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ATVs whoop it up in the woodlands

OCALA NATIONAL FOREST

Riding an all-terrain vehicle is a lot like riding a jet ski, Jon Rall said. "Except it hurts more when you fall," he said. "So don't fall." Rall, an ATV/motorcycle/personal watercraft expert for Kawasaki, flew in from California to test some of his company's latest models in the 383,000-acre Ocala National Forest. "I have been riding all around the country, but this is one of the best organized and managed trail systems that I have ever encountered," he said. "It is perfect for a beginner."

Throttle and brake

Today's ATVs are user-friendly. Even an uncoordinated, overweight, out-of-shape outdoors writer on the wrong side of 40 can look like a pro with a little coaching.

"Just watch your speed," Rall said. "And don't hit anything."

I had heard tales of the great four-wheeling in Ocala National Forest. The forest sits between the Ocklawaha and St. Johns rivers. It has been logged, so there are numerous access roads cutting through the scrub.

So in an effort to control the various motor vehicle enthusiasts (dirt bike, ATV and four-wheel drive) the U.S. Forest Service took a systematic approach to controlling access.

Today, there are more than 190 miles of trails that fall into three categories: off-road motorcycle trails (narrow trails), ATV trails and off-road motorcycle shared-use trails (wider trails) and mixed-use roads that allow both ATV and off-road motorcycle use.

Watch your head

Barreling down one of the shared-use trails, I quickly discovered why veteran ATV riders stand up on the foot pegs.

"I think that last bump did some permanent damage," I said, climbing off during a break. "I feel like I've just been on a bucking bronco."

The secret, Rall informed me, was to let my feet, not my derriere, absorb the shock.

"You'll get the hang of it," he said as I took off again on the 750cc beast. "Just watch your speed."

After 15 minutes, I mastered the ATV stance and started to get a little cocky. The trees were whizzing by, and I didn't see the low-hanging branch until it was too late.

Whack!

I was only going 20 mph, but the blow almost knocked me off the four-wheeler. I slowed to stop and examined the damage.

"Are you all right?" Rall asked.

"Yes," I said. "Thank God for helmets."

Centennial Trail

The Ocala National Forest opened 45 miles of new trail July 1. The Ocala Centennial Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Trail runs through one of the most unique ecosystems on the planet — the Big Scrub.

Comprised of the largest contiguous area of sand pine scrub anywhere, this OHV trail was designed for slow speeds so riders would have a chance to see white-tailed deer, wild turkey, bobcat, black bear and the elusive Florida scrub jay.

In the future, rangers hope to build interpretive displays along the trail to help visitors better understand the intrinsic value of the Big Scrub.

The trails
Ocala National Forest

• Go online or pick up brochures at the Ocala National Forest visitors center. Learn the do's and don'ts of the area you are going to ride. Rules and regulations may vary from trail to trail.

• The trails are two-way and primitive. Be ready for blind turns, downed trees, overhanging branches, mud, sand and loose soil. Some trees bear bark scars from those who went too fast.

• Forest rules prohibit "mudding," or the excessive, playful, motorized activity in wet areas.

More info: fs.fed.us/r8; Off-Highway vehicle hotline: (866) 607-2016

The forest has more than 190 miles of trails for off-road vehicles. Trails are designed for viewing wildlife, so the speed limit is 20 mph. Pass prices and detailed maps can be found at fs.fed.us.

The machine
Kawasaki Brute Force 750 4X4i

Engine: 4-stroke, V-twin, liquid-cooled, 4-valve

Displacement: 749cc

Wheelbase: 50.6 inches

Fuel capacity: 5 gallons

Towing capacity: 1,250 pounds

Weight: 605 pounds

Price: $7,799

See it locally at Kawasaki of St. Petersburg, 3450 34th St. N; (727) 521-4626.

New law

As of July 1, state law requires that riders under 16 have taken an approved rider safety course. The law prohibits double riding unless the vehicle is designed for two.

Other tips

• Enroll in an approved safety course. Call (800) 887-2887.

• What's right for your age? Under 70cc: age 6 and older; 70cc to 90cc: 12 and older; over 90cc: 16 and older.

• Wear a helmet.

More tips at www.atvsafety.org

ATVs whoop it up in the woodlands 07/31/08 [Last modified: Friday, August 1, 2008 6:59am]
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