ATV's, Gas Powered All Terrain Vehicles
The all-terrain vehicle (ATV), also known as three and
four-wheelers, was initially developed in Japan as a
farm-to-town vehicle in isolated, mountainous areas.
During spring thaws and rainy seasons steep mountainous
roads were often impassable with conventional vehicles.
The three-wheeled ATV proved to be a much better mode of
travel and soon became a recreational vehicle, providing
transportation to areas inaccessible by other motorized
transport. And, it wasn't long before the Japanese
manufacturers realized that the ATV could be sold to
When the ATV first appeared in the United States
in the early 1970's, it was promoted and sold as a
recreational vehicle designed to provide "thrills" for
the rider. This is still its primary use today. Shortly,
however, sportsmen found that the ATV was a useful
machine to move through areas not accessible with
pick-up trucks, four-wheel drives, or other motorized
vehicles. The ATV became popular as a hunting vehicle
and was used to reach remote areas and to transport game
In this two-part chronicle, we discuss Honda's
introduction, involvement, and innovation in the
all-terrain vehicle industry.
Courtesy: American Honda Motor Co.
Top: 1987 FourTrax Foreman 4x4 (TRX350D): One
year after the successful launch of the FourTrax
4x4, the celebrated Foreman name is born. The
350cc Foreman 4x4 featured front and rear racks,
a high-output 310-watt alternator and an
850-pound towing capacity.
In this 1963 ad, marketers targeted the general
public with good, clean two-wheeled fun, and
introduced millions to motorcycling. The 1963
two-wheeler sold for $245.
Three decades ago, the first ATV, Honda's US 90,
had a single-minded purpose: off-road recreation. But as
Honda's family of ATVs grew, so did their usefulness.
Ironically, it was market strategy that at first drove
ATV usage, but it was the owners who found and invented
new and creative applications for ATVs, and helped shape
their growth and design along the way.
What these hard-working owners found out was that
the ATV offered a stunning versatility even Honda
engineers never dreamed of. Less expensive to operate
than a pickup or tractor, smaller and more maneuverable
than either one, and possessed of a remarkably light
footprint (with their low-pressure tires) that was easy
on sensitive terrain, ATVs became vital tools in such
widely divergent fields as farming, ranching, industry,
all types of agriculture, police work-even as a crucial
means of mobility for the disabled. In some cases, ATVs
did jobs no other vehicle could, making the impossible
The 1960s: Prototyping the ATC
If necessity was the mother of the first ATV,
Honda engineer Osamu Takeuchi was its father. In 1967,
American Honda asked Honda R&D Ltd. for a new product
dealers could sell when motorcycle sales cooled off in
the winter. Mr. Takeuchi was assigned to lead the
project, along with a small group of engineers. This was
clearly the group for the job, since Takeuchi and
company had been working to develop other new
recreational vehicles that never saw production. These
projects gave Takeuchi the tools to develop Honda's
first ATV, the US 90.
Forget the proverbial blank sheet of paper.
Takeuchi started in the shop with a head full of ideas
and an eclectic assortment of components. Two, three,
four, five and even six-wheeled configurations were
examined, but the three-wheel concept delivered the best
combination for the machine's intended mission. It dealt
with snow, mud and assorted slippery conditions a
two-wheeler couldn't, while providing more
maneuverability than other configurations.
1950's -- Soichiro Honda on the assembly line.
In the early stages, a Honda ST70 motorcycle gave
up its 70cc four-stroke single-cylinder engine for the
cause, along with assorted chassis parts. An extended
rear axle carried cultivator wheels designed to handle
rough terrain. Two driving wheels in the rear worked
well. Cultivator tires didn't. The biggest challenge
would be finding a tire capable of getting a grip on
soft, changeable terrain such as snow, sand and mud. Two
wheels, three wheels, four wheels or more? Motorcycle
tires weren't an option.
