Last week, we had the opportunity to drive the latest crop of recreational off-road vehicles—or ROVs—around Randall’s island in the borough of Manhattan. The Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association put on the event to showcase their recently-developed driving courses that teach prospective ROV users basic safety knowledge and driving skills.
ROVs are a recipe for fun. The have to be under 1000 cc, but the ones we drove had tons of power—easily enough for lurid slides when in two-wheel-drive—and sophisticated, long-travel suspension. They’re narrow, and have strong roll-cages. Yes, they are adept rock-crawlers (and have low-range), but with their light-weight and turn of speed they’re more like miniature trophy trucks than miniature Jeeps. Even before you turn the key, it’s clear that it’d be easy to get carried away. The fastest ones can crack 70 mph.
Indeed, soon after Yamaha released the original ROV—their Rhino—in 2003, there were a number of roll-over accidents where people were injured and lawyers argued that ROVs were unreasonably dangerous. In response, Yamaha began installing doors (now all ROVs come with nets to keep your arms inside), increased the track, and even removed the rear-anti rollbar to inhibit oversteer (boo!). The ROVs we drove also had noticeably slow steering racks, though they’d probably feel more responsive at speed—in the class we never exceeded 25 mph.
Still, safety equipment and tamed vehicle dynamics are no substitute for responsible driving, and that’s where ROHVA’s classes come in. ROHVA is “commited to increasing ROV safety through awareness-building and education and training prorams.” We took the beginner class, which begins with an introduction to the vehicle and proper safety gear before a series of drills and an off-road drive.
At first, the drills are easy—starting and stopping at a series of cones and turns around a point—but they rapidly progress to more cerebral tasks, like reversing through a slalom and a short gymkhana course. We also practiced using our left foot on the brake to stop quickly after using our right foot on the throttle. The goal was to get the front wheels to stop right on top of a log.
In each of the drills, the emphasis is on safety rather than speed—there are no stopwatches, and the friendly instructors occasionally reminded us to keep our arms inside the vehicles when reversing. After the drills, we headed around Randalls Island in search of dirt, and the instructors led us on a trail under an overpass and onto a muddy construction zone. It was as close to dirt bliss as you’ll find in the Borough of Manhattan.
Ty Vanhooydonk from the ROHVA told us that this introductory course is becoming popular with national parks and city governments who would like to train their rangers and employees how to handle the useful utility-oriented ROVs, some of which even have tilting cargo beds. Viewed in that light, the course was an excellent introduction that anyone could take part in without feeling intimidated, though thrill-seeking rock-crawler wannabees should shoot for the advanced class. At the end of the course, we got an excellent pamphlet explaining everything we had learned, from recommended safety gear to tips on negotiating difficult terrain.
After spending so much time on motorcycles it was nice to have storage and to sit side-by-side. We could definitely get used to this. Indeed, we would have kept riding around all day and into the night had the class not ended!
As dirt-loving motorcyclists in New York City, our ears really perked up when we heard that the gentleman in charge of Randall’s island was at least “hearing dreams” to put a dirtbike park on Randall’s island. Right now there are plenty of sports fields and an psychiatric facility, but not much else. A dirtbike park would be a great outlet for all the motorheads in NYC, and we’re hoping it comes to fruition, though we’re not holding our breath.
Check out these awesome ROV videos and you’ll see why safety education is important!