Polaris’ new take on the ATV / UTV vehicle
By Trevor Hedge
At first glance, North American ATV manufacturer Polaris, a huge and well respected force in the ATV and side-by-side (UTV) market seems to have broken ranks with most of the industry by introducing their first ATV style machine with a factory fitted roll over protection cage. Effectively, the new Polaris Sportsman Ace is a hybrid mix of ATV and side-by-side (UTV). With a roll over cage, a seat belt, nets and a steering wheel instead of handlebars, the Sportsman Ace becomes a single-seat version of a traditional side-by-side (UTV) rather than an ATV with roll over protection bars.
Let’s start with some background into the contentious issue of roll over protection for ATVs in Australia, which has been a topic of hot debate. Some members of the mainstream media have campaigned heavily for the fitment of roll over protection devices to ATVs, while such moves to enforce the fitment of mandatory roll over cages to ATVs have been stringently resisted by the industry. Safety bodies and interest groups (some with a vested interest), have been pushing for the mandatory fitting of roll over protection bars to ATV machines to help combat the relatively high fatality rate, involving the tragic loss of 18 lives last year from ATV accidents, nine of which are judged to have been caused by a roll over. Over 21,000 ATV and side-by-side (UTV) machines were sold in Australia during 2013 while in the previous year 23,570 machines were sold. Honda is the biggest seller of ATV/UTV machines ahead of second placed Polaris, and third placed Yamaha.
Any experienced ATV rider can clearly demonstrate the benefits of how moving bodyweight around the machine to retain its balance when negotiating uneven terrain can help the machine remain stable on uneven ground. On my own property I will take my ATV places that I will not take my side-by-side (UTV), as the larger machine complete with its roll over protection and side nets is less able to be influenced by my shifting of bodyweight. While to some safetycrats this may sound ridiculous, due to the clearly superior crash protection offered by a side-by-side (UTV) machine over a conventional ATV, I would rather prefer to avoid a roll over all together, than roll over with protection. And in my opinion, I can more easily avoid such situations on a conventional ATV due to the shifting of bodyweight to prevent instability, this is what ATV experts and the industry call ‘rider active’, as in the rider of an ATV should not sit down prone like an immoveable sack of spuds, but on uneven ground needs to have their bum off the seat, and their bodyweight shifted around the machine as the terrain dictates. Bodyweight forward when riding uphill, bodyweight backwards when going downhill, and while traversing parallel to the slope (something to be avoided where possible) the rider should position their bodyweight on the uphill side of the machine.
Of course, in a perfect world we would never negotiate uneven, rocky and challenging terrain with such vehicles, but this is not a perfect world. On my own property, which features some extremely challenging terrain, I would be lost without the convenience and amenity that an ATV or side-by-side (UTV) provides. Be that from spraying weeds on the ATV, to carrying loads of wood in the tray of the side-by-side (UTV), these machines are fantastic tools for any property owner.
I am lucky to have experienced expert tuition in ATV use via Honda Australia Rider Training some years ago, which did teach me some basic principles that in reality are little more than common sense, but nevertheless such courses serve as an invaluable foundation for further independent learning through ATV use in the real world. Effectively, such courses give a new owner a great background to start out their new ATV experience in a safe manner. That’s not to say anybody with a background of ATV use can’t benefit from such courses, but clearly in an ideal world any ATV buyer would undertake such a course before taking their new machine home.
A lot of research has been done in regards to the relative safety merits of roll over protection cages when fitted to ATVs. The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries motorcycling/ATV arm has cited some of this research in their campaign to resist the mandatory fitment of roll over protection.
Reports released 18 months ago by Dynamic Research Inc. (DRI), an internationally recognised firm specialising in applied research in the areas of vehicle dynamics and controls, simulator technology and accident investigation, concluded that Rollover Protection Systems (ROPS) and Crush Protective Devices (CPDs) on ATVs can cause unacceptably high levels of harm in comparison to their benefits.
At the time of the report’s release, Cameron Cuthill, FCAI Motorcycle Manager, said “The ATV industry will continue to put the safety of riders first by opposing the use of rollover devices in Australia.
