessor to the ATV was the ATC -- All Terrain Cycle.  These were 3-wheeled machines, a sort of tricycle on steroids.  Because they were more stable and easier to keep upright than dirt bikes they quickly became popular with novice riders.  But they also developed a reputation as being dangerous, so much so that eventually the manufacturers agreed to a moratorium to avoid an outright ban in the United States.  Part of the problem was that the ease of use often gave new riders a premature sense of confidence that frequently caused them to get themselves into trouble.  There were some issues inherent in the design also.  For example, it was fairly common for a rider to run over his own foot with one of the back wheels, something I NEVER did on my dirt bike.   Another anomaly  had to due with turning.  On a bicycle or motorcycle you lean into the turn.  If you want to turn right, you lean right.   If you want to turn left,  you lean left.  With an ATC, when you lean right it puts extra weight on the right rear wheel, giving it more traction and causing it to outrun the left rear wheel, making the ATC turn left!   Although they were never formally banned, ATCs are no longer manufactured but you can still find some used machines around if you have an urgent desire to try one out.

ATVs go just about anywhere!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Dirt Bikes

Dirt bikes are off road motorcycles.  They come in all sizes, from little 50 cc machines with training wheels for little kids to giant 650cc dual sport motorcycles for big kids of all ages.   My kids were all experience riders before they were out of kindergarten.

The very first motorcycles were, in a very real way, off road motorcycles.  For one thing, they had to be.  There weren't that many roads!  As roads became more prevalent, motorcycles designed for street use became the order of the day.

Modern dirt bikes evolved from custom racing machines usually built by the racers themselves, from Triumph and Rickman street bikes.  As off road racing and trials competition became more popular, international motorcycle companies began taking an interest in manufacturing motorcycles specifically designed for off highway recreation.  One of my riding buddies bought the very second Yamaha IT400 off the boat from Japan in the early 1970s and some years later we bought it from him.

Beginner bikes, like the little 50 and 60 cc motorcycles made for small children often use a centrifugal clutch so there is no clutch lever for little novice hands to master.  The clutch engages automatically as the RPMs increase.  Bigger bikes for more sophisticated riders have manual clutches and multi-speed transmissions.  Gear ratios vary depending on the intended purpose for the bike.  Some variations you will see are motocross bikes (designed for racing on motocross tracks), trail bikes (designed for trail riding), and Enduro bikes (designed for specialized off road Enduro races).  Trials bikes are breed all their own, focusing on light weight and maneuverability.  They typically have very narrow, low cut seats, high ground clearance, and fairly low gear ratios.  They are made for crawling over rocks and other obstacles.  A Trials rider is penalized if his foot touches the ground.  Motocross and Enduro bikes, on the other hand, are designed for speed and good handling over rough terrain and you'll often see a rider use a foot as a pivot point when making a sharp turn.

Some beginner bikes come with an exhaust restriction device to limit power until the rider becomes skilled enough to manage a stronger engine.  Removing the exhaust restriction makes a significant difference in the acceleration, power, and top speed of these little bikes.   Bikes with engines as small as 80cc's can be surprisingly powerful.  One of my riding buddies, a former desert racer, bought a Yamaha YZ-80 for his pre-teen son.  He took it out for a spin and was quite pleased with its modest performance.  Then, on his way back he opened it up "to blow it out" and at somewhere around 11,000 rpm the little bike lurched into its power band, surprising by buddy by delivering an unexpected wheelie!  You definitely want to make sure any rider undesrtands and respects the power of his bike and knows how to ride it safely.  Just because is is only 80ccs doesn't mean you can put a complete novice on it and turn them loose.

