The pandemic hasn’t been bad for every business. With people exploring closer to home, searching for social distance has resulted in a number of outdoor industry categories experiencing unprecedented growth. In cities like Los Angeles, Strava measured that cycling trips increased by a staggering 93 percent while other socially distant sports like surfing, fishing, and off-roading reported an explosion in popularity since the pandemic began.
This is all great news for niche areas of those markets too, like UTVs for off-road enthusiasts. More commonly referred to as side-by-sides, these “utility task vehicles” are born from the ashes of classic dune-buggy culture—the choppers of the off-highway vehicle (OHV) world—and marries the utilitarian details of vehicles that ranchers and hunters have come to love. After all, who doesn’t want cargo-carrying capabilities atop a 100-horsepower motor with over 12 inches of suspension travel? Considering the growing popularity of UTVs, here’s exactly what you need to launch full-throttle into this thrilling powersport.
Just about every major ATV manufacturer aside from Suzuki makes a UTV. But a strong combination of features, chassis design, suspension, and a bulletproof motor puts brands like Polaris at the top. In fact, its RZR has become so synonymous with the sport it’s common to call competitors a name dominated by Polaris. However, not everyone wants to feel like they’re driving a vehicle built for the grueling Baja 1000 race down the Mexican peninsula.
Lucky for us, Polaris offers up The General. To call it “entry-level” would be a misnomer, as the engineers wanted to make it appealing to the weekend warrior while including enough features so it can pull double-duty in a number of other applications, like hauling a small trailer for gathering firewood. Unloaded, it’s flat-out fast with an intentionally easy cockpit to navigate. All you have to do is shift it into gear and go. Yes, it’s that easy to drive to those out-of-reach places, or go full-throttle on a fire road and have some white-knuckled fun.
One of the most impressive features on the Polaris vehicles is the navigation, something the off-road world has struggled to perfect while playing catch-up with the ease and functionality of smartphone apps. Their proprietary Ride Command technology not only ensures you get out and back safely, but also lets you ride independently with a group feature that highlights other drivers on the 7-inch screen. The UX enables you to keep your eyes on the road with enough distance in between that you’re not eating dust, but perfecting your drifting skills free of debris.
The General also expands on the exploding popularity of overlanding that gives you VIP access to America’s public lands. With enough carry capacity for you and your co-driver’s gear, some states allow you to go the distance on backcountry roads to access your favorite secret fishing hole or high-alpine dispersed camping free from geotaggers. In some instances, a UTV can go places no other vehicle can and we love that about them.
A UTV provides the protection of a relatively closed cab, thereby eliminating the need for more protective gear like you’d want on a motorcycle; however, it comes with its fair share of risks you’ll want to guard against. First off, a helmet will protect your biggest asset in the event of a rollover or crash. With a commitment to protecting rider’s heads since 1950, Arai makes the VX-Pro 4 that boasts some of the highest safety ratings in the off-road world. Fans are not only loyal to the fit but also trust in the D.O.T. and SNELL certifications that provide some extra assurance if things go sideways. Go with goggles, not sunglasses, like the Vue Stray from Fox to keep your eyeballs protected while out on the trail.
Side-by-sides ditch a windshield in favor of safety, so windchill is a factor to consider when picking up speed. Above the waist, run with something that abates the breeze like Klim’s Inversion Jacket with Gore Windstopper technology to keep the elements out while ripping through the wilderness. Klim also makes a series of gloves for all seasons to get a grip on your steering while adding an added layer of protection for your digits. Of course, you’ll also want to wear your favorite adventure pants and some boots comfy enough to explore far-out places.
UTVs like the General feature additional cargo-carrying capabilities with a bed box measuring large enough to haul a cargo case like the Pelican BX80, a seemingly indestructible camp tub to stash all your stuff. Basic backpacking gear is more than enough for two to three nights out on the trail. With a little creative wiring, you can also strap down a fridge next to it like the Mobicool 31 litre MCF32 further expanding the possibilities for longer UTV travel—opening up endless options for adventure.