ATV Television's Blog

The Latest News and Doug's Ramblings & Ravings.
Including Doug's "Here's what I think!" and "What were they thinking!"

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Living in the Past!

Or should that be living for the past?

I am so very fortunate to have lived through some pretty good “hay days!” I was there in the 60s when motorcycling really took off. I was also around to see the first 3-wheeler, 4-wheeler, and UTV. I was around when Baja racing started, when there were things like the Riverside Grand Prix, and even the Palm Springs Grand Prix. I was there when go-carting took off, and when minibikes were all the rage. I was there for the first hang glider, the first ultralight, and the first hobie cat. I was there for the first skate board, the first 10-speed, and the first BMX bike, actually called a ‘sting ray’ if memory serves me correct. I saw the first American win a Formula One race, and for Danny Sullivan’s spin and win at Indy.

There’s more, amazingly more! But of all the things I’ve been a part of, the best was the birth of the dune buggy. Although it is always there as a part of my life, having more than just a couple buggies from my past staged in my garage, it hit me rather hard when I sat down at my desk and my wife had dropped the day’s mail in a pile that happened to land the latest UTV Off Road Magazine directly on top on a copy of the very first Dune Buggy and Off Road magazine. Just like that, 2010 met 1967.

I couldn’t help but compare the two. I have a couple of the older off road magazines laying around to look at as I contemplate restoring another buggy. I guess it shouldn’t have surprised me but, like so many things nowadays, my favorite activity is being overrun by the “in-your-face, hey-look-at-me” crowds. Clean and functional has been replaced with wild and extreme.

I’ve seen this pattern before and know how the story ends. First the crazies take over one area and then they keep moving like a swarm of locusts overrunning and overwhelming other areas in their path. I’ve seen it with the sand dunes! Growing up in Southern California I was a constant visitor to several local dunes, most notably Glamis from the mid 60s. The dunes survived the influx of the VW buggies, 3-wheelers and 4-wheelers. But once the wild and tattooed crowd hit the scene with their incredible $70,000 buggies, huge trailers that virtually are rolling parties the weight shifted. Law enforcement was needed to patrol the drunks in their 1000 horsepower compensators, and new fees were needed to pay for the law enforcement. What had been a wonderful place for families to enjoy the great outdoors became as dangerous as walking through England with a white, right-wing, heterosexual Christian t-shirt.

But there was still plenty of other places to explore. Rock crawling was one of them. It proved to be a great way to get the family out into the beautiful backcountry and get to places you never thought possible. But of course within a few years that sport transformed from Jeeps and Suzuki Samari’s with limited slip differentials into full roll-caged specialized rock crawlers that as you guessed cost lots of money and were driven by the same compensating city dwellers that had just taken the dunes away from the regulars.

Now it seems to be happening to what is probably the last outpost for simple off road recreation, our back country trails! Although most sport ATVs stayed away from the scenic mountain trails, preferring to stay on designated tracks or to race across the deserts and the sand dunes, the new wave of UTVs have set their sights on our scenic mountain trails. These super-scenic, quiet, and serene back country trails are best explored by an ATV or a stock 50” RZR. But now, the onslaught of the widened, loudened, and disfigured UTVs are attacking the once pristine trails making the trail’s footprint wider in order to accommodate them, as well as degrading the trail conditions due to their increased speed, and irritating the communities that once so-welcomed the quiet families that came to enjoy the mountains. The thumping of loud music, and inappropriate language now overruns even the campgrounds that once were populated by story-telling around the campfires.

In every case, the responsible users were driven out by the loud and obnoxious crowd, who bring with them the need for intervention to control the damage from their noise, speed, trash, and otherwise bad behaviors. And as they overwhelm an area they also manage to give power to the forces that choose to close the areas down rather than put up with it’s destruction.

Where do we go next? I’m afraid there is no ‘next’ and so we must make a stand here. The magic word for the future is ‘sustainability.’ Educate the new users quickly. And perhaps just as quickly enforce the standards that have kept the trails open for so many years before.

Monday, July 19, 2010

I’ve seen the Future!

That’s right. I have seen the future and I think I like it!

On a recent trip to Montana to view all the new Polaris models for 2011 (notice I mentioned ‘all’ the new models as compared to most manufacturers with nothing new!) I took my first ride in the Ranger EV. The EV in case you don’t know stands for Electric Vehicle.

It certainly got my attention and I quickly begged Polaris for a test unit.

I’ll back up a bit here and mention that I always (and I mean ALWAYS) have a Kawasaki Mule sitting directly outside my office door for use around my little ranch, or farm, or whatever it is. Although I’ve only got about 25 acres of property, it includes a couple acres of pasture, a pond, several thousand feet of stream, a big enough garden to put a small tractor in, more than several acres of woodland, and enough weeds to drive a Southern California desert rat absolutely NUTS! Plus I haul my own trash across town to the dump. And where I live I also regularly drive the Mule (or some sort of ATV/UTV to the Post office, to my daughter’s school, and to the neighbor’s to visit. And of course there’s always the trips up the mountain to gather wood, and just go for an evening ride to smell the pines and watch the aspen quake, and listen for the elk to bugle.

