On-Road ATVs: The United Kingdom Has It Made

Riding the streets on a Yamaha Raptor

Apr. 15, 2009 By Stephen Clark
In many ways a quad is a great form of transportation, not only off road as we are used to but on the road also. Quads are fuel efficient, relatively easy to ride, small enough to be easy to park, cheaper than a car to purchase, and best of all have acceleration that even supercars struggle to match.

The problem is no manufacturers have built quads for street use, not in any volume anyway. There have been a few concepts built from BMW and Yamaha, and Can-Ams new Spyder is a similar concept. But at this time there really hasn't been a mass-produced ATV for on-road use.

In the future as fuel prices continue to rise and people seek more efficient transportation, the concept of using quads for everyday transportation may be embraced. This means that if you want to ride a ATV on the road you have to modify an off-road ATV. Modified street quads are popular in other parts of the world, so we traveled half way around the world to the United Kingdom to bring you this report on street quads.

The biggest problem in converting a quad to street use is legislation, and although some states in the US do allow street quads, unfortunately at this time many states prohibit use of quads on public highways. However in other parts of the world street quads are the rage.

In Britain street legal quads are classed by the government as small cars, and as long as they pass a MOT (Ministry of Transport) inspection from a certified testing center they can be used on road. This legislation has spawned a new craze of converting standard off-road quads to be used on the street.

In recent years recreational off road riding as all but disappeared in the UK due to land use issues. Street legal quads have eased the damage this has done to the British ATV industry. There is just not enough unpopulated land on the island and any open land is usually either owned by farmers or protected by the government as “green belts”.

That being said, MX and Enduro quad racing in the UK is still very active. Although street quads are a fairly efficient means of transport in the UK they are still primarily used for on-road recreation. And its easy to understand why, because the once you get outside the city’s the roads are fantastic. The road system in the UK is very extensive and two lane roads cover the entire country. The great access is also a reason that sport motorcycles are so popular.

ATV World in Leeds has capitalized on this new and growing market and is one of the pioneers of this new part of the ATV industry. Yamaha and E-Ton have also caught on to the trend and have a couple of models that are road legal out of the crate. But the majority of street quads ATV World sells start life as off road units and are converted to meet the road legal specifications. To pass road worthy inspection the quad must have mirrors, lights, license plate, turn signals and be restricted to a certain horsepower.

The most popular street legal quad ATV World sells is the Yamaha Raptor 700. Mainly because it is a bit tamer than the 450’s. The 450’s are pretty much designed for racing and the handling and power is a bit extreme on the road. The 450’s engine also have a nasty habit of grenading themselves when rev’d hard for longer periods. The Raptor 700 we used for photos and a test ride is an example of the most extreme quads ATV World builds. No expense had been spared in the transformation of this Raptor. The suspension was essentially supermoto spec with a wider stance and stiffer springs.

When it comes to street quads that are used exclusively on the road the suspension is one area that can be greatly improved. The suspension on most ATV’s is designed and built with high ground clearance and long travel to work well off road. Off road suspension set up however sits too high and is too soft for serious on road use. ATV World have lowered and widened the suspension on the Raptor. The suspension lowers the center of gravity of the machine making it more stable on the road and reducing the body roll when cornering.

The modifications include different a-arms, axles and shocks that give the ATV a lower center of gravity and stiffer suspension. This makes the ATV more stable when cornering and the stiffer suspension reduces body roll in the corners. The ATV we rode in Leeds featured Laeger wider a-arms and road specification ELKA shocks. The set-up is very similar to a supermoto race set-up.

Riding Impression

The power of the Raptor was the biggest shock initially. Where I am used to riding similar machines at 4500 feet above sea level on sand or dirt, the ATV World Raptor at sea level with road tires felt very quick. When riding aggressively, the torque of the big thumper engine constantly tried to either wheelie or slide the rear tires. The handling of the Raptor took some getting used too, a solid rear axle on asphalt is not for the faint hearted. We tried our hand a riding the ATV aggressively but driving on the crowded British roads on the opposite side was a scary enough prospect without learning how to ride the quad. That’s my excuse anyway!

One of ATV Worlds technicians, Ben "Raging Bull" Richmond, came out and showed us how the quad should be ridden. He made it look so easy as he pitched the quad sideways into a corner and gracefully used the throttle to control a slide all the way around.

The graceful display of sliding went on about a dozen times as I tried my hardest to capture the moment on the old Canon. All was going well until the rear tires got warm and sticky, giving the quad traction midway through a sideways corner. The result sent the quad straight off the road in the direction it was pointed in. Luckily it was a low-speed incident and neither the rider nor quad were physically damaged in any way.


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