While riding this past Labor Day weekend I noticed several things while meeting people on the trails.  While I won’t address them all, here are a few I think are worth thinking about or discussing.  

First I noticed that most people are truly friendly and wave a greeting or give the good ol’ head nod.  That is great to see when the trail users are certainly from a wide range of walks of life. I think it is rare to have a bad “people” experience on the trails.

Second, I noticed that while most of the “trails” in the Black Hills are restricted to 62” wide machines and less, we quite regularly crossed paths with machines that in stock form are listed at 64” to as much as 72.5”.  Some stock machines that would have been 62” wide were modified to be much wider. Admittedly, I am a rule follower and do my best to follow the rules of the trail system that I am riding. I even considered machine width during my last purchase. However I have to wonder where this goes from here?  Will the Forest Service expand the width restrictions? Will the Forest Service finally start patrolling the trails and handing out fines? Will the Forest Service continue to turn a blind eye to trail users breaking the rules? If they start fining people, will the fines be high enough to make an impact?  Will enforcement hurt tourism and trail use thus hurting small businesses in the area? I have sat in meetings with the Black Hills National Forest and had them state they have no plans to make the width restriction larger. Part of their reasoning, and this was a few years ago, was that if we widen to allow 64” wide machines than manufacturers will make their machines wider yet.  They said, “then where are we, making the trails wider again?” Where would it stop? During that meeting, factory built side x sides were 64” and under. Now we have some from the likes of Can Am and Polaris that reach 72” wide. While these machines did “fit” down the trail, I wonder if they are some of the reasons that trails seem to get wider every time I ride them.

Third thing I noticed, there is still a large number of trail users that don’t indicate how many machines are behind them in their group.  Don’t get me wrong, this weekend was a big improvement from years past in the Black Hills, however we received many waves and dumbfounded looks when we were displaying numbers while passing other riders.  I would say most of these riders were either single machines or 2 in the groups.

Trail and rider safety is part of our mission and communicating how many riders are behind you on the trail is a great step to take towards keeping everyone safe on the trail.  This includes not only the trail users you meet, but also the people in your own group. I think this becomes even more important when you are meeting 72” wide machines on tight trails designed for 62” wide machines.

Fourth thing I notice, and this happened just twice, was people in side x sides not riding on the correct side of the road.  In one of the instances this could have resulted in a collision as it occurred on a blind corner. Had either of us been traveling any faster a collision certainly would have occurred.  Please ride on the proper side of the trail/road.

Fifth thing of note was that some groups have grown quite large.  We sat at one trailhead waiting to get on the trail while some riders waited for the rest of their group to come off the trail.  When they were finally all there, the group appeared to be 15 plus machines. Should there be a limit to the size of a group on the trail?  This one is more food for thought than anything. Large groups do make for some challenges, however I am not sure there is a “right” size for trail riding groups.  What are your thoughts?

Scott Wittrock, President
SD ATV/UTV Association

  1. T 4 years ago

    Thanks for this post Scott. All valid points, especially the machine width issue. There are many more machines in the hills larger than 62 wide than there are less than 62 wide from what I have observed.

    There are nearly 5x more miles of road available to the wide machines than there are trails available to the narrow ones, yet the big SxSs think they are something special and have a “right” to go on the 62 inch tails even though it is against the law.

    Let’s call a spade a spade; if someone is wider than 62 inches they need to stay the heck off the roughly 600 miles of 62 inch trails and enjoy the nearly 3000 miles of roads the hills have to offer. Leave the trails for our co-riders who have the machines designed for them. Sure the big machines can go anywhere they want in comfort but it is a lot more enjoyable to ride an ATV on a 62 inch wide trail than a 72 inch wide trail…especially when you consider the 62 inch wide is already a foot wider than an ATV to start with.

    The FS is going to have to start enforcing the 62 inch rule for UTV violators just like they do for vehicles if anything is going to change…or maybe they need to do what they should have from the start.

    I understand they tried to utilize a trail width to accommodate both ATVs and UTVS…but clearly people are are no longer responsible enough to follow the rules on their own. They care only about 1 person…themselves. It matters not to them if they ruin the trail for fellow riders, as long as they get to run their big A–S machines wherever they want to.

    It’s time to fence, gate and completely block off a few hundred miles of 50 inch trail, just like Wyoming does. That would eliminate any “confusion” about how large of machines should be on the them.

