When you're trekking into the deep backcountry, you can never really tell what difficulties you're going to face. I guess that's half the fun of adventure riding; you're on your own if the unexpected occurs. While it helps to be prepared for any emergency, 90 percent of the difficulties on the trail are, in my experience, going to fall into one of two categories: some kind of tire failure or a machine buried in mud, sand or snow. Let's take a minute and discuss these two situations so you'll be better prepared if and when you come across them in real life.
Creation of a Deflation SituationIf you ride the backcountry enough, sooner or later you're going to deal with some serious tire issues. Most common are simple flats, ranging from frequent cactus punctures to holes big enough to stick your thumb through. Unless you have a way to patch a hole and inflate the tire, you're not going anywhere. Many times just finding the leak is difficult, and if the hole or injury is toward the inside of the wheel, it's going to be necessary to remove the wheel to make the repair. Make sure you carry the proper tools to remove both front and rear wheels. One important note: The beads on ATV tires are so strong that you'll never be able to break the bead out in the field, so count on having to make all repairs with the tire still on the rim.
Patching a small leak is fairly simple, in the case of multiple thorn or cactus bites it can usually be solved with a liquid tire sealer. Larger punctures require plugs. A plug is a soft rubber rod as thick as a pencil and about three inches long that you coat with rubber cement and force into the tire injury. Small holes can be repaired with one plug, but you can fix larger injuries by simply using more plugs. I've seen holes up to one inch in diameter repaired by this method-taking up to 20 plugs! And forget about carrying patches, even with sidewall injuries, you'll never use them. The solution is always more plugs and loads of rubber cement to lubricate them as they go in. Each ATV in your party should carry a plug kit with 10-20 fresh plugs, an installation tool and plenty of rubber cement.
Once you think you've got the leak stopped, you'll need to air up. There are two basic methods of reinflating a repaired tire. You can use a pump, either electrically or manually powered, or you can use compressed air or CO2 cartridges. Since ATV tires require a substantial volume to fill from totally flat, our favorite inflation method is a mix of the two. First add the majority of the volume of air by pumping, then use CO2 to top off the tire to final pressure. This saves CO2 cartridges, since it may take three or four of them to supply the volume needed to inflate the tire before you build any pressure at all. Tip: You'll have an easier time inflating a tire by hand if you lift the tire off the ground via a jack or a log under the axle. This way you're not trying to raise the weight of the machine as you build air pressure.
It's a good idea to carry both a pump and a CO2 inflation system. Every ATV in your party should be equipped with either a manual or electric (12-volt) pump and at least four large CO2 cartridges (I know we don't have to tell you this, but please pack out your empty cartridges).
Extraction Is the Reaction to Your Distraction
Getting stuck is the second major off-road problem. If you live in an area with sand, snow or mud, you're probably already familiar with what it takes to get out of a jam. But even in dry areas you can get in a bad spot simply by running off the edge of the trail. The key is having the right tools handy. It's either that or brute force (yours) doing the work. I suggest you do it the lazy way!
For a really buried ATV, there's no question that a winch is going to be a big help. It's a good idea to have at least one winch along on any trail expedition. Don't count on using your own winch if you're the one who's mired-it's frequently unreachable due to mud or snow or simply facing the wrong direction. As a rule of thumb, the winch on a free vehicle will be used to extract the stuck machine. When possible, it's important to anchor the pulling machine when using a winch. This will direct maximum power to the cable to complete the tow-out. You can anchor the machine just by nosing it up to a tree or stump and running the winch cable past it, or you may first need to hook up the winching ATV to a solid object with a tiedown. Since the stuck vehicle is already by definition anchored, you'll need a better anchor on the towing machine, or else nothing is going to happen-nothing good anyway. I've used a line of four ATVs linked together in series like a freight train to get enough of a proper anchor before winching.
But winches aren't always the answer, or they aren't always available. That's when you use your free machines to tow out the stuckee. While a strong rope will do in a pinch, a real tow strap is far better to use. It's light and easy to carry and usually has ready-made loops or hooks to make towing easier. Experienced backcountry riders carry two straps on each machine. Two means pulling a quad that has gone far enough off the trail to require hooking several straps together to get enough reach. However, there's another important reason to have an extra tow strap-hauling a dead ATV up or down a steep hill. The multiple straps allow hooking two or more towing quads together, like a train that has two or three locomotives. It's amazing how much power several ATVs pulling can generate. Conversely, two hooked in tandem provide more brakes for steep descents.
Please remember that when vehicles get stuck that's often when trail damage occurs. Old-time Jeepers used what they called pioneer tools to get themselves unstuck. They carried axes, shovels and Hi-Lift jacks, and often they literally made a new road to get clear of a mud hole or obstacle. Today, our forests see a lot more use, and if everyone tried this slash-and-burn method of extraction, then every hillside would look like a war zone. You got yourself into that mess; try to tiptoe out without making a scar that's going to last 10 years.
