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The Tread Lightly! Guide to Responsible ATV Riding


Tread Lightly! Principles:
  • Travel and recreate with minimum impact
  • Respect the environment and the rights of others
  • Educate yourself, plan and prepare before you go
  • Allow for future use of the outdoors, leave it better than you found it
  • Discover the rewards of responsible recreation

Practicing good environmental stewardship will ensure that we’ll continue to have places to ride.

Getting the most from ATV riding is simply a matter of preparing, knowing local rules, riding safely, and exercising common courtesy.

Preparing for Your Trip:
  • Obtain a travel map
  • Select a destination
  • Choose the best and safest route
  • If you’ll use private land, contact the landowner beforehand
  • Check the local regulations
  • Mare sure your ATV is mechanically up to the trip
  • Make a realistic trail plan and stick to it
  • Expect the unexpected - dress accordingly
Safety on the Trail:
  • Ride with a partner
  • Always wear a helmet, eye protection, long sleeve shirt, sturdy pants, over-the-ankle boots and gloves
  • Be certain each rider in your party has a map and knows where the group is headed
  • Select predetermined rest stops and designate meeting places in case you become separated
  • If you become separated, stay on the correct trail and let the group find you
  • Go prepared in case you break down
  • ATV riding requires a high degree of skill and judgement - no drugs or alcohol!
  • Be sure you know the location and operation of all the controls your ATV may have
  • Maintain a safe following distance
  • Pace yourself
  • Headlight - ride with it on all the time so others can see you sooner
Trail Etiquette:
  • Ride only on roads and trails or other areas "open" for use
  • Try to stay in the middle of the trail to avoid widening it.
  • Leave gates open or closed as you found them unless posted otherwise
  • Be courteous when passing hikers or other vehicles
  • Keep your speed, dust and engine rmp low and steady when near houses, cabins, campgrounds or anytime you are around non-riders
  • On the trail, when you meet horses or other pack animals, look and listen for instructions from the handler. Turn off your engine and stop on the outside edge of the trail. Remove your helmet and speak in a quiet, calm voice
  • Never stop in a position that puts you above a horse or pack animal
  • When encountering others on the trail, yield to the passing group or those traveling uphill
  • When you see repairable trail damage - fix it
  • Consider carrying a compact cable saw or folding saw for clearing deadfall on legal trails as you encounter it.
  • Be as considerate to others as you would want them to be to you
Negotiating Special Terrain:
  • It’s the skilled rider who can ride slowly over challenging terrain with minimal impact to the ground
  • Slick Trails - it is best to finesse the throttle for maximum traction - the goal is to maintain forward motion while minimizing wheel spin
  • Stream Crossings - take it slow and steady and try to identify big rocks or other obstacles before you begin crossing
  • Logs - try lifting them out of the way - if you can’t, lift your ATV’s front end, then rear end over the log. If you choose to drive over it, use just enough throttle to get over it
  • Switchbacks - skilled riders work their way through these challenging features relying on weight shifts and smoothness to negotiate the turns while reducing wheel spin
  • Ruts - stay loose over the ATV to allow for any sudden directional changes the ruts may cause
  • Meadows and Marshy Areas - these areas deserve special protection so it’s best not to go through them at all
  • Rocks - ride loose rocks with your rear end slightly off the seat, looking ahead, easy on the throttle and in one gear higher than you’d normally use

The Tread Lightly! ATV Checklist:

Frame and Suspension:

Check for cracks, loose bolts, sloppy steering

  • If your ATV has lights, do they work?
  • Check suspension for smooth operation
  • Check for any fluid leaks from the fork or shocks
  • Check adjustable suspension settings for your weight and riding style

Wheels and Tires:

  • Check condition of tires
  • Check wheel bolts/nuts for tightness, and check for cracks or dents in the wheel
  • Check that wheels turn freely without binding
  • Check chain and sprockets for excessive wear
  • Check the oil level in the final gear drive at the rear axle

Brakes and Controls:

  • Replace brake pad/shoes if you are not sure they will last the trip
  • Check rotors/drums for cracks or excessive wear
  • Check cables for smooth operation by disconnecting both ends then moving the cable end back-and-forth
  • Check that all controls levers move freely without being too loose


  • Check for oil leaks
  • Check to ensure oil and other fluids are at proper levels
  • Be sure the air filter is clean and properly oiled
  • Check for crisp return of throttle with handlebars in any position
  • Check spark plugs for carbon buildup, proper heat range, and gap
  • Check coolant level on liquid cooled models
  • Check fins on the cylinder and cylinder head for dirt on air-cooled models
  • Fill the gas tank with correct type of fuel
  • Check condition of exhaust pipe, muffler, and spark arrester

Tools and Emergency Items:

  • Utility racks are ideal for securing tools
  • Always balance load between front and rear without exceeding the ATV manufacturer’s load recommendations


  • open end or box wrenches of appropriate sizes
  • combination screwdriver with different tips
  • spark plug wrench
  • pliers or small Vise-Grips
  • multi-function pocket knife
  • low pressure air gauge
  • hand (tire) pump or CO2 cartridges

Optional Tools:

  • compact chain breaker with chain repair kit (for chain drive models)
  • hex key (allen) wrenches (if applicable to your ATV)
  • coiled cable saw or folding saw (for cutting deadfall)
  • camping shovel with folding handle

Supplies and Spares:

  • tire repair plug kit
  • nylon zipties & safety wire
  • spark plug (taped into original box to prevent damage)
  • hose clamps (1 small, 1 large)
  • headlight bulb (wrap in foam rubber for protection)
  • master link for chain (for chain drive models)
  • nuts, bolts, cotter pins common to your bike
  • Clutch and brake levers
  • Silicone or quick-set epoxy cement
  • Duct tape

Emergency Items:

  • drinking water (16-32 oz / person average)
  • high energy food
  • map, compass, & signal mirror
  • rain jacket
  • tow strap
  • compact space blanket
  • waterproof matches or lighter
  • pencil and piece of paper
  • high-power penlight or flashlight with spare bulb & batteries
  • small first aid kit
  • water purification tablets
  • toilet paper (plain white)
  • portable CB radio or cellular phone
  • water purification tablets

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Created by the Bureau of Land Management, Colorado
Point of Contact:
Arden Anderson
Last modified: January 30, 2006