I have mixed feelings about using training wheels on little motorcycles for little riders.  Certainly they can be an aid to keeping the bike right side up until they learn to balance, but they also affect handling and if used off road can get caught on obstacles along the trail.  My solution was to get my kids to master their pedal bikes until they could ride them well without training wheels and then let them try the motorcycle without training wheels.  My youngest son was chomping at the bit to ride during a Spring Break outing when he was only 3 years old.  I diplomatically counseled him that he needed to learn to ride his bike without training wheels before he could ride a motorcycle.  When we got home from that trip he ran into the house, brought his bicycle out, laid it down on the parking strip as we were still unloading, and demanded "Take 'em off!".  He was one very determined little boy.  I took off the training wheels and he immediately went to work on learning to ride without them.  By our next outing on Memorial Day weekend, he rode 13 miles on a poker run on a little 50cc motorcycle and was anxious for more.

These days you have a number of alternate OHV options in addition to dirt bikes, including ATVs and UTVs (side-by-sides) but for many years dirt bikes were the only option for personalized off highway motorized travel.  My family still prefers dirt bikes.  Personally I find them more maneuverable and agile than ATVs.  They are certainly safer riding across hillsides where ATVs have a tendency to roll over and they require a path only a few inches wide.  ATVs are a little more stable and are sometimes easier for novice riders to master quickly.  They are also more capable of hauling cargo and are even sometimes used to transport injured riders or hikers out of remote areas.  However, I fear that the ease of use often lulls new riders into a premature sense of over confidence that I believe is one of the reasons for many ATV accidents among young or novice riders.

Motocross bikes are very popular among recreational off road riders.   No doubt part of the appeal is mimicking favorite professional riders, who make riding look easy and beautiful.  However,
a motocross bike is not necessarily the best choice for recreational riding.  The gearing of a motocross bike is designed to deliver good performance on groomed tracks.  Trail riding often requires more low end power and better performance at lower speeds.  Some bikes are considered "wide ratio" bikes, meaning there is a wide range of gear ratios available across the several shift positions.  These can be very good in a variety of circumstances and adapt very well to trail riding, since trail riding, by its very nature, consists of many different types of terrain.  Some times  you need a high gear for speed across open spaces.  At other times you a need a low gear for tackling steep grades or tricky, highly technical trails.   A properly designed wide ratio bike will provide a smooth transition from the lowest to the highest gear.

Motocross is a stylized from of dirt biking on a groomed course.  The ultimate motocross race is the Supercross.  You can find amateur motocross races all across the country with many riders of different skill levels.  Supercross is a major, professional level sport where only the best of the best are able to compete.  Supercross tracks often include double and triple jumps where riders and bikes are literally flying hundreds of feet.  Supercross races are extremely exciting to watch, with jumps, sharp turns, whoop-dee-doos, and fast straightaways.  Riders are often competing "bar to bar" in tight packs where a single mistake by just one rider can cause many bikes to crash.  It is definitely not a place for the timid and only the most skilled riders can ever dream of racing Supercross.

That being said, Supercross is still the inspiration for hundreds of recreational riders.  Even if they can't begin to match the extreme stunts by their professional  heroes, dirt bikers still enjoy trying to approximate their behavior as much as they can.  Most of us will never ride a professional Supercross track, but we can have a lot of fun riding trails, which usually include fast straightaways, hill climbs, downhills, whoop-dee-doos, and sometimes even jumps.  Many amateurs can learn to master the art of riding wheelies.  We had a guy in our Desert Rat group in California who rode a custom-made bike that included a very large rear sprocket.  He didn't have a lot of top speed in the open desert, but  he could ride wheelies just about anywhere. I used to tease him that he had an unfair advantage on the trails because he only hit half as many bumps as the the rest of us did -- because he only hit them with one wheel!

To me a dirt bike is the perfect way to ride off road trails.  It is nimble, light weight, goes anywhere, and is pretty much something you have do without any help.

Dirt bikes rock!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Choosing the Ideal Camp Site

No doubt we'd all like to experience the "ideal camp site".  So how do you find one?  First of all, there is no unique "ideal camp site".  What is ideal is going to be different for different people and different for anyone at different times.  If  you're looking to escape summer heat, the ideal campsite will be cool -- mountains or beach.  If you want solitude, it will be remote but if you desire companionship and social interaction it will be a place with lots of other people with interests similar to your own.

