You can’t be having fun if you’re not wearing a helmet — By D. West —

One of my favorite riding buddies is a guy everyone calls Animal. Back when he got started riding many years ago, most of his buddies rode dirt bikes, but he had no trouble keeping up with them on his TRX250R quad. For him, a normal ride has always included trails that require riding skills of the expert level. The Animal enjoys the challenge of conquering difficult trail sections that would cause lesser riders to turn around. He’s a hard-core rider who appreciates an off-road machine that’s designed to carry a manly man across the earth’s most rugged terrain at a fast pace. Because of his purist attitude towards off-road riding, Animal wasn’t a big fan of UTVs when they first came out. He didn’t consider a machine to be off-road worthy if it didn’t have handlebars.

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Over the years though, Animal has mellowed out on his view regarding UTVs. This is probably due to the fact that his dad bought one. Animal keeps it in good running order for him and even borrows it occasionally for weekend rides. He even came along on a recent camping trip and UTV ride that I was part of. All of the guys in the group used to ride quads (or still do), except for one new guy named Andy. His RZR 900 was the first off-road vehicle he ever owned. As such, he didn’t understand what a real trail ride was through the minds of hard-core quad riders. He was about to find out after we all unloaded our UTVs and started getting ready for a 40 mile loop.

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The first thing Animal noticed was that Andy didn’t even have a helmet. Andy had a puzzled look when Animal questioned him on that. He replied, “Well, I’ve just ridden on dirt roads and grassy fields, and a helmet didn’t seem necessary.”

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Animal went to his truck, grabbed an extra helmet he had behind the seat, gave it to Andy and said, “Here, put this on.” With a bit of anger in his voice he also explained why it might be needed. There could be other new UTV owners out there that may benefit from what Animal told Andy, and I’ll try to translate his words in a more sensitive way.

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First of all, the best places to ride are not flat grassy fields and dirt roads. They may start out that way, but eventually that dirt road may turn into a two-track trail that can be rather steep in some sections. It could include rocks, tree roots and deep ruts that will cause one side of the vehicle to lift up higher than the other. Enough so that your UTV could actually tip over. This is a fact of life. The earth’s natural surface is not always level and it can put off-road vehicles in up-side-down positions upon occasion. This is no fault of an off-road vehicle’s design. It can be perfectly stable up until it reaches a point when the laws of physics cause it to tip over.

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Slamming your bare head into the dirt or a rock is not good. Even if you don’t actually tip over, a rough trail section can cause your head to slam against the UTV’s roll bar, which doesn’t feel good either. You don’t have to worry about that if you’re simply wearing a helmet. It doesn’t have to be the full face kind, as even an open-face model protects against roll bar knocks and tip overs. Wearing a helmet also allows you a place to put a visor which comes in handy. Not only can it block the sun from getting in your eyes, it can also deflect dirt clods, mud and water spray as well. While watching two quad riders you’ll see the one behind dip his head and helmet visor down when he’s getting some roost from the one in front. That same technique works when in a UTV as well.

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There may be some people who don’t like wearing a helmet because of how their hair looks after they take their helmet off. This is known as helmet-hair, but rest assured there’s a cure for that. Have you seen how Nascar drivers slip on a ball cap in one smooth motion as they take off their helmet? Yeah, it’s got their sponsor’s logo on it, but they’re actually keeping the camera from seeing their helmet hair. So, while riding your UTV, always have a ball cap tucked somewhere by the seat and learn how to slip it on as your helmet comes off. You’ll still look presentable to the ladies.

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I have one more reason why helmets come in handy, even when you’re not out on the trail. I was reminded of this that night after our ride. One of the reasons why Andy was invited to join us was he arrived in a nice big motorhome with deluxe bunks for us all to sleep in. The only problem was Andy’s loud snoring which was keeping me awake. I looked over and noticed that Animal was wearing his helmet as he laid there in his bunk sound asleep. I got mine, put it on and the slumbering sounds of the night became much quieter for me as well.

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