Only if you still appreciate analog fun in the physical world.
I grew up riding ATVs. First I had a Kawasaki Mojave, a 250-cc sport quad, which was followed by a Honda 250X. There was also a brief fling with a Yamaha Blaster that the dealer loaned me while the Kawasaki was getting a new oil pump. I learned an important lesson from that one: If I ever became an ATV dealer, I should never loan a screaming two-stroke ATV to a 15-year-old.
My adolescent riding career was not without its mishaps. The most painful, literally and figuratively, came when I attempted to summit a gravel-pit wall on the Mojave. It was steep all the way, but at the last six feet went nearly vertical. I carried too much speed and essentially turned the hill into a giant ramp, launching straight off the top and scribing a sickly parabola in the sky. Which wouldn’t have been so bad, except that the ground sloped down on the other side, too, making my unintentional big air even bigger.
I kicked the ATV out from under me and gracelessly landed on my side, cracking a rib or two in the process. Thankfully, it was sandy ground and the Kawasaki went the other way, barely touching me. But I knew I got away with one that could’ve gone much worse. From that point on, I stopped trying to do dumb stuff like ride up the top of gravel-pit walls, and I managed to survive long enough to get my driver’s license and start doing dumb stuff with cars.
That wipeout was on my mind the first time I put my kids on a four-wheeler. They’re younger now than I was when I got my first ATV, which is both nerve-racking for me and a huge advantage for them. I had no experience when I climbed right onto a 55-mph Kawasaki and pushed the boundaries of good judgment. They’re getting the chance to try out 50-cc machines and learn the fundamentals at benign speeds, under adult supervision. It’s the best possible scenario for kids getting started on ATVs.
And yet, I worry. For Popular Mechanics’ upcoming ATV test, I procured a Yamaha YFZ50 quad and a Honda CRF50 dirt bike. The first time you see a six-year-old take off on a dirt bike, it’s hard not to feel apprehensive—not that long ago, he didn’t even know how to ride a bike, period. Now he’s kick-starting a Honda and goosing the throttle like a 40-pound Evel Knievel getting ready to jump the Snake River Canyon.
The Yamaha is more user-friendly, in that it has an automatic transmission, electric start, and four-wheel stability. Even so, when your kid goes ripping off out of sight, it sparks the same feeling of vague parent-dread that settles in whenever you relinquish physical responsibility. I guess every parent faces this feeling once driver’s licenses enter the picture, but with ATVs you get to face it all much sooner. Something might happen! Arhahahghghhh!
You know what does happen, though? They have fun. They learn how to use the throttle and shift their body weight to control the machine. In the case of the Honda, they learn essential skills that apply to bigger bikes: kick-starting, managing a twist-grip throttle, using a sequential foot shifter.
And they’re outdoors! That’s obvious, maybe, but it’s a big deal. They’re not sitting in front of a screen playing Fortnite. They’re doing something badass, something that I can do with them. Riding ATVs is like a portal into the past, when kids were actually given responsibility—here’s a knife and stick. Whittle something. Don’t cut yourself.
And at one point, my younger son toppled over on the bike at about 2 mph, trying to park it on loose gravel. He banged his knee on the ground. I winced. Then he got up and kept riding for two more hours. He was having too much fun to stop.