    As to your last question, the responsible groups I have joined always capped a group at 6 riders…after that they started a 2nd group headed a different direction. Keeps the dust down, the group manageable and if you lose someone you notice in a few minutes rather than a few miles. If you meet another group head on, you are not waiting forever to continue your journey. It seemed to work pretty well.

  2. Clark Griswald 4 years ago

    There is also a sign that is appreciated when out on the trail or in general. Hold up one hand with your first two fingers held out high, pull your third finger down, and raise your pinky with pride. It’s known as the shocker. 2 in the pink and one in the stink. I’m amazed about how anal some of your members are. Everyone pays for their sticker and if you want to be a wanker, buy your own land and have your own little rule fest.

  3. Mark R 4 years ago

    My 1981 CJ5, mirrors folded in, measures 61″…out of respect and first hand seeing trails further western states being shut down, permanently, I stay on “JEEP” trails…But seeing a marker that has a clearly marked sticker of a single rider on a ATV and watch SxS come off. Are the markers a suggestion? The standard should be re-written that the owner shall measure said machine and clearly marked, paperwork, doesn’t matter what it is just something. Let us all be held accountable by our own standards that we set, not politicians. The government can not be there all the time and shouldn’t be…if you want that go to Canada.

    Education and respect of nature that God gave us to enjoy, seems to be lacking, is…let’s do our best to hold everyone accountable! Friendships can only abound!

  4. Darold Hehn 4 years ago

    A good place to start this discussion is with enforcement. Until the Forest Service begins to strictly enforce the laws, there will continue to be offenders.

    Do we really want to allow each person to choose which law they obey?

    Permits are required in South Dakota, and by the Forest Service, to legally ride on “motorized trails.” That means anything that is designated a trail with a four digit number, on the MVUM.

    Unfortunately, there are a few four digit trails that are designated “Open To All Vehicles”. The trials in the Camp 5 area are examples of this. Because of these trails, the Forest Service sells permits to anyone, and for any vehicle, without asking the width of the machine. They expect people will obey the law. And then some of these people with wider machines and because they have permits, ride on the 62” trails.

    One solution idea would have the Forest Service in South Dakota, create a situation where it sells a permit to attach only to machines 62” or less. That would create less confusion and hopefully fewer offenders.

    Scott, if one weekend on the trails, generated from you, your detailed and well written response, imagine how frustrated some of us are, who ride the trails every weekend!

  5. Danielshapy 4 years ago

    It’s an excellent post. This site has lots of interesting things, it helped me in many ways.

  6. Trent Slyter 2 years ago

    A quick follow up to this discussion as I see it is heating up on the facebook page. There are a very few hundred miles of under 62 inch wide trails left for ATVs and small SXS and yet over 3,000 miles of trail/road for everything larger.

    Those with 50 inch ATVs or SxSs don’t want to ride on on big 72 inch wide “trails” (roads) It’s just not any fun to ride on those big wide, deep ruts or try to navigate a 65-72 inch “track” width.

    I made the decision this winter to buy a 50 inch single seat SxS to go with my ATV so we can ride the small trails of SD, MT, ND,MN and Wyoming vs buying a single 64 inch wide SxS for both of us. The decision was made purely because of trail width laws in all these states. I am really glad that all the states (except SDBH) have dedicated 50 inch wide trails for these kinds of machines and keep all the big UTVs off of them.

    Everyone is missing the point on the 62 inch trail limit…it was not designed for a 62, a 64 or a 65 machine…it was designed to accommodate a 60 inch SxS with 1 inch to spare on either side. All the major manufactures offer a 60 inch class machine under their TRAIL product classification…Polaris calls them the Trail S for instance.

    The larger products are not called “trail” machines because they are not designed or intended for “trails”…they are intended for ROADS. Go to the polaris site and look under RZR and look under TRAIL…the choices are either 50 inch or 60 inch. If you look under canam for “trail” machines again it is 50 or 60 inch. End of story.

    It is impossible to have 1 trail width that is good for everything from 50 to 72+ and provide a good experience. This should be obvious.

    The way to end the fighting on the hills trail width is to simply class like they do in WY, MT, ND and MN. A class 1 ATV is 50 inches wide or less, period. Turn the current 62 inch BH trails into a 50 inch class 1 trail, narrow the gates down and be done with it.

    Anything larger than that can drive the 3000+ miles of jeep trails, fire service roads, logging roads and gravel roads that are available right now.

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