Whichever situation you find yourself in, remember to use your imagination-it's always your best tool when things go wrong in the dark timber! Maybe next time we'll visit the remaining, less-likely problems, such as losing your ATV in a runoff-swollen mountain creek; having a sudden crankshaft explosion when climbing a rocky pass; or holing a final-drive housing on a piece of 100-year-old angle iron. All of which actually happened on my last adventure! And that was just on day one!
Get your machine ready for anythingNext weekend is the big ride. You've planned for this trip all year: finding that incredible area you've never ridden before, checking the topo maps and arranging vacation time. Your ATV is all dialed in-at least it was the last time you rode it-but in the back of your mind you know you've got to take this ride a little more seriously than your average weekend jaunt. This trip will be an extreme adventure, so everyone and everything has to be totally prepared. During a deep-woods excursion, equipment failure won't just ruin your vacation-it could possibly cost you your life.
In situations like this, a master checklist, something to remind you of every item that needs to be eyeballed before departing, is a must. Even professional guides who spend their whole summers on the trail still use a written checklist to remind themselves of crucial tasks. So here is ATV Rider's adventure checklist of all items that need to be in top shape before you take to the trail for your extreme adventure ride.
Tires and More
* As for optimum tire pressure, manufacturers will specify a range of pressures, usually between 3 and 5 psi, which varies depending on the terrain. For rocky rides, fill to the max setting (8 to 10 psi); this will keep your machine riding higher and will stop the tire from blowing a bead if you graze a sharp rock. For soft terrain, go to a mid- or low-pressure setting (3 to 5 psi). This will maximize traction and keep you from getting stuck (or at least make it easier to get out).
* Be aware that two identical tires may have different rolling diameters even if inflated to the same pressure. Most experienced backcountry riders will set one front and one rear tire with a pressure gauge and then adjust the other tire either visually or with a tape measure to get the same rolling diameter. The easy way to do this is to park your machine on a level concrete surface and fill one tire to the desired pressure, then gradually fill (or deflate) the other tire until the bumper or axle sits level according to a tape measure. Repeat for the other side.
* If your tires are worn, remember that when riding in extreme conditions you're by definition using all that your machine can give you. Tires that perform OK in normal situations will slip and slide when you're really punishing them. This is annoying when climbing or accelerating, but it can be deadly when trying to stop or when picking your way along a very steep trail. Some riders keep two sets of tires mounted, one for easy trail rides and another for extreme adventures.
* In rugged conditions, you will frequently be using the hand controls only, so make sure they're accessible and properly set. Controls should be adjusted to be comfortable to use when sitting or kneeling on the seat. Normally this means you have to angle the thumb throttle up a bit from the stock position.
* If your machine has adjustable suspension, you'll probably want to crank the spring preload to its highest setting. A loaded machine will ride steadier if the suspension is stiff, plus a firm preload might buy you an inch or more of available ground clearance. If the ride turns out to be smoother than you expected, you can always soften the suspension up by hand later on the trail.
* If you're going to be riding in wet conditions, check to see that all of your drain and vent hoses are in place and properly routed. Check the air-filter drain hose, too.
Essential Equipment for Adventure RidingSurvival gear for your trusty steedWhat to bring...just in case
Tow straps (2)
Spare tiedowns, ratchet-type (2)
Winch (one winch-equipped ATV per group)
U-clamps for winch cable repair (2)
Tire chains (for snow or slippery conditions)
GPS and mount, plus spare batteries or power cord
Tire repair kit, including rubber cement and 10-20
Assorted nuts, bolts, washersSpare fuses
3 feet of 18-gauge electrical wire
1 quart of engine oil
1 gallon of water (liquid-cooled machine)
4 feet of fuel line (for siphon or repair)
QuikSteel two-part epoxy
Spare headlight bulbs
Spare ignition key
Small folding camp shovel
Small wood saw or hatchet
50-foot nylon paracord
Engine oil should be clean...
Engine oil should be clean and up to the full line. For slogging and rock crawling, you'll want 20W50 oil, even in colder weather.
All nuts and bolts need to...
All nuts and bolts need to be in place and tight. Secure any loose mudflaps or plastic trim, and make sure cargo racks are tight. You don't want any parts flopping around on the trail, and you might have to use the racks for lifting or towing a machine. Skid plates are prone to losing their attachment bolts, so take the time to get underneath your machine and check for any loose or missing fasteners.
The air filter should be clean...
The air filter should be clean and in good condition. A new filter is cheap insurance against engine damage due to dust. If you're going on a multiday ride in dusty conditions, bring along a spare filter in a plastic baggie, oiled and ready to install.
Drum brakes should be adjusted...
Drum brakes should be adjusted until tight, then backed off two turns to allow for heating and expansion on long downhills. Brake fluid should be at the full line and clean, not milky or black.
Check radiator, coolant and...
Check radiator, coolant and hoses for leaks. If your machine has a cooling fan, let the engine idle until the fan comes on to check its operation.
Driveshaft boots should be...
Driveshaft boots should be in good condition. They're the only thing between the CV joints and the water and dust of the trail.