Quad bikes no playthings

STEEP LEARNING CURVE: Quad bikes can be difficult to handle in steep terrain, are susceptible to bumps and potholes and require the rider to use their strength and weight.
STEEP LEARNING CURVE: Quad bikes can be difficult to handle in steep terrain, are susceptible to bumps and potholes and require the rider to use their strength and weight.

There is plenty of talk about quad bikes these days. However, with all the suggestions about helmets, registration and roll-over bars, very few people have mentioned that these toy-like vehicles are not easy to drive.

The reason they aren't is that they require a whole new language of what American moto-crossers call "Body English".

They also require the body strength to be able to apply it, which is why I would not advise slightly built people, however tall or old they are, to try to keep up with experienced riders, especially on rough and unfamiliar terrain.

Not only will they tire very quickly, but, because of the machine's unusual centre of gravity, they may find themselves unable to compensate for the behaviour of the quad cycle.

This is because quad bikes have a very narrow track (the measurement between the wheels, side to side) and a very short wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear axles).

With a tiny footprint area that's a fraction the size of a sport utility vehicle, tractor or farm truck, a quad bike is several times more susceptible - by pitching and leaning without giving much notice - to the effects of potholes, bumps, changes of terrain and surface texture.

After years of trail-bike riding and off-road driving, I felt confident that I could master these vehicles quickly, but it wasn't until the end of an embarrassing and salutary two-day Australian dirt safari that I started to do things properly.

I'm 1.88 metres tall and weigh more than 100 kilograms, but my strength and ability to compensate for the vagaries of a quad bike's behaviour were tested to exhaustion very quickly.

I can only imagine how alcohol and a lighter, less resilient and probably weaker body than mine would have coped.

My advice to anyone before going near a quad bike is to get some training, get advice on the required equipment and learn as much as you can first.

Watch the trainers and experts and notice how much time they have to spend out of the seat, balancing with their legs, arms and upper bodies against the considerable side forces they experience while riding.

They will also tell you why and how to become as competent as they are. Listen to every word.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's website, mbie.govt.nz, advises: "Riders must be trained/experienced enough to do the job. Choose the right vehicle for the job. Always wear a helmet."

This warning is well worth noting: "Don't let kids (under-16s) ride adult quad bikes."

By adult quad bikes, the ministry means machines of 90cc and above. That a machine with such a small engine size should be the cutoff point is worth noting too.

As the website says: "Quad bike manufacturers set minimum ages for using their bikes based on the age when young people have sufficient strength, bodyweight and mental ability to master the safe riding techniques."

The website also says farmers who don't follow these safety steps risk penalties under the Health and Safety in Employment Act if someone working on their farm is seriously injured or killed.

Quad bikes are not all-terrain vehicles, even if some makers do call them ATVs. They can't go everywhere or do everything.

Respect their limits and make sure everyone on your farm follows these safety steps.

The Department of Labour's website also has links for training opportunities, and is worth a visit (dol.govt.nz/quad-bikes/factsheet. asp). It also says any quad-bike supplier worth their salt should be able to suggest where to go for advice on riding. If you don't have a computer, phone 0800 697 296 and follow the steps.