By Bob Difley
The New York Times published an article this morning on off-road vehicles called side-by-sides (SBS) that are growing in sales while sales of all terrain vehicles (ATV) are shrinking. SBS growth in popularity is due to not what they can do, which is drive on rough forest trails the same as ATVs, but for the amenities of the vehicle when off-roading.
Unlike ATVs that have a straddle seat for the driver and handlebar type steering, SBSs have two seats up front, and often seats in the back as well, a automobile-type steering wheel, and rollbars, making them popular for those with spouses and families who want to take the family along.
Sales of SBS have invigorated the power sporting equipment industry that has seen sales of ATVs drop by two-thirds since their peak in 2004. The debate in the industry, as it has been with ATVs, is with safety issues such as rolling over.
These issues are important to the industry, as favorable rulings will boost sales and unfavorable rulings will depress sales. For instance, requiring manufacturers (such as Yamaha that makes the popular Rhino) to widen the wheel base and lower the center-of-gravity–which also reduces clearance–to reduce the potential for rolling over will also reduce the number and type of trails (which means elimination of rougher, narroweer trails) that side-by-sides can use.
What does this have to do with RVing? For those RVers that tow ATVs and side-by-sides along with them it will mean that they may have fewer trails to ride. But for RVers who are boondockers without the off-road vehicle bug, the unfavorable rulings to the off-road vehicle industry could mean that more of them will be using forest roads rather than the rougher forest trails–the roads that boondockers drive to camp.
Adding fuel to the fire is the Forest Service’s implementation of the new Travel Management Plan (TMP), which removes many forest trails and lower grade roads–those that off-road vehicle riders use–from the list of legal roads that motorized vehicles may drive upon, putting even more off-road vehicles on roads that boondockers use.
Most boondockers who do not use off-road vehicles say they do not like the idea of these machines racing up and down the roads they are camped beside, creating not only the irritable engine noise alien to a quiet forest setting, but also clouds of dust that settles over everything.
With boondockers also feeling the restrictions of the TMP, which limits how far off the road (and away from vehicle traffic) they are allowd to camp, it’s possible that boondockers and off-road vehicle users could be headed for acrimonious conflicts.
What is the answer? Can boondockers who seek out the national forests for quiet communing with nature have some guarantees of peace and quiet or should off-roaders be allowed free access to the forests since public lands belong to all Americans?
Check out my website for RVing tips and destinations and for my ebooks, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands (or here for the Kindle version), Snowbird Guide to Boondocking in the Southwestern Deserts (Kindle version), and 111 Ways to Get the Biggest Bang out of your RV Lifestyle Dollar (Kindle version).