“The findings of the DRI research report cannot be disputed. The research is state-of-technology and is based upon published research and relevant portions of international research standards, as expected of a quality report. It confirms that rollover devices, and in particular so-called ‘crush protective devices’, should not be fitted to ATVs,” he said.
The FCAI also made the following statement; “The ATV industry is highly concerned that recent calls by certain interest groups for rollover devices to be mandated is based on flawed logic, misinformation and research which does not adhere to relevant international standards. The ATV industry urges all stakeholders and commentators to carefully review the findings of the DRI report which can be found at http://www.dri-atv-rops-research.com/ and, in light of those findings, to reconsider the claims made by suppliers of CPDs, and by their supporters.
“The DRI research included refinements to ATV accident scenario simulations to specifically address previous concerns raised by local interest groups.
“Across more than 1,500 computer simulations conducted for helmeted riders, a locally produced CPD product was found to have, on average, injury and fatality risks that exceeded its potential benefits. When extended to all overturns that might occur, the new research indicated the CPD would cause approximately as many injuries for helmeted riders as it prevented.
“For un-helmeted riders on an ATV fitted with the same device, the respective injury and fatality risk/benefit percentages indicated that the device would cause significantly more injuries and fatalities than it would prevent.”
FCAI spokesman, Cameron Cuthill then signed off with this sentence to make the industry stance on roll over protection abundantly clear; “Unfortunately, while the focus remains on rollover devices, real solutions will continue to be ignored. Attention should instead be maintained on helmet use, training and keeping children off full-size ATVs.”
Clearly Polaris has seen the writing on the wall in regards to bureaucrats more than likely eventually getting their way, and have thus pulled off what could be a masterstroke of marketing to bring their new Sportsman Ace to market with all the features those campaigning for the fitment of roll over protection; roll over cage, seat belts and side nets are all fitted as standard to the new Polaris Sportsman Ace.
“The introduction of the Sportsman ACE is part of our strategy to remain the leader in the powersports marketplace by introducing innovative products that define their categories,” said David Longren, vice president of Polaris’ Off-Road Division.
“In creating the Sportsman ACE, we wanted to not only appeal to current farmers, commercial users and off-road enthusiasts, but develop a vehicle that brings new customers to both work and recreation. We accomplished this by coupling an easy-to-use, nimble platform with a confident and secure ride that, together, provides drivers with an entirely new experience.”
Measuring an ATV-like 1220mm in width, 260mm of ground clearance and 241mm of suspension travel, the Polaris Sportsman Ace is powered by a fuel-injected 32 horsepower engine. It also features the Polaris on-demand 4wd system, which automatically engages and disengages all-wheel-drive in response to traction conditions.
A generous 680kg towing capacity and the ability to carry a payload of up to 260kg makes the Polaris Sportsman Ace an extremely versatile tool. It is effectively a single-seat version of a side-by-side (UTV) without the tray, thus visually it resembles an ATV, but the riding experience and dynamics are more akin to a side-by-side (UTV) vehicle.
“This is a completely new proposition for the Australian ATV and side x side market,” said Polaris Australia & New Zealand Managing Director, Peter Alexander. “This is a vehicle that encompasses the very best features of both ATVs and side x sides, with unrivalled capabilities for the Australian farmer coupled with outstanding performance for weekend recreational riders.”
“One of the great attractions of ATVs has always been their sheer versatility, nimbleness and agility. Sportsman Ace continues to offer all these things with the added benefit of additional features to further ensure the security of the operator.
“The issue of ATV safety has been a pertinent one in Australia for many years. Whilst the largest variable in safety is inevitably the experience, training and attitude of the rider along with wearing appropriate safety gear and using machines within manufacturer’s recommendations, Sportsman ACE provides another option with a unique combination of features.
“This model is an off-road vehicle with a rich Polaris Sportsman heritage. What is unique is the provision of features which have, until now, only been seen on side by side vehicles.
“And like anything for the Australian market, this vehicle needs to be seriously heavy duty with capacities and capabilities which lead the market…and on that front, Sportsman ACE certainly delivers.”
The Polaris Sportsman ACE will be available in authorized Polaris dealers from April, 2014.
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