July 27, 2011
ATV Training for the Newbie
Training Newbie riders is a fragile thing. The most important point, the instructor should keep in mind is that the new rider should walk away with a positive experience, and that he has gained confidence as a rider. The worst thing that can happen is if the newbie rider was scared or put into an uncomfortable position. In those cases, the new rider will be reluctant to try again.
Training Newbie riders is always an interesting challenge. I have noticed that, even after 15 years of experience as an instructor, you just never know what may happen. At our training facility in Barrie ON, we start training children, 6 years and older. We have found that at this age, a child is mature enough and has a better attention span for our program. This starting age has proven to be extremely successful. Another consideration is that the ATV should be an appropriate size for the newbie.
Watching the newbie learning curve is always amazing. Everyone learns at a different pace. Some excel at certain things while others may need another approach or more time. The instructor needs to be extremely patient and make sure that everyone in his/ her class is comfortable with each step.
Instruction always starts off with the simplest of items/tasks. Only taking “Baby Steps”, so to speak, and making sure that each person is following the easiest tasks, being successful with each step and then working towards to the more complex tasks.
Another puzzling fact that we have noticed over the years, is that a stranger makes a better instructor for the newbie, rather than a parent. We have found that in this scenario, the learning curve is much quicker. Taking this thought one step further, we like to separate family members into their own age groups, dads with the men’s group, moms in women’s groups and children separated into their own age groups. Another interesting point is when we are teaching younger children. For example: if the newbie riders are in a group of 6-8 year old, we have found great success with a junior instructor aged 14 to teach these youngsters. The children connect to the junior instructor far better, than if the instructor is their dad’s age or their grandparent’s age.
Step by Step Instruction
After the newbie is properly dressed with all the proper riding and safety gear, the new students move to the staging area, where the student gets more information on the course rules, the instructor’s hand signals and maybe some warm-up exercises. The student is now ready to learn about the ATV controls and the ATV safety features. The instructor shows the student rider the proper way to mount the ATV, the proper riding positions and riding strategies, before the engine is started. Note that once the engine is started, the communication between the instructor and student is compromised and it is more difficult due to the engine noise. So, it is important to use this “quiet time” wisely as the student may be anxious and the instructor should be aware that the new rider may not be able to understand you.
It is time for the student to experience the feel of the machine by mounting the ATV. There is nothing wrong with doing this a few times. Practice the proper riding position, before the machine is in operation. Let the newbie find the brakes and practice the feel of the brake operation. The instructor can move the machine forward, so the newbie can experience the brakes in operation. This way the rider can experience the feel and they can learn to stop the machine with no engine. This is an important step. The student will gain confidence knowing that they can stop the mighty beast! Another important point is muscle memory. Let the student practice braking several times, so they can find the brakes without looking for the brake pedal. This is an important step and is not to be skipped over. The student should practice operating all the controls. This will get he/she familiar with the feel and operation of the ATV. Once the student starts the engine, they can practice proper throttle control, rolling the RPM up and down with precise control; it is another important step.
It is Time to Move On!
After the newbie has gained confidence of all the controls, it is time for the student to try and move the machine under its own power. Let the student shift the machine from park / neutral into the forward gear. Assuming that the training ATV is automatic, most machines need the “brakes on” for this maneuver. Let the student move the gears in and out a few times. Now, with the instructor in the clear and using hand signals, let the student move forward a few feet and stop. There are three steps: gas on, gas off and brakes! This procedure is done with the student following hand signals. The start and stop action should be done several times, and then with greater distances as they develop these skills. The instructor should look into the student’s eyes to check his/her confidence and attention levels. The next maneuver will include both moving forward and backward. Using pylons at starting and finishing points, will help the student locate where to maneuver.
The next step is cornering: the student, on signal from the instructor, will lean into the inside while doing the cornering, and will move forward and turn through a designated route around the course. Again using pylons, this will help the newbie to identify where the corners are. The next step is to do the course in the opposite direction. Check to see if the student is watching where he is going and that he is looking in the course direction. Often the younger student will look for their parent’s approval, while doing corners, or even worse, the parents are cheering at their youngster and the student is being distracted. They will look off course to see this reaction, which brings us to “Target fixation”. This is extremely important and should be emphasized. Students must focus on where they are going at all times!
Now for the next step, using the pylons let the students do a slalom course by weaving through the course. Make sure to point out that staying close to the pylons is best, but do not hit any of them. At this point, the students should start gaining a lot of confidence and anyone should be able to see some significant results in what they have learned so far.
With some more advance training now in store, the student should learn to do emergency braking. Again, using pylons will help the student to see where to get off the throttle and apply the brakes. The students should have the ability to do U-Turns and should learn the proper technique to go safely over obstacles that cannot be avoided. The proper rider position for going up and down hills, even if there are no hills to practice on. The students should have the ability to do U-Turns on a hill, to be able to stop safely, and come to a stop on the down side of the turn. All off these skills should be taught, in order to prepare the student for future safe riding. This is also a good time to express the safe riding practices and environmental concerns for our sport. The newbie rider is the future of our sport and it is extremely important that they receive the right message in the beginning, and set up the right habits early! In closing, a message for all riders and newbie riders: Be safe, be careful, and enjoy the ride!