The design process quickened when Takeuchi received
an American invention called the "Amphi-Cat" that rolled
on six 20-inch low-pressure, high-flotation balloon
tires. The light bulb went on. Revamping his ST70-based
prototype to accept the new low-pressure rolling stock,
he went to work on his own tire design, ending up with a
22-inch design inflated to 2.2 psi. With the tire
dilemma solved, the 70cc engine lacked the muscle
necessary to push a full-sized rider through snow or
mud. A 90cc engine running through a special dual-range
four-speed gearbox added the requisite flexibility over
next phase of development was optimizing the chassis to
match the new
engine and tires. Testing over rough
roads, sand hills and slopes as steep as 35-degrees
gradually established chassis dimensions effective for
recreational riding as well as agricultural work. Laid
out in the shape of an isosceles triangle with the
foot pegs located outside the triangle to optimize
control, the ATC design was unique enough to let
Takeuchi patent the arrangement.
Exhaustive testing brought other lessons to light
as well. Using a thumb throttle
instead of the typical motorcycle twist grip let riders
shift their weight for optimal vehicle maneuverability
while maintaining precise throttle control. A rear
differential was considered, but discarded when a live
axle performed better. Though suspension is an integral
part of the modern ATV, Takeuchi's original balloon
tires soaked up rough terrain best by themselves.
Exerting less pressure on soft or sensitive terrain than
the average human foot, those tires let the vehicle go
places others couldn't, leaving little or no evidence of
their passing--an advantage that looms large in hundreds
of modern ATV applications.
The 1970s: The World's First ATC
The 1970 ATC 90
introduced to America in 1970, the US 90 sent its 7
through a dual-range four-speed gearbox with automatic
clutch, and sold
for $595. It was renamed the ATC90 later that year as
the ATC name. Three models carried that Honda ATC
monogram through the
1970s. The ATC70 gave younger riders a scaled-down
version of the fat-tire
experience. And by the end of the decade, requests for
more power turned the
original ATC90 into the ATC110 in 1979. The ATC was as
evolutionary as it was
revolutionary from the beginning.
The 1973 ATC 70
Good as the original fat tires were on snow and
sand, they were vulnerable to punctures from things such
as stubble from harvested crops. The fact that those
original tires weren't repairable compounded the
problem, so a fabric carcass was added, and steel hubs
replaced the first hub less wheel design in 1975.
Tougher, color-impregnated plastic fenders were added in
1975 as well.
Though it was primarily a recreational vehicle
through the '70s, farmers were beginning to see the ATC
as a tool to make their lives easier. Engineers followed
their machines into the field, gathering data to guide
the machine's natural adaptation to a rapidly growing
market. The ATC was as capable at labor as at leisure,
and America was catching on
Moving into the '80s, the two arenas looming largest in
the ATV lexicon were utility and racing. The popularity
of utility usage was easy to understand. On the farm, a
tractor cost exponentially more to purchase and
maintain, and an ATV uses 8 percent of the fuel
necessary to feed a tractor. Consequently utility usage
exploded in the 1980s and ATVs became multi-purpose
machines, serving both recreational and utility
purposes. This multi-purpose usage grew from 30 percent
of total usage in 1985 to approximately 80 percent of
today's ATV market.
1980 ATC 185
Introduced in 1980, the ATC185 was popular among
utility users. Rolling on larger, 25-inch tires that
afforded improved traction, the 185 featured a
five-speed transmission and automatic clutch and a 180cc
four-stroke single-cylinder engine that was considerably
more powerful as well. Though designed to split its
duties more or less equally between work and play, the
185 set the stage for Honda's first purpose-built
utility ATV two years later.
1981 ATC 250R
The introduction of the ATC250R in 1981 put the
rest of the world on official notice that Honda was as
serious about winning on three wheels as it was on two.
