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ATVing - a growing family sport

Two 7-year-old boys eagerly race from one bright blue all-terrain vehicle to another on the dealership lot, possibly imagining the sound of the ATV motor throttling up: thrum . . . thrum . . . thrum.

Before they are allowed to let the vehicle make that sound, however, safety should be the first concern of parents when introducing a child to an ATV. "We try to impress on our customers they shouldn't let their 6-year-old drive it," says Sam Naumes, owner of Naumes of Oregon Motorsports. "They need to have the proper mental maturity as well as physical maturity."

Even then, a manufacturer's tag posted prominently on ATV models recommends strongly that no one under age 6 should ride the four-wheeled vehicle. (Three-wheeled ATVs were outlawed several years ago.) "You have to go by the manufacturer's recommendation," says Frank Saunders, owner of Medford Powersports. Saunders also says that children should be 12 to ride the larger sports quad, a lighter, faster model, weighing at least three hundred pounds. The child size model will go 15 to 20 miles per hour downhill; the larger adult size is more powerful and does 60 to 70 miles per hour. The sports quad, designed for running on sandy dunes or on forest trails, carries varied price tags, $2,500 all the way up to $9,000. A "decent" used one usually costs $3,500, says Saunders.

Both dealers emphasized dressing properly for an ATV outing. This would include wearing riding boots and a helmet, according to Saunders. The boots and the helmet allow the rider to protect his or her ankles and head. Oregon law requires a helmet, no matter whether a sports quad or utility ATV. Other gear would be jackets, long-sleeved shirts and pants to prevent sticks and brambles from injuring your skin. Costs for the nylon and cotton clothing, either waterproof or water resistant, run $80 to $100. Boots usually cost about $350; helmets are priced from $50 to $600. Women have become very interested in ATVing recently and clothing for them is included in the ATV lines. Children's clothing sizes are also available.

ATVing has become a great family sport, the dealers say. Naumes says ATV numbers in 2005 show there were about 1,479 sold in Medford, many to families. When introducing a child to an ATV, Saunders says, "every child is different, you should take into consideration their size, weight, maturity and temperament."

Before anyone goes out on the ATV trail, the dealers recommend taking a free four-hour class offered locally through several certified safety instructors. The course takes students through basic riding and safety techniques, "a good foundation before you go out riding," says Naumes and business manager Kevin Primerano. Courtesy and the law should dictate where it's appropriate and safe to ride.

ATVs don't require licenses but should carry a mandatory OHV (off-highway vehicle) tag if riding on National Forest trails. Insurance is optional, Saunders says, but "I recommend it because it is not really that expensive and ATVs are subject to theft." Can you hear the sound now? Thrum . . . thrum … thrum . . .

ATVing - a growing family sport