Have fun BRAAAAPing

Know the local regulations where you ride, get the right equipment and take proper care of your sports vehicle.

By Melissa Sullivan

My husband Chris and I have spent a lot of miles on the trails and experienced many different types of situations you can end up in. We also see how quickly the sport is gaining popularity meaning a huge increase of trail traffic over the last two years. Having fun BRAAAAPing is always a high priority, but safety should always be the highest priority. It does not matter if you enjoy the trails on two wheels or four, by ATV or SXS, the potential dangers of riding can be reduced with proper maintenance, using trail etiquette, and taking appropriate safety precautions. Lately we have noticed that we feel safer on the racetracks than we do in the trails simply for the lack of oncoming traffic. If everyone does their part to be safe, responsible, and respectful when trail riding it is sure to be an exciting time for everyone. That is why we thought it would be important to review some tips on being safe and responsible when you BRAAAAP.

Know the Laws & Regulations

The most important thing for any trail rider to do is look up the ORV rules and regulations for the area that they will be riding. These laws help protect you, the trails, and others using the trails. They also protect the ability to off-roading to continue in a certain area. Ignoring ordinances and rules can lead to injuring someone, a ticket, and potentially jeopardizes riding opportunities for all in that area. 

Where we BRAAAAP, in Roscommon County’s St Helen & Houghton Lake Trail Systems, we have a local ordinance allowing ORV traffic on county roads. This allows riders easy access to food & gas. It is also beneficial for the local economy that visitors can ride into town to eat, shop & play. The following rules apply here: 

• ORV Speed limit on County Roads 25mph (20mph Ogemaw County) on the far-right maintained portion of the road. 

• You may not ride on the shoulder on M roads (ie: M-55, M-18)

• Head lights & taillights on at all times.

• When on county roads turn off accessory lighting (whips, light bars, rock lights, chase lights)

• Be respectful in residential neighborhoods, turn down loud music. 

• Stay off sidewalks.

Check with local police departments, DNR & chamber offices to get information & regulations specific to the area that you plan to ride. It is also important to verify that you have accurate information on legal trail systems for the ORV that you will be driving.

Protect yourself with Proper Safety Equipment

I remember the days that Chris and I used to BRAAAAP without our helmets. We always wore them at the racetrack but in the trails, we did not think we needed them, after all we had goggles and cage. We were safe right? Wrong, even strapped in the cab of an SXS, a collision, or rollover can still result in a head injury—especially if you are not wearing helmets. We proved this when we tipped over our SXS at the top of the St. Helen Free Area. I hit my head on the roll cage and got knocked out cold. That and the fact that we have been in two head on accidents, is why we put them on every ride now. Depending on the ORV that you drive, wearing a helmet may be required by law. 

Safety Equipment

We have prepared a guide specifically on safety equipment that we use when we BRAAAAP in the trails or on the track:

Gear for you 

• Full-face helmets, such as Motocross style, are recommended for off-roaders.

• Goggles provide required eye protection. Your vision can be impaired if dust or sand gets in your eyes. If your ORV does not have a windshield, they provide protection from rocks flung from tires. 

• Riding gloves improve your grip and protect your hands against chafing and debris.

• Long pants, long-sleeves, and closed toe shoes are also recommended when off-roading in a SXS. Riding pants, boots, and further protection may be required depending on the type of ORV you are riding. 

• Prepare for the weather, it’s Michigan. Rain suits or heavier-duty shells may be advisable to pack depending on the weather conditions and the season you’re riding in.

Safety Equipment

Safety Equipment for your ORV: 

• Mirrors will help improve your visibility navigating terrain. They are also helpful to keep an eye on other riders behind you in your group. 

• A fire extinguisher mounted with a quick release mount. Having one handy can allow you to get a person out of an ORV that is on fire. You can also use it to help control the spread of fire, preventing a wildfire. Consider mounting it inside the cab should you find yourself in a situation you need it and are on your own. 

• Upgrade from stock seat belts harnesses. A four-point harness has one strap over each shoulder and two more across your lap. In a five-point harness, an additional strap runs between your legs. Make sure you are comfortable operating the harnesses and belt locks with gloves and helmet that limits your vision.

 • Window Nets are required at most racetracks and offer a bit of added safety on the trail. They prevent branches and debris from entering the cab. In the event of a rollover, they also help keep arms inside the vehicle. 

 • A First aid Kit is always great to keep on hand for yourself or another injured BRAAAAPer. 

