Touring operators make it easy for first timers to sample ATV riding
Everybody remembers their first ATV ride. While ATV riding is inherently fun, it’s remarkably easy for a new rider to have a bad experience and never want to try it again. Two of my friends were eager to give ATVing a whirl and I was bound and determined to make it an awesome experience, so I turned to the professionals.
This past winter I took my daughter snowmobiling with a company called Back Country Tours, which is located about two hours north of Toronto in Ontario, Canada. Everybody at Back Country Tours was so helpful and made the trip so fun, I figured I’d hit them up again to help me introduce two friends from my archery club, Devin and Gord, to ATVs.
While I could have simply taken Devin and Gord out riding on my own, a touring operator seemed like the better choice for several reasons. First, I didn’t have enough ATVs for everybody, and there’s nothing worse than sitting around watching other people ride while you wait for your turn. Another reason is safety. Instead of passing along any bad riding habits I’ve picked up over the years (we all have some), a good touring operator provides qualified instruction for new riders. As well, a touring operator won’t take riders to trails they aren’t ready for. Nothing will sour a potential ATV enthusiast like an injury on the first day – especially for Devin, who is trying to make the Olympic archery team.
We scheduled our ATV tour just after lunch, so we met up after breakfast in the parking lot of Bass Pro Shops‘ Vaughan location, which is just outside of Toronto on Hwy. 400. From there we piled into Devin’s truck and headed north on Hwy. 400 for about an hour and took the exit to Hwy. 11 towards North Bay.
I’ve travelled up and down Hwy. 11 dozens of times and almost always make a pit stop at Webers, a well known roadside burger joint that is so popular its owners built a foot bridge over the highway so people driving in both directions can stop in for a meal. Not wanting to break with tradition, we grabbed a quick pre-ride lunch.
With bellies full of burgers, fries and chocolate shakes, we continued north on Hwy. 11 until we hit Hwy. 117 and headed east. Back Country Tours has several locations in Ontario, but for this tour, dubbed “Extreme Mud,” we met on a fire road that is connected to a trail system operated jointly by the Haliburton ATV Association and its newly formed sister club, Lake of Bays ATV Club. The closest township is Lake of Bays, which is located just a few minutes away. This area is part of Muskoka, the heart of Ontario’s cottage country, where city dwellers go to get some fresh air and get away from the congestion of the Greater Toronto Area.
Shortly after arriving and suiting up, we met our guide, Amanda, who returned with another tour group in tow. After the morning ATV riders left with smiles on their muddy faces (certainly a good sign), Amanda gassed up the Kawasaki Brute Force ATVs, showed us around the machines and got started with the ride instructions.
As expected, we started off slow and easy, riding along the fire road until we came to an area Back Country Tours uses for lessons. It was here that Devin and Gord got to put Amanda’s instructions to good use, as the test course featured fairly steep climbs on loose soil, off-camber areas, and equally steep descents. Body position and braking were a priority. Once Amanda was satisfied with our progress, we moved on to the trails.
Early in the ride I became a little nervous that my friends weren’t going to enjoy themselves, as we were moving slowly across really easy ATV trails. But this is where I have to commend Amanda and Back Country Tours. Gradually, the trails got more challenging and the ride got more interesting and the new riders got used to the ATVs.
We had quite a bit of rain in the days leading up to this ride, so parts of the trail were completely covered in water and others were slick with mud. I don’t know any ATV riders who want to stay clean all the time and thankfully Devin and Gord weren’t any different. We had some fun riding through the water and continued on to some more technical trails.
As you’d expect with first-time riders, Amanda had to help them get through some challenging areas where rain-slicked trails met exposed tree roots. She never chose to take the machines through these areas by herself, but rather coached them through it. People naturally take pride in learning to do something, so I can’t credit Amanda enough for her teaching style. Its little things like that which get new riders invested and wanting to do it again.
Towards the end of our tour, Amanda really put the new riders (and me) to the test. We came to a short, but really steep and slick bank with thick roots crossing it at all sorts of angles. I was a little surprised she chose to take us here, but after showing the guys how to get to the top, she hopped off her ATV and encouraged them to give it a try. Devin was first up and put the day’s lessons to good use, as he kept on the throttle, pointed the wheels forward and got over the hump. Gord quickly followed suit without faltering, which put all sorts of pressure on me; they’d clearly never let me live it down if I struggled with this. Fortunately, I followed the same line they used and made it up and over without incident, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a wee bit nervous.
It wasn’t long after our big hurrah that we made our way back to the staging area. After saying thanks and goodbye to Amanda, we hopped in the truck and made a quick stop at the Lake of Bays Brewing Company, where I picked up some exceptional craft beer to enjoy at home.
On the way home we made a quick pit stop at the new Cabela’s store in Barrie to check out the archery equipment and grabbed some dinner at Lone Star Texas Grill, where we stuffed ourselves with fajitas to celebrate an awesome first riding experience.
My goal of giving Devin and Gord a first ATV ride to remember was successful. Amanda and Back Country Tours were great hosts and the ATV trails in this part of Ontario were a true joy to ride. I suspect both of the new riders now have some off-road blood pumping through their veins and will be back to do it again. I just have to figure out where to take them next.