The first true high-performance ATC was powered by an
air-cooled 248cc two-stroke, complete with an engine
counter balancer to reduce vibration. Designed for
experienced riders, the ATC250R won legions of loyal
customers with its adjustable front and rear suspension,
front disc brake-both ATC firsts-and a close-ratio
five-speed manual transmission.
Running unofficially in
the 1980 Baja 1000 on pre-production ATC250Rs, a group
of Honda associates surprised racing legend Mickey
Thompson when they caught and passed him pre-running for
the race. Honda's first official ATC racing
participation came in the SCORE-sanctioned 1981 Parker
400 held in the Arizona desert. Thanks to Thompson's
considerable influence, an official three-wheel class
was sanctioned in the 1981 Baja 1000. In
Honda's ATC250Rs started just behind the motorcycles
rather than from the very back of the starting order,
Honda-backed ATC250Rs finished first and second in
class, putting them fourth and fifth overall. Nothing on
four wheels finished ahead of the ATCs. The three
entries that did well were all large-displacement
motorcycles including Honda's race-winning XR. Honda
raised the bar in 1985 with an all-new, liquid-cooled
version of the 250R that cranked out 38 horsepower and
offered nearly 10 inches of suspension travel at both
ends, giving it the power to do disappearing acts ahead
of other brands at race tracks across the country.
1982 ATC 200E Big Red
The 1982 ATC200E, a.k.a. "Big Red", had more of
everything necessary to get a host of jobs done. Its
192cc engine and five-speed dual-range gearbox cranked
out more power, especially low in the rev band, to make
chores such as towing, spraying, seeding and fertilizing
easier. An electric starter in addition to the standard
recoil system made starting the day as easy as pushing a
button. Dual racks and a 9.2-liter storage box made
carrying tools, hay bales, fencing and other
agricultural essentials easier. A new sealed rear drum
brake survived the muddy fields and water crossings, and
telescopic fork front suspension made a day in the
saddle that much more comfortable. Big Red added a
reverse gear in 1984, and its drive chain was replaced
with shaft drive for extra durability and less
The 1983 ATC 200X
Though it was never as successful in the desert as
the more potent 250R, the ATC200X that debuted in '83
proved that four-strokes could run with the best of
them. The 200X combined a high-performance 192cc engine,
five-speed gearbox and manual, motorcycle-style clutch
with long-travel suspension and sporty chassis geometry
that was more at home ripping up race tracks than
handling farm chores.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, building ATVs to
endure the stress of utility use put Honda R&D on a
steep learning curve. Approaching the mid-80s, ATVs were
inspected, dissected and exhaustively scrutinized with
more data acquisition equipment than any other Honda
product. Machines were run hour after hour, day after
day for weeks, with riders wearing 50-pound instrument
packs that recorded information on every aspect of the
machine's operation. As the market's swing toward
utility continued, Honda's research made it clear that
the next step in the ATV's evolution would be another
wheel. Thus Honda's first four-wheel ATV, the TRX 200,
debuted in 1984.
1984 TRX 200
The market responded almost immediately, making
1984 Honda's biggest sales year for ATVs. The 370,000
units delivered in 1984 remain the high water mark for
Honda ATV sales, making up a full 69 percent of total
ATV sales in the U.S. that year. The upswing in utility
use and the introduction of the four-wheeled TRX200 were
also the beginning of the end for Takeuchi's three-wheel
matrix. Four-wheelers were considered more versatile
tools by customers, and tools were what people wanted
1986 TRX 250R
1986 Four Trax™ 350 4x4
By 1986 the smart money was all on four wheels in
the ATV world. The ground-breaking Honda TRX250R made an
un-matched four-wheel performance statement with a
liquid-cooled 246cc two-stroke engine similar to the
ATC250R's. On the utilitarian end of the spectrum, Honda
unveiled the first four-wheel-drive ATV that same year.
The FourTrax™ 350 4x4 arrived at its coming out party in
grand style-lowered from a helicopter to show all four
wheels moving under their own power. Market forces were
already at work to replace three wheels with four.
