Main page »Motors» ATV »Making tracks in Moab: Newcomer learns off-road ropes in the UTV adventure
A lover of the “quiet sport” gets behind the wheel of a side-by-side UTV for the first time. Here’s what he took.
If anywhere on earth the surface of Mars resembles it, it is likely Moab, Utah. Red slick rock, sandy waters and towering towers conjure up otherworldly thoughts. But no, this desert paradise is here on our home planet, a fact I remember as I blink into the azure blue sky as the fresh morning air brushes my face.
And then I hit the throttle.
But it is fitting that the vehicle I drive a Can-Am Maverick Sport X RCIt looks like something out of a science fiction movie. Large tires and long travel suspension allow the side-by-side UTV (short for Utility Terrain Vehicle) to claw itself over obstacles that would make everyone but die-hard off-road riders flinch.
The author is crawling over an obstacle in the Can-Am Maverick Sport X RC; Photos by Matt Ritscher, Tactical application vehicles.
Make no mistake – I’m not a die-hard off-roader. Yes, I own a slightly modified pickup truck for adventure travel, but my idea of off-roading usually means a rough gravel road in Colorado that I may have to slow down for some deep potholes or some tricky rock gardens.
I use my truck to access adventures, usually silent adventures like hiking, trail running, mountain biking, and mountaineering. The vehicle is usually a means to a recreational purpose that is spent outside of the vehicle.
Long story short, I’m a newbie where enjoying the ride is itself the point of the activity. And Can-Am was a great introduction to a sport that was a lot more fun than I expected.
I spent 2 long days mostly behind the wheel on some very challenging trails in Moab. This is what I learned about the nascent world of the UTV adventure.
ATV, UTV, side by side
A quick note on the terms you come across when driving off-road. An ATV (off-road vehicle) is also known as a “quad” or “four-wheeler” and is intended for single drivers.
A UTV (Utility Task Vehicle) tends to be more beefy and enables “side-by-side” driving, which is why some people simply call it “Side-by-Side” or “SXS” for short.
However, since they are comparable and have similar uses, we will refer to both of them in this story.
Easier than expected
A lot of off-road driving requires pretty significant skills. Full-size jeeps, SUVs, and trucks can navigate many of the trails I’ve ridden. But these trails will challenge drivers with tough obstacles, and mistakes can be very costly when driving a beautiful truck.
Riding the Can-Am and with no training over years of humble driving, I found most of the trails easy to navigate. With all-wheel drive and a front limited slip differential, the vehicle was so powerful that even steep obstacles strewn with rubble were usually easy to negotiate. Add the small size and incredible 14.75 inches of travel and this vehicle feels pretty invincible.
Just 15 minutes after getting on the UTV, I felt comfortable driving over fairly sketchy terrain. After a full 8-hour day at the wheel, I was confident on difficult trails.
But I had a lifeline
While I’ll say riding the Can-Am Maverick was fairly intuitive and easy, I wasn’t alone either. In fact, several experienced and local drivers led the tour.
And above all, they knew how to maintain these vehicles. I did not! We had no breakdowns for over 2 long days of driving but when something went wrong it felt great to know that there were others in my group who knew how to build these machines.
It means a lot to a newbie like me to have some seasoned drivers experimenting with these UTVs for the first time. However, I picked up a couple of very new pointers:
- Bring lots of water! Just like a long hike, you need provisions for a long day.
- A bandana or buff is crucial. They can protect you from dust and sun.
- Navigation could be difficult. Be prepared with maps and navigation tools as you could cover the ground quickly and easily become disoriented.
- Be ready to repair and save yourself. This means that you are looking for consumables for your vehicle like tires and belts, and that you have the tools and spare parts needed to repair it.
I’ll be honest: the ATV world has always been a bit alien to me. My passions are in sports that I do with my body, such as running and climbing. So before I got behind the wheel, toys met me like next to each other with a somewhat negative atmosphere.
But after spending a day in one and a weekend with the people who love them, my perspective has evolved.
A built Can-Am crawls a path near Moab. along
There are well-developed trails in Moab that can be tackled off-road. And the system seems to be working really well.
While I spent my time driving in established auto areas, it was clear that people take the rules very seriously and care about the places they visit. In a few days of driving I didn’t notice a single piece of rubbish along the paths. And people clearly stayed on course, with very little gauge spacing.
The people I met were welcoming and encouraging. Like any community of enthusiasts, they were there to help each other learn and share the excitement. After spending years in many outdoor communities, I was impressed.
A Can-Am crawls down a slickrock trail near Moab
Even so, I still know that ATVs are loud and can be destructive if misused. Like any outdoor recreation, they require responsible decision making and management.
While ATVs can be potentially more destructive than other land uses, almost anything from mountain bikes on community trails to hikers cutting switchbacks can damage the places we love. There’s a time and place for side by side, and when used correctly they are an absolute blast.
Surprising efficiency, durability
One of the obvious drawbacks to ATVs and UTVs is that they burn gas. Even if electric models exist and are sure to become even more popular in the near future, you still need to refuel these vehicles. But positively, I was shocked by the efficiency of the Can-Am Maverick Sport X RC.
I drove this little mechanical mountain goat hard for almost 8 full hours. And by the end of the day, I had only burned 3.5 gallons of gasoline. I was impressed.
Lots of logistics
If the logistical dimension of the outdoor adventure starts with grabbing your running shoes and running (at 1) and through to tuning the mountain bikes, inflating the tires, driving to the trail and arranging a second vehicle (at a 7), then ATV driving is likely to be registered at 11
There are just so many moving parts (literally and figuratively). These are expensive vehicles, even compared to mountain bikes.
The Can-Am Maverick Sport X RC I drove from $ 15,299. And the cost of vehicles increases from then on. It’s not uncommon for Can-Am builds to hit nearly $ 50,000, though these are very tricky.
But for the average driver, a vehicle worth $ 20,000 is pretty realistic.
Then expect trailers, trucks, spares, and fuel. You have to plan for possible failures. And when people have conflicting schedules, walking back and forth to starting points is a longer process, simply because those things travel faster than people on foot.
Long miles are required, so planning is paramount. Here, too, I was happy to ride the skirts of experts. I had a great time and was happy to shut my mind off a bit and just follow the leader.
Ultimately, I was blown away by the Can-Am Maverick that I spent most of my time in. It was very easy to learn to drive. It was super capable of crawling over crazy obstacles with ease. And it was fun at higher speeds, spinning through winding berms and spraying cocktails of sand in the process.
Obviously, Can-Am isn’t the only player in this field. I’ve seen many other machines from Arctic Cat, Yamaha, RZR, and others. And then there were motorcycles, jeeps, SUVs, and pickups that parted the way.
While UTVs are an easy way to get started, there are plenty of machines that can crawl through this land. Neither of these are cheap, but that brings up one final point: rents.
Moab is full of rental companies and guided tours. In retrospect, I would definitely consider renting a car on my next trip to the area. While I doubt I’ll buy one of these in the future, renting them out seems very likely.
And although I will assume that I will continue to do mostly silent sport for the foreseeable future, I dared a peek through the door of off-road driving. And what I saw on the other side was very funny and very engaging. I hope to be able to open it soon and jump back in the driver’s seat.