All-Terrain-Vehicles, or ATVs, are wildly popular in North America and many other parts of the world due to their incredible versatility. They're used for work in rugged environments, hunting wild game, competitive racing, recreational riding, and so much more. While Honda played a huge role in the development of the ATV and popularizing it, they cannot claim to have produced the first ATV. The history of the ever-capable ATV began in Toronto Canada, 1961.
Developed by Jack Rempel and Fred Rohrer, the first ATV was called the Jiger. A six-wheeled amphibious vehicle, the Jiger could traverse land and water with differential steering operating with 5 ½ horsepower. While a few thousands of these were sold, mostly to military and hunters, production ceased in 1968.
During the same time, the first three-wheeled ATV was designed by John Plessinger, a graduate student at the Cranbrook Academy of Arts near Detroit, Michigan. The Sperry-Rand Tricart was the final result of his graduate project in 1967, where the rider sat down in the seat of the vehicle instead of a sit-on seat. If you had a Big Wheel when you were little, you can probably picture how the Tricart felt during operation. The name is derived from the Sperry-Rand company, who Plessinger contracted with to begin production. However, production only lasted for a few years. The father of the modern day ATV as we know it was Osamu Takeuchi, one of Honda's best engineers.
When tasked to develop a new vehicle that could be sold during the off-season in 1967 (as Honda was largely invested in the motorcycle market), Takeuchi created a variety of concepts. Out of them, his 3-wheeled design was superior compared to his other 2, 4, 5, and 6-wheeled ideas. Using 3 full 22" low pressure balloon tires, Takeuchi's prototype was able to reach places others couldn't. Thus, in 1970, the US90 ATC was introduced in the U.S. This ATC (All-Terrain-Cycle) was used in the James Bond film Diamonds Aren't Forever, and TV shows like Magnum P.I. and Hart to Hart. The popularity of this ATC grew with this type of exposure, appealing to sportsmen, farmers, and the general population for its versatile capabilities. They could cut down on time and effort working around farms, ranches, and industry sites, making them essential vehicles.
During the 1980s, other companies began to rival the offerings of Honda. Kawasaki launched their three-wheeled ATV called the KLT200 in 1981. Yamaha released the Tri-Moto (YT125) in 1980, and Polaris joined in the mix as well. Professionals loved them because of their ease of maneuverability. This is also the time in which four-wheeled ATVs were first introduced to the market. Honda dominated the market in 1984 with the FourTrax TRX250R, owning 69% of U.S. ATV sales! Suzuki had the 1982 QuadRunner LT125, Yamaha the 1984 YFM200, Polaris the 1985 Trailboss, and Kawasaki the 1985 Bayou 185. As more and more people added ATVs to their garages, safety become a major topic at hand. An investigation by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in 1984 resulted in the 1988 Final Consent Decree. ATV distributors agreed to commit $100 million to the expansion of ATV safety courses and programs. Three-wheeled ATVs were no longer legal to produce, which the largest names in the market were already ahead of. In 1986, Honda once again made history with the launch of the first four-wheel drive ATV, the FourTrax 350 4x4. More capable than ever before, the inclusion of 4-wheel drive allowed riders to scale hills, mountainsides, wooded regions, and more without struggle. The 1980s also saw a rise in competitive ATV racing, with racers sponsored by Suzuki, Yamaha, Honda, and others working to earn championship titles. In 1980, the Grand National Cross Country series began racing ATVs and in 1985, the ATV National Motocross Championship series was established. Since this time, manufacturers have continued to improve on their line-ups, making ATVs more fuel-efficient and powerful while cutting down on emissions.
The ATVs of today are very commonly seen, from the coasts to the mountains. You'll find quad racing galore. If you don't already own one, chances are you've driven one a time or two. Used as a tool for agriculture, hunting, ranching, industry, military, recreation, and so much more, the ATV is a vehicle that will never lose its value.