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To some, off-roading is much more than a hobby or motorsport. Whether they’ve grown up in an off-road prone environment or have developed their passion over the course of their years, a decent percentage of the off-roading fanbase considers the hobby a “lifestyle.”

That is not surprising in the least - off-road cars and racing help bring millions of people from around the world together. Any differences we might have with our next-door neighbor don’t matter as much when we’re both looking forward to the Baja 1000.

There are, however, a lot of people who are interested in off-roading but have not been exposed to what it means. If you have a budding interest in all things off-road and are even considering purchasing your own rig in the near future, then you’re in luck - this article serves to provide a quick and detailed explanation of what ATVs and UTVs represent.

Without further ado, read on, keep calm, and let’s go off-road!

Off-Roading Explained

The term itself is quite self-explanatory. Off-roading is, well, when you go off-road with a vehicle.

Accurately enough, and despite common belief, the term does not specifically imply driving through a patch of untamed wilderness. As long as you drive over an area that does not have a built road, then what you’re doing is off-roading.

On the other hand, there is also the saying of “going off-trail.” Although off-roading still implies driving on a planned trail - which is what most people choose to do, by the way - you can also go off-trail by diverting your course and, indeed, driving into the wild.

As a rule of thumb, off-roading is almost always exhilarating to some degree or another. Imagine, then, going completely off-trail and exposing yourself to the dangers of the wilderness! The adrenaline you might feel from being fully aware you might get stuck and lost isn’t easily matched.

Getting Into The Hobby

So - you like big cars with huge wheels, seeing mud splashed all over, and the concept of defeating the environment at whose mercy we’ve been for thousands of years as a species - congratulations! You have good taste.

It can be more than daunting to get started into the little (big) world of off-roading without any sort of exposure, however. While my primary suggestion would be to first master your usual passenger car before potentially moving on to bigger vehicles, the truth is that even a well-taught adolescent could commandeer an off-road rig.

Among one of the first and most difficult choices you will have to make will be to decide on your vehicle. Buying an off-road car is expensive, whether you’re going for a traditional Jeep or more convenient alternatives such as ATVs and UTVs.

Therefore, my suggestion would be to find the nearest off-road track or trail in your area and get a bit of off-road training before clicking the “buy now” button. If you find out you don’t enjoy going off-road after all, then you’re not going to have a several-thousand-dollar car just catching dust in the garage.

Is Off-Roading Different From Normal Driving?

In a large variety of ways, yes! First of all, passenger cars have been designed for being driven over concrete, tarmac, or cobblestone. Take them out into the boonies and you’ll come back with a missing or a dangling bumper and a couple of other damaged parts.

There are a couple of aspects that help differentiate an off-road vehicle from a typical one. Among the most important are the wheels. Without a good set of high-quality wheels, an off-road car is unlikely to perform as expected.

The suspension kit also tends to be different. Off-road rides are very bumpy, as everyone who has driven through a forest trail will no doubt know. Without a good suspension kit, odds are you’re not going to reach the end of your trail without your tailbone pulverized to dust.

Additionally, off-road drivers typically choose to buy aftermarket upgrades for their bumpers. While off-road cars come with stock bumpers - which aren’t bad, either, by the way - an aftermarket upgrade could significantly increase the degree of protection your car has.

Now that we’ve gotten the basics of off-roading out of the way, let’s pay attention to the topic of the article: the origin and history behind ATVs and UTVs, as long as the reasons why they are favored and have become so popular.

What Is an ATV?

The all-terrain vehicle - also known as an ATV - is a light utility vehicle or a “quad bike” that has been designed to master harsh terrain conditions. ATVs are extraordinarily popular throughout the world, especially in the past few years, with today’s youth having taken an almost obsessive interest in them.

Most people wouldn’t think that the Japanese were the inventors of the ATV. Not that it’s surprising, since the Japanese invented an indescribable amount of vehicular technologies and concepts for us. We would be led to think that a vehicle as loud and rowdy as an ATV, however, would be a naturally American invention.

That isn’t the case. Japan is a very mountainous country. It can be very difficult to get from place to place without your knees buckling under you from exhaustion. To accentuate the Japanese problem, since they had to learn terrace farming to profit off of their harsh land, it essentially means that many of their farms are high up in the mountains.

Climbing up and down a mountain just to sell your produce is manageable, sure. But not always.

Origins of ATVs

While the Japanese are credited with the invention of the modern ATV as we know it, it was in 1893 that the first ATV was technically created. It was designed by Royal Enfield and described as a powered quadricycle.