In 1984, skyrocketing ATV sales led to an increase
in accidents, prompting an investigation by the Consumer
Product Safety Commission (CPSC). In 1986, CPSC
statistics suggested that most ATV accidents were due to
improper rider behavior that ignored the distributor's
warnings. No inherent flaw was found in the three-wheel
or four-wheel ATV design.
1987 FourTrax 250X
Honda's owner's manuals and product warning labels
stressed the importance of proper ATV operation to its
customers. Through a national industry safety campaign,
there was a 33 percent decline in recorded CPSC injury
statistics between 1984 and 1988.
Nevertheless, on April 28, 1988, the U.S. ATV
distributors entered into an unprecedented 10-year
agreement with the CPSC called the Final Consent Decree.
Under the agreement, the ATV industry made a $100
million commitment to expand existing safety programs.
Among the many components of this agreement, free
training and training incentives were offered to owners
and purchasers of new ATVs. Additionally, distributors
would no longer market three-wheeled ATVs, repurchasing
any unsold three-wheel models from dealer inventory.
Although three-wheel ATV sales were trailing off
across the board at the time, and Honda had already
introduced a line of four-wheeled ATVs, the CPSC
agreement did serve to accelerate the process.
1988 FourTrax 300
On the eve of the '90s, Honda introduced the 1988 FourTrax 300 and FourTrax 300 4x4, the revolutionary
pair of hard working Hondas that would ultimately become
the most versatile, most popular ATVs in history.
Combining an ideal balance of size, weight, power and
capacity, the 300s sold more than 530,000 units over the
ensuing 12 years. Powered by an 282cc air-cooled,
four-stroke single-cylinder engine, the FourTrax 300
sent its 20 horsepower through a five-speed
transmission, automatic clutch and maintenance-free
shaft drive. An ultra-low first gear helped it tow up to
850 pounds. Tough steel racks let it carry up to 66
pounds in front and 132 pounds in the rear. And if the
hardest working ATV in America ended up packing tackle
to your favorite bass fishing spot on Saturday morning,
nobody else had to know.
From copper mines to banana plantations, golf
courses to pig farms, forest reclamation projects to
shopping center maintenance, nothing on wheels had ever
been as versatile, reliable, efficient and affordable,
on the job or on the weekend, as the ATV.
1989 FourTrax 300 4x4
Industry observers estimate that 85 percent of ATV
use in the '90s revolved around some sort of enterprise.
Mr. Takeuchi's idea had grown up, gone to work and done
a good job. When asked what products had the greatest
impact on their farming operations since 1967, the
readers of Farm Industry News ranked the Honda
ATV right up there with Dekalb Biotype E Sorghum, A3127
Hybrid Soybeans and the Miller Electric Mig Welder as a
landmark product of the last 25 years. That's high
praise from one of the most brutally sensible groups of
people on the planet.
In America, having an ATV on the job makes a host
of jobs more efficient. In countries without our
infrastructure, manpower and financial resources, ATV's
reliability and efficiency handle jobs that simply
couldn't be done before. Folks on other parts of the
planet were discovering what America had discovered a
decade before, and began putting ATVs to work,
performing all manner of work that was either
impossible, impractical or both. Whereas Honda ATVs were
largely a domestic phenomenon before 1990, they're
currently working in more than 35 different countries
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MOTORCYCLE BALL CAP,
WE MAY HAVE
MADE SOME MISTAKES...
BUT THE U.S. OF AMERICA IS STILL THE WORLDS
You cannot help the poor by destroying
You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
You cannot lift the wage earner up by pulling the wage payer down.
You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
You cannot build character and courage by taking away people's initiative
You cannot help people permanently by doing for them, what they could and
should do for themselves.
Rev. William J. H. Boetcker, a
opportunity to serve you and may safety & good judgment chase you while on
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