ATVs - those 4-wheeled behemoths of the track or back trials - loved by the off-road enthusiast and treasured by farmers.

The All-Terrain Vehicle cannot claim a history as deep or as long as the motorcycle but it certainly rouses the passion of owners and riders everywhere. The "ATV" first emerged in the 1960s and referred to amphibious 6-wheelers like the Jiger in 1961, the Amphicat manufactured in the late 1960s and the Terra Tiger. These original vehicles were "non-straddle" and once straddle ridden ATVs came to market, the term AATV or amphibious all-terrain vehicle was attached to the 6-wheelers.

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The first ATV as we know it emerged as a 3-wheeler. The Sperry-Rand Tricart was designed in 1967 and manufactured in 1968. However, it was the Honda ATC that made 3-wheelers a household name and set the path for today's ATV.

In 1970, Honda introduced their US90 or ATC90 (All Terrain Cycle). The movie Diamonds Are Forever and the TV shows Magnum, P.I. and Hart to Hart helped spur on its popularity. It was 100 percent recreational use only and incorporated large balloon tires instead of a suspension. The ATC70 provided fun for kids and in 1979 the ATC110 opened up the throttle.

Honda ATC90

During this time, farmers realized the value of using an ATC for work and the 3-wheel market tapped into a new demographic. Honda and other manufacturers began addressing the popularity of 3-wheelers by cranking out new models.

Honda's ATC250R, sold in 1981, is considered the first high-performance three-wheeler with full suspension and a five-speed transmission. In 1982 Honda unveiled the ATC200E Big Red, a landscape changing model featuring suspension and racks giving it the distinction as the first utility three-wheeled ATV. The next year, Honda marketed the handling-friendly ATC200X to beginners.

Honda ATC250R

Kawasaki first introduced the KLT200 - a three-wheeled ATV - into the market in 1981. The company's first four-wheeler debuted in 1985 and was called the Bayou 185. The Bayou 300 4x4, Kawasaki's first ATV 4-wheel drive, found traction in 1989.

Polaris welcomed the Trailboss into the family in 1985 which is considered to be the first American-made all-terrain vehicle.

In 1980, Yamaha introduced the Tri-Moto (YT125) their first three-wheeled ATV sold in the United States. In 1984, Yamaha debuted their first four-wheeled ATV, the YFM200, in the United States. Other contributions include the Grizzly 600, a 4x4 ATV with automatic transmission in 1998 and in 2000 the Buckmaster Edition Big Bear 400 4x4, the first ATV with camouflage bodywork.

Suzuki actually sold the first 4-wheeler in 1982 called the QuadRunner LT125. Three years later, the company offered the first high-performance 4-wheeler, the LT250R QuadRacer, which featured a liquid-cooled two-stroke, and a five speed manual transmission.

Suzuki Quadrunner LT125

Honda introduced its first 4-wheeler in 1984, the TRX200, and dominated the market owning 69 percent of all ATV sales in the United States. The new 4-wheel concept helped bring an end to the 3-wheeler which officially came to an end in 1987 when safety concerns resulted in a ban that lasted 10 years.

In the 1990s, farms everywhere had an ATV and the leading manufacturer was once again Honda with their FourTrax 300.

Today, the term "ATV" primarily defines 4-wheel recreational or racing models and "UTV" or Utility Terrain Vehicle make up the 4-wheel market for the workhorses on the farm or ranch.


ATVs have their own Motocross and off-road racing events. The Grand National Cross Country series began racing ATVs in 1980 and the ATV National Motocross Championship series started in 1985. ATVs also own a larger share of the market compared to dirt bikes.

ATV National Motocross Champion John Natalie

In 2012, 71,535 dirt bikes were sold compared to 225,244 ATVs - a figure that does not include UTVs, a segment of sales the Motorcycle Industry Council did not report on. However, UTV and side-by-sides sales were expected to surpass the sales of ATVs so the 4-wheel market combined far exceeds that for dirt bikes and if UTV sales projections were accurate the 4-wheel market exceeds Dual-Sport, Dirt bike, motorcycle and scooter sales combined.

Whether for sport, fun or getting the job done, ATVs offer a different alternative to off-road adventures and provide a now necessary extra farm hand with help in the field. The ATV's popularity seems to only be increasing and the available features and options simply make this segment of the riding community worth checking out.