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Roads Less Traveled

With thousands of miles suited to off-highway vehicles, exploring and playing in all-terrain and utility-terrain vehicles has become a popular pastime. But which ride is best for you?

Rob Harmon
Marc Rains
April 29, 2017

If you’re adventurous and ready to let loose, one way to rip and roar through your next weekend or vacation is to do what more and more Oklahomans are doing: get behind the wheel of an off-road vehicle like an ATV or UTV.

But which one is best for which activity? And what exactly is the difference between the two? And how can you make the most out of using them?

Lucy McDonald, wife of legendary co-founder of K&N Motors and AMA Hall of Famer, Norm McDonald, certainly knows a thing or two about off-road vehicles. K&N’s shop sells plenty of both kinds. And her expertise can help you make the choice that’s right for you and your family.

ATV stands for all-terrain vehicle. “They’re fun to take to the dunes — Little Sahara, for example,” McDonald says.

UTV stands for utility task vehicle or utility terrain vehicle. “Rock crawling with a UTV, say in the Grand Lake area, where two people want to go together, is perfect,” she says. “The ATV can go rock crawling, but it really is more a UTV sport. A UTV has a cage, and an ATV doesn’t have a cage. It’s all open.”

Of course, choosing between an ATV or UTV really depends on what you want to do.

K&N Motor's Lucy and Norm McDonald. (Photo: Marc Rains)
K&N Motor's Lucy and Norm McDonald. (Photo: Marc Rains)

Maybe soaring through the dunes is not your thing. Maybe sharing the experience with a friend or family member is more important to you. “If you’ve got a family,” McDonald says, “the UTV is more friendly, and if you want more than one person to ride.”

UTVs often have a large dumping rear cargo hold. This provides room for a much larger load than most ATVs can haul — without attaching a trailer. Also, because they have truck-like cabs and seats that allow riders to sit upright, UTVs can be more comfortable for older riders. They really shine in covering lots of miles in comfort without the forward-leaning position of a quad.

There is also an amazing amount of customization available to UTV owners. People put on cab kits, specialty HID and LED lighting, stereo systems, and in-cab heaters. They upgrade the wheels and tires, and spend big bucks enhancing the vehicles’performance.

For more solitary activities, or times when it is beneficial to use a smaller, one-person vehicle, the ATV is useful. “Going hunting through the woods, an ATV is sometimes better than a UTV, because it’s small enough to get in there where the hunting is,” says McDonald.

ATVs operate well in tight woods, and are great for situations that call for quickly hopping on and off the vehicle or hauling small cargo loads. Compared to UTVs, these vehicles can more easily be towed by truck to a riding venue.

Of course, the cost of either an ATV or UTV is something to consider if you’re in the market to buy. The cost, says McDonald, is “anywhere from $10,900 to $20,000 for a UTV. And ATVs would be less, for around $3,500 to $8,000, for example.”

Oklahoma terrain can be surprisingly good for rough riding. Little Sahara State Park in Waynoka, Okla., has over 1,600 acres of sand dunes, ranging from 25 to 75 feet high. The huge expanse of dunes harkens back to prehistoric days when the Cimarron River covered the entire area. There’s no better place for hundreds of miles to let your ATV soar. Rip up to the top of a 70-foot dune and see what you’re made of coming down, and then go again. It’s an experience that both ATVs and UTVs can equally share. 

Stay Safe

Whatever you’re getting ready to do for the weekend — whether it’s a day on the dunes or trekking through the Grand Lake spillways — keep in mind that off-roading is a lot of fun but can also be dangerous. You may think it’s not much more than tooling around in a go-kart or even driving a car. But there’s much more to doing it safely while enjoying yourself. Whether you’re a veteran of the trails or new to ATVs and UTVS, there are some tips to keep in mind.


Wear protective gear
Wearing protective gear is always important. A helmet, a pair of goggles, adequate footgear and gloves — the safety factor will always outweigh the cumbersomeness of any of it. It’s all about coming home in one piece, so you can go out again the next time. Oklahoma state law requires that all individuals under 18 must wear a DOT-approved helmet.


Do an inspection
Inspect your equipment every time before you ride. Look for tire wear and rim damage. Make sure all connections and cables are in order. Check chains for worn links or sprockets for broken teeth. Also, make sure your vehicle is properly lubed.


Don't ride alone
Always have a riding buddy or two. Things like running out of gas, getting lost or crashing can literally be life threatening, so having someone else there is key. The more, the merrier.


Never drink and ride
Alcohol and drugs impair judgment and honestly, your ability to ride in safety. You put your life in your own hands if you ride impaired. It isn’t worth the risk. Drink the beer after you’re done to celebrate all the kick-butt action you just experienced.


ATVs are one rider only
Seriously, don’t be stupid. ATVs are for one person. If you’re on something equipped for two or more people — like on a UTV — it’s fine. But piggybacking or side riding is a terrible idea, because it’s much more likely for someone to fall off and get injured.


Take designated trails only
Not trying to be a buzz kill here, but riding where it’s illegal can be dangerous to yourself and others. It’s also very inconsiderate, as the land is owned by someone else and not meant for off-road activity. Be a good representative of the sport and ride your ATV or UTV only on designated, sanctioned trails.


Think smart
Be aware of what’s around you at all times. Remember, showing off beyond what you know you’re capable of is not smart. Trying to perform stunts and tricks to impress someone, when you know you aren’t skilled for them, is just plain foolish. It could get you or someone else killed.

Whatever you choose to ride, safety must always be your number one priority. Have fun with your ATV or UTV, and stay safe so you can ride another day.

K&N Motorcycles
6105 New Sapulpa Road | Tulsa
Sunday-Monday: Closed
Tuesday-Friday: 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
Saturday: 9 a.m.-4 p.m.