ATVs – a short history

Filed under: ATVs History — Rick on May 25, 2010

Royal Enfield developed a ‘quadricycle’ in 1893 which could, arguably, be classed as the first quad bike. It wasn’t until the 1970s however that modern quad bikes, or ATVs, first started to appear.

Honda ATVs were the first to come to public attention, especially after making an appearance in the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever. The early Honda ATCs (all terrain cycles) were three-wheelers with large balloon tyres and designed for recreational use. By the 1980s, with the addition of racks and suspension, the ATVs were maturing into utility vehicles and their use in agriculture and rugged outdoor recreation (such as hunting) was becoming more widespread. At the same time the sport models were continually under development, with the addition of features like manual transmission, larger engines and full suspension improving performance and the racing experience.

It was also in the 1980s that the development of four wheel ATVs took off, with top of the range racing models benefiting from liquid cooling systems and long-travel suspension. The most powerful quad bikes of the time sported a 500cc engine and could reach speeds of up to 80mph. The parallel development of utility all-terrain vehicles saw the introduction of four wheel drive systems.

By the end of the 1980s improvements in safety led to the end of three wheeled ATV production. Today the all-terrain vehicle industry consists of the production of four wheeled machines in the form of racing and utility models. The racing models are smaller, lighter vehicles with two-wheel drive and fast acceleration. Utility models are larger and able to carry small loads on racks or in an attached trailer. Six-wheeled versions are also popular, due to their increased load capacity.

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