All-Terrain Vehicles: A Guide for Beginners

ATV For Beginners

All-terrain vehicles, or ATVs, are a popular form of sport vehicle because they’re simple to operate, suitable for people with varying degrees of physical agility, and lots of fun. Whether you’re riding trails through the woods, up and down dunes in the desert, or through a state or national park, an ATV is a great way to enjoy an outdoor adventure with friends and family.

If you’ve never driven a sport vehicle before, you’ll want to evaluate your options and choose a model that’s appropriate for the terrain, appropriately sized,  and not too powerful to handle.

Popular ATVs for Beginners

Yamaha, Honda, Polaris, and Suzuki all make reasonably-priced ATVs that are well-suited to new drivers. The KingQuad 400 offers a peppy engine, four-wheel drive, and a 376cc engine, and Suzuki has been making them for more than 30 years, so the designers have had plenty of time to arrive at controls and features that are easy for newbies and pros alike.

Similarly, Honda and Polaris offer the TRX250 and the Sportsman 450, respectively. Honda’s machine has a simple, easy to use design and a reliable 229 cc engine, while the Sportsman gives you an automatic transmission – great for riders who are inexperienced with shifting – as well as a faster, 500cc engine and smooth-riding suspension.


The cost of a new ATV can be as low as two grand or as high as fifteen, depending on the manufacturer, features and accessories, and availability of special incentives and discounts. For example, Suzuki’s sport ATV line starts at just under $2,000 and goes up to $2,999. They also have a line of utility sports models, which offer more powerful engines and racks that make them useful for work as well as play, but these cost quite a bit more: the base model is a little more than nine grand.

Honda sells a variety of different models at prices ranging from the low two-thousands up to around six grand. As is the case with other manufacturers, they’re heavier, more powerful, and more versatile Fourtrax Rancher line is made for work or play and costs more than the TRX250s, which are purely recreational.

By comparison, ATVs from Polaris are quite a bit more expensive: the Sportsman XP 1000 S costs $15k, while the smaller Scrambler 850 starts at $10,299. All three are classed as “sport” models and offer enhanced suspension and other performance features, but even the models in the “recreation and utility” line, with their smaller engines and minimal suspension, start at $6200.

Like automakers, ATV and motorcycle manufacturers often offer special pricing near the end of a model year, so if you’re interested in a new machine, start shopping in late September or October. Next year’s models will be arriving at on the lots, but many dealers will still have old inventory in stock that they’re motivated to move quickly.

Look for deals online, but don’t assume that’s the only way to research a potential purchase. Visiting dealerships and test driving different machines is a fun way to become familiar with their various features and attributes, and simply calling around to find out how flexible a dealer will be can help you narrow the pool of sellers down to a few top contenders. Finally, when it comes time to buy, consider all the negotiation tactics at your disposal.

Common Purchasing Pitfalls

No matter what kind of vehicle you’re planning to buy, it’s important to keep an open mind if you want to avoid buyer’s remorse. If you have your heart set on a specific make or model, you’ll automatically disregard a whole range of other possibilities – and great deals.

Similarly, many dealers sell both new and used vehicles, so even if you’re thinking of buying a new ATV, check the availability of newer model, low-mileage machines. If you’re willing to go with something gently used, you can save a bundle without sacrificing power or performance. 

Neglecting the research is another common pitfall you can easily avoid. Whether you plan to buy new or used, before you meet with a dealer or individual, look up the MSRP and book values, and compare prices and options for different makes and models. This tip is arguably the most important since nothing gives you more bargaining power than a solid command of the facts.

These days, plenty of people sell used motorcycles, ATVs, boats, and all kinds of cars, trucks, and other vehicles on the internet. But while it may be tempting to snap up a steal on Craigslist or another marketplace site, be sure to research the vehicle history before you make an offer. Additionally, be sure to inspect all of the machine’s components, from the shocks to the CV boots, or if you’re not so mechanically inclined, arrange to have it inspected by a reputable professional before you buy.

Pro Riding Tips

For anyone new to ATV riding, learning to operate the vehicle properly is the first step. Read the owner’s manual and make sure you’re thoroughly familiar with safety features and controls. If you bought a used vehicle that didn’t come with an owner’s manual, look online. These days, most manufacturers provide downloadable PDFs of owners manuals for just about every model year.

Second, make sure you’re familiar with best practices for responsible riding. Use your ATV on designated trails and in permitted areas only, and respect the property rights of others. Slow down when visibility is poor, and always ride with at least one partner so that someone can find help if there’s an accident. Never ride if you’re under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and check the weather conditions before you head out: storms and high winds can turn an otherwise normal ride into a dangerous situation. Avoid disturbing sensitive environments and historical sites, and avoid scaring livestock and wildlife. Finally, take an online or hands-on course from the ATV Safety Institute to get comprehensive training.

Third, get – and use – appropriate gear. Buy a Snell certified helmet (Snell uses the most rigorous safety standards) and wear it on every ride, for the whole ride. No single aspect of motorsport is more dangerous than the risk of head or neck injury, and while you may love the feel of the wind in your hair, you definitely won’t love the feel of traction if you take a serious spill. Make sure the helmet fits properly, allows good peripheral vision, and feels comfortable.

Additionally, be sure to wear long pants and long sleeves to minimize the risk of cuts and scrapes, as well as sturdy boots that offer plenty of ankle support, riding gloves, and chest and neck protectors. If your helmet doesn’t have a face mask, you’ll want a pair of close-fitting goggles as well, and if you’re planning on riding in an area where you’re likely to get wet, a waterproof jacket and pants might be a wise choice.

Finally, start slow. Choose an open, flat area with good visibility and drive around at an even, moderate pace until you’ve got a good handle on the way your ATV corners, brakes, and accelerates. Gradually build up speed until you can comfortably control the vehicle, execute a tight turn in either direction, and drive in reverse.

Once you’re confident on basic terrain, choose another site or trail that offers moderate hills and obstacles, and work on improving your control and confidence until you can handle any adventure.

Final Thoughts

Riding an ATV is an exciting outdoor activity, and it’s not difficult for beginners to master the basics. Start by researching vehicles and choosing the one that fits your destination, your size and strength, and your budget. Then get the right gear, learn the rules of the trail, and practice. In no time, you’ll be riding like a pro.