Fast forward about seventy years, and we have Sperry-Rand designing the Tricart, which was a three-wheeled ATV created as the result of a graduate project. Its aesthetic is a personal favorite of mine since it seems to capitalize on the 1970 expectations of a Sci-Fi future.

Honda, however, revolutionized the ATV business. Their US90 model, inspired to some degree by the Tricart, became overwhelmingly popular within a few years, with Honda trademarking the term “All-Terrain Cycle” and thus leading to the creation of today’s ATV term.

Amusingly enough, the Honda US90 looks more like a child’s toy nowadays when compared to the monstrous, bulky ATVs we’ve gotten used to. Just as how the Kegresse track is the precursor to the Jeep, so is the US90 a sweet, innocent counterpart of the modern ATV.

One factor that led to Honda’s drastic rise in popularity and eventual monopolization over the ATV market was a very carefully laid out battle plan when placing patents on their designs. By the 1980s, companies from all over the world were paying grand royalties to Honda so they could also dip their toes in the field.

What Is a UTV?

Just like the ATV, the UTV is an off-road vehicle designed for harsh weather conditions. The utility terrain vehicle, as it is called, was invented later than the ATV but is mostly similar in a couple of aspects. It cannot be explicitly said they are drastically different since they can be considered to be “close cousins.”

Compared to an ATV, a UTV tends to be larger and bulkier. While the ATV is supposed to be more or less a bike for off-roading, the UTV is a combination between a large rig and an ATV, attempting to strike a balance between power, protection, and mobility.

The main difference between a UTV and an ATV is that the UTV has mostly been designed to offer sheer performance and efficiency, while the ATV is great for having fun but not especially extraordinary for anything else.

While an ATV is single-rider and smaller than a UTV, a UTV can hold several people, can receive additional protection in the form of, say, roll cages, and is also generally more convenient than an ATV.

It is for that reason that nowadays, ATVs are mostly used for recreational purposes, while any serious trek through harsh terrain conditions would benefit more from a UTV. Another added advantage is that you can easily add storage options to a UTV, turning it as close as possible to an ATV-turned-car.

As such, UTVs are slightly more popular with family-oriented drivers who enjoy the experience of taking their friends and kinfolk on off-road adventures. On the other hand, if you want a thrilling, speedy experience, then the ATV might be more suitable for you.

Origins of UTVs

Understanding the context behind the invention of the UTV might provide a unique perspective as to its development. As with the off-roading hobby itself, the inspiration for the UTV was taken from a number of sources, one of which was the Jeep that the US Army used during WWII.

To put it simply, some of those who learned to drive Jeeps during WWII grew in love with them and could not accept not having one for domestic, recreational purposes. That is essentially the start of off-roading as a hobby and motorsport since it was after WWII that civilian off-roaders started being developed.

As such, the very first UTV was designed a handful of years later, specifically being released in 1988 as the Kawaski Mule. In many ways, it resembled a traditional ATV. However, ATVs were predominantly being used for labor during those days, which made Kawaski realize the importance of releasing an ATV-inspired model that offered even more convenience.

Popular Off-road Brands

Ever since the inception of off-roading as a hobby and motorsport, vehicle manufacturers have released hundreds upon hundreds of unique models, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. There is no “holy grail” of off-roading: it’s up to you what your favorite manufacturer is and for what reasons as well.

With that being said, it can be helpful to have an idea of the most trustworthy off-roading brands. You have a lot of options at your disposal, so don’t feel too impressed by a brand or another’s pedigree. Instead, do as much research about the models you’re interested in before making a purchase.

Generally, the most popular and respected brands are the big four:

  • Yamaha
  • Polaris
  • Honda
  • Can-Am

There is a multitude of other brands out there, but the four that were listed are by far the most well-known and appreciated. With that being said, you might want to take a look at ATVs and UTVs belonging to the Arctic Cat, CFMoto, or KYMCO brands, as they are considered as being equally important in their own way.

Let’s Get It Started!

Fond of off-road cars? Like the view of wheels ripping through mud and sending it splashing all over? Want to engage in the experience yourself? Then go for it! Do your best to perform as much research as possible before doing anything that is potentially dangerous, however.

Off-roading is an awesome motorsport. But it’s also important to take care of the environment. Remember always to make an effort not to damage the area in which you’re driving around, and please clean up after yourself.

Finally, have fun!