Both my shoulders make popping noises from time to time, my right arm has a permanent bend in it and my ankle takes longer to warm up in the morning than an old diesel Hilux.
All these lingering ailments are the indirect results of my beloved hobbies of off-road racing and motocross.
I know people will think I'm mad for still doing both these activities but I think it is important people understand that at no stage did my RMZ break my ankle, nor did the annual Dead Toad Cross Country bust my shoulder. Even though all these injuries occurred while riding my bike at these events, it is fair to say that on every occasion the accident was the result of either a lapse of concentration or circumstances far beyond anyone's control.
I feel the same could be said for the majority of ATV accidents on the farm. Although racing a motocross bike and riding a farm ATV might seem worlds apart, I think there are a lot of similarities that get overlooked.
Since their introduction in the early 1980s, ATVs have become a valuable piece of equipment for any farmer. Small enough to move around the farm in a timely manner but strong enough to tow spreaders, calf trailers and carry the weed sprayer, they inevitably caused the demise of the Fergie 35.
Unfortunately a chequered history of accidents and fatalities has now put the spotlight on ATV safety. ACC statistics report 35 ATV accidents a day, and it is believed they account for approximately 28 per cent of farm deaths a year. With statistics like those it may be easy to come to the conclusion that they are dangerous and unsafe vehicles, but I feel the problem lies far deeper than this.
The first issue is the misconception of how easy it is to ride an ATV. When I was growing up on the farm through the late 80s early 90s, I remember fairly well our first ATV. I also remember learning how to operate it: "Here's the throttle, here's the brake, now can you go lock the cows away."
Technology aboard ATVs has come a long way since they were first introduced, but the main fundamentals regarding how to operate them have remained almost unchanged. What a lot of people don't realise is that these fundamentals aren't much different to riding a two-wheeler. The rider needs to have a good understanding of balance and how to weight the bike when on a hill, and how to effectively operate front and rear brakes that work independently of each other.
They also need to know how gear selection and the centrifugal clutch affect engine braking when going downhill. All of these things are important to understand in order to operate the bike in a safe manner.
Another vital point is that a child, no matter how capable, will always struggle to ride a full-sized ATV effectively because of weight. Even if a child is a top motocross rider with unparalleled bike- handling skills, he or she simply cannot offset the weight of the bike on hills and the risk of rolling is greatly increased.
Safety equipment such as rollover bars have been around since the 90s and also tend to get overlooked. Some people will argue that they may cause more injury in the event of an accident but if you ask me, anything that even remotely reduces the likelihood of getting seriously hurt has to be beneficial. At the very least, in most cases they will prevent the bike from rolling over further than its side.
The recent invention of the lifeguard rollover system offers another option to farmers. This system is made up of a segmented roll bar that will fold around the rider should it land on them. I also understand Ag helmets have caused a fair bit of controversy recently. I appreciate that they are inconvenient,. But I also know that when I ride my bike I wear my neck brace because I couldn't think of anything more inconvenient than having to get a loved one to care for me 24/7 because I wanted to spare myself some comfort and time
Another problem can be ATV maintenance. New Zealanders are renowned for their "she'll be right" attitude and nine out of 10 times that is OK, but there will always be that chance of something going wrong if things are left unchecked.
Problems with brakes, balljoints and cable operation are all things that won't be seen or sometimes even noticed until it's too late. Tyres can also be overlooked, as most will perceive that if there is tread showing then they must be good. In MX racing I believe the best modification is fresh rubber, and it is often surprising just how much more effective new tyres are on difficult terrain. They will grip better and will be far less likely to clog with mud on wet downhills sections. We all want to think we're MacGyver sometimes but if it's held together with No 8 wire, duct tape or cable ties, I'm afraid it's not fixed.
With both off-road racing and motocross it is important to be focused on the task at hand all the time. A lot of people may not appreciate how much a course can change with every lap. With 130 bikes riding over the same bit of soil, ruts get deeper, creek crossings get slippery, jump faces change and rocks get moved around.
The farm is not much different. With the ever-changing weather, rivers can change course, cows will pug up the ground and culverts can wash out. Even if you have been on the same farm for years the landscape alters daily and it is often complacency that can catch you off- guard. Not to mention the pressures of a busy day on the farm that can lead to poor decisions.
At the end of the day your ATV is 380kg of machinery that needs to be ridden with caution. If used correctly it will prove invaluable. The invention of the lifeguard rollover frame can lessen the chances of injury, as can the use of an Ag helmet, but I still feel that prevention is the best cure. Several organisations offer safety training, and this is the best way to gain an understanding of how to operate and maintain one of the most important and helpful pieces of equipment on the farm.
- The Dominion Post
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