So needless to say that when I drove the EV around the Montana ranch I wondered how well it would actually work in the real world – my real world.

So I now have a new Ranger EV sitting outside my office right next to my diesel Mule! Well actually it doesn’t sit as close to my door as the Mule as it needs to be attached to an extension cord when not in use.

Of course I’ll give you a full video test as soon as the embargo date for the 2011 models arrives, and I put a few more miles on it, but until then I’ll say this; Wow! Oh, and you can count on an extended test as well letting you know how the EV works over the long run as well.

First, let me say that it’s quiet - like a sailboat as compared to a powerboat quiet. Or a hang glider as compared to a powered plane. Weirdly, eerily quiet. Just the wind and the water. Well, kinda. Of course just as quiet brings awareness of other things you typically won’t hear, it also brings with it the notice of certain things you don’t typically hear. Although I can hear the stream rumbling and dashing over the rocks as I ride by, I can also hear the front end rattle and grind. Trade-offs I suppose. And something I’ve learned to just accept from Polaris. While they are always pushing the envelope, I oftentimes wish they improved the existing envelope before pushing it.

I’m still measuring hours and miles that I get on a charge. And I need to ask someone smarter than me how much it costs to charge the EV as compared to putting fuel in my Mule, but so far I’m amazed.

The quiet travel certainly makes other’s look up and smile. Noise is one of the impacts on the surroundings that trail users seldom consider. So I see lots of smiles as I head up the trail looking for firewood or wildlife. I also hear lots of things I’m not used to hearing while riding, like the stream, or even the approach of an old-style, fossil fuel powered ATV.Whoa! I’m already starting to sound like an environmentalist!

We’ve got a long ways to go before there is an electric vehicle that can replace a gas-powered vehicle for exploring the great outdoors, but I’m ready.

Quite smiles.

Monday, July 5, 2010

If They Asked Me What They Should Do Here’s What I’d Say - to Suzuki!

If They Asked Me What They Should Do Here’s What I’d Say - to Suzuki!

Not that they will of course, but if they did, here are my suggestions:

The King Quad is pretty much the best ATV on the market today – in my opinion of course! The revised front geometry on the new power steering models (caster in particular) has solved one of the few problems the King Quad faced. The biggest problem with the King Quad is that you can’t buy one that’s really ‘Trail Ready!’

So I say, let’s make some trail ready Special Editions that would include some real tires mounted on the stock wheels. A good set of 25” (or even 26”) Terra Cross, ACTs, or MT/Rs would be perfect. I’d also include a good winch, and perhaps a few other items like a rearview mirror and even a GPS. Then I’d add another Explorer package that would include good quality front and rear boxes and a RotopaX fuel pack or two.

The same holds true for the smaller King Quad 400. It requires little to make it great, but offering ‘Special Editions’ that are truly trail ready would be a real plus. And keep it the size that it is. I see so many people (especially wife’s and less-experienced riders) that ride ATVs far too big for them. Although this is really a topic for another blog, I’m always amazed at well riders do out on the trails when they are riding ‘smaller’ ATVs like KQ 400s and Ranchers.

But where Suzuki really needs step up is with their UTVs! Step up? How about just take a step?

Here’s my suggestion. In a perfect world you would need three UTVs. One pure utility machine for work, one sporty 4-seater for the dunes, and one specifically for the trail. But in today’s horrible economic conditions and poor market, and with all the competition that’s out there, I propose just one machine – one with only one competitor, a 50” trail machine!

Think RZR, but better, of course. Fix the faults. The King Quad 750 engine and transmission would be a great power package to build this machine around as it is powerful enough (especially with a revised ECU) and incredibly smooth and quiet in its operation. It would also have the perfect drive system (2wd, 4wd, and locker), and wonderfully effective engine braking for the downhills. Plus it’s very reliable!

It would (as stated earlier) have to be 50” wide, even with longer travel arms providing a minimum of 8 inches of travel front and rear. It would have to come with good 14” radial tires. And just as importantly it would have to be ‘Trail Ready!’ That means several things. It would have to have a fuel tank that holds at least 7 or 8 gallons. It would need good skid protection. And it would need a good rack-bed set-up to carry all the camping gear and additional fuel you would need to explore the longest trails.

It would be taking on the RZR, which is of course, the best-selling UTV made, but just like the King Quad, I know Suzuki can make the best machines out there if they are only given the green light by the Japanese management that control the very talented Americans at the company. If you don’t believe me just look at what those silly Americans have done when given the reins - with the Eiger, the Vinson, the King Quad, the LTZ, and the LTR! If only the management listened to the marketing guys and then unleashed the designers there is no imagination that could comprehend the machine they could make.

All wishful thinking from a guy who when he walks out of his office door has the enviable(?) decision as to whether to ride a King Quad or a RZR on one of the many 50’trails that await on the Paiute Trail system.

If only someone would listen?