If you have an RV and prefer the convenience of hookups, your ideal camp site will necessarily be in a comfortable RV park with ample amenities.  But are you looking for an overnight stop long the way to your destination or is the site itself your destination?   If ;you're looking for an overnight stop the ideal place will be near your route, easy to get in and out of, and inexpensive.  If the site is your destination,  you'll be more concerned about its ambiance and amenities.  If  your outing is geared toward special outdoor recreational activities, the ideal site is going to be one that gives you convenient access to those activities.  OHV riders will need a place with access to OHV trails or open riding areas.  Fishermen will need well-stocked lakes or rivers. Boaters will need launch facilities for their watercraft.  Hikers and mountain bikers will need trails.

If you prefer boondocking or are at least willing to explore off-grid camping, you will find many more options.  Factors to consider may include how remote you want to be, how long you are prepared to stay, and how far you are willing to drive to reach your goal. If you're seeking peace and quiet you will want to avoid primitive camping areas that serve as staging areas for OHV activity.

Tent campers will want to choose camp sites that are suitable to their style and expectations.  If you enjoy hiking and backpacking, your ideal camp may be miles off the beaten track, but if you bring a lot of equipment with you you're going to want a site you can drive right into.  You will usually want a shaded, grassy site with a fire pit and picnic table.

Time of year may color your selection as well.  In hot summer months you will probably want a shady site to give you some relief from the glare of that hydrogen fusion furnace 93 million miles away we call Sol.  In cooler times you may enjoy a sunny sight that will warm your tent or RV.  Desert camping is usually uncomfortably hot in the summer, so mountain, forest, or beach destinations are more ideal in hot weather.  Conversely, mountains and forest areas may experience harsh weather in cooler months when desert areas will be moderate and attractive.  Mountains also tend to make their own weather so you may not be able to rely on the regional forecast.

The composition of your camping group will also affect your choice of an ideal camp site.  A couple seeking some quiet time together will have different needs than a family with young children who will require access to playgrounds or other sources of entertainment or a large group of OHV riders who want to camp and ride together.

If you are seeking peace and quiet you will probably want to avoid popular state and federal parks, especially on holiday weekends or during the summer vacation time.  Look for smaller venues, such as local or county parks.  Activity can vary a lot at private parks.  Some are fairly remote and quiet, some are highly used and foster a lot of social interaction.  If you enjoy a lot of social interaction, by all means get reservations at a popular location during a busy time.

Finding the right site within an established campground might take a little exploring.   In most cases, not all sites are equal.  Some might be downwind of the restrooms or near a high traffic road or adjacent to a noisy group area.  You might be able to choose a camp site from a map when you make your reservations.  If not, you might have to physically explore the available options when you get on site.  Some common criteria for choosing the best site are level and adequate parking, clean, level space for tents, minimum traffic, close proximity to resources you want to use, not too close to restrooms or dumpsters, convenient access to water faucets, shady (especially in the summer!), proper fire pit, picnic table(s), pavilion or shelter.

Finding the right site when boondocking will either require familiarity with the area or doing some exploring.  You will need a spot that is accessible to your vehicle(s), reasonably level, away from traffic (roads, trails, etc), shady, large enough for your group, and fire safe.  In rainy weather or if there is an chance of rain, avoid depressions or washes that may be subject to flooding.  Because maneuvering large motorhomes or trailers can be cumbersome, try to check out your proposed destination ahead of time using a more nimble vehicle.

The bottom line is, only YOU can determine what is the ideal camp site for any given outing and it will very likely be different from trip to trip depending on many factors.  You may feel like returning to a spot you previously enjoyed, but consider whether there are mitigating circumstances that might change your experience.  Some things to consider are the time of year and the size and make up of your camping entourage.  If  you really loved the fall foliage you might be disappointed in visiting at a different time of year.  A nice little camp site that was perfect for you and your significant other might not work when you bring another family with children.  A site that offered great camaraderie and companionship during the active season might be less rewarding in the off season unless you bring enough companions with you.  If you realize that finding the ideal site means matching YOUR current needs rather than adopting some external definition, you should be able to select the right place very time.

Get it right!