Safety Equipment

Check Your ORV Every Ride

Whether it’s your first or your 100th ride on your ORV, I always recommend you thoroughly look over your vehicle before a trail ride. A good once-over can reveal issues that would get in the way of your day on the trails. This is one of those simple steps that can pay off big time in terms of preventing breakdowns and injuries. 

 • Check fluid levels and look for any signs of leakage.

 • Check your tire pressure and inspect tires for wear, or punctures. 

• Ensure wheel and axle nuts are tight. Rock tires to pinpoint loose fasteners or worn bearings. 

• Make sure all lights, switches, and gauges are operating correctly. 

• Check fuel levels. It is always better to head out with a full tank of gas. Avoid carrying fuel if you can get fuel along your route. 

• Check that all leaked fluids, sticks & packed debris are cleaned from skid plates and around the engine and exhaust. Certain areas of your ORV get hot enough to catch dry grasses and debris on fire.

Safety Equipment

Safety Equipment

Use Your Head Use Your Hands

Oncoming traffic is a reality on many popular trails systems, so we encourage all riders to learn and use the special hand signals used for oncoming traffic. When two groups of riders approach each other on the trail, the leader of each group should use their left hand to signal how many riders are coming after them, and each following rider does the same.

Five fingers mean five or more riders, four fingers mean four and so on. A fist held in the air is the signal for last rider. If there are more than 5 in your group, say 8, the leader of a group will hold up five fingers, and the 2 riders behind them will also hold up five. The fourth rider will hold up four, the fifth rider will hold up three and the sequence will continue until the last rider holds up a fist. So if you ever wondered why everyone was waving on the trails, now you know they weren’t just saying “hey”, they were looking out for your safety. 

These aren’t the only hand signals you need to know. Signals like “slow down,” “oncoming riders,” “stop” and “obstacle.” Are important for leaders to share with riders behind them. It is also important when traveling on roads with your ORV that you are safely letting traffic know when you are turning. Traveling in a group requires communication. 

Respect Where You BRAAAAP

Enjoying the great outdoors is one of the main reasons that people enjoy off-road riding. It is every rider’s responsibility to respect that environment and trails in every way you can:

• Don’t damage plants and landscaping by riding off the trail or in non-designated areas.

• Watch for wildlife animals that you encounter, as the sound of engines can spook them into the trails make them unpredictable.

 • Use 4WD to go up a hill rather than two-wheel. Excessive tire spin, damaging the trail’s condition.

• Take any food wrappers, trash and/or broken gear back with you. Littering damages the environment and other people’s enjoyment of the trail. Pack It In Pack It Out!

Be A Responsible Leader

If you are leading a group of friends for a trail ride, take it seriously. The leader of a group of riders takes responsibility for the rest of the group’s safety. The leader should watch the trail for obstacles and oncoming traffic and alert riders behind them. They should also make sure that they are keeping track of all riders, choosing when to stop for breaks, and choosing a route appropriate for all rider’s skill levels. It is also important to educate new riders on trail etiquette and safety by sharing tips and setting a good example to follow. 

Step up where you can and do your part to protect our sport. My husband and I work with businesses in the St. Helen and Houghton Lake areas to display banners reminding trail riders to “Take every corner like someone is coming!” and showing them important hand signals. A lot of people come to these areas to ride so we have the opportunity to get the safety information to a lot of riders this way! 

My friend George and I checking on the drivers and calling 911 just moments after we drove up on the accident. It was important we got the trail cleared right away this was the crest of a hill right after a blind 90 degree corner. Luckily we were on a mail trail just off of M-55 and Richfield Department of Public Safety was on the scene quickly to assist and shut down the trail.


We also got permission from DNR to introduce trash barrels at the St. Helen Free Area to encourage people to clean up the trails. They are not trash cans, we encourage people to pick up trash they see laying around and get it to the barrels. Weekly one of us or another volunteer empties the barrels. No matter where you are riding or who you’re riding with, following ORV rules and trail etiquette, and respecting the trails will help make everyone’s ride better.

I love living where everyone comes to play but sometimes it scares me. We have been in two head on accidents ourselves riding and I’ll never forget the day that I rode up on this accident and had to call 911. It was very scary to come up on one this in the trail. I was afraid of what I was going to see… 

The Gator driver was pinned and the X3 driver was at first too. the Gator driver saw the x3 coming and was almost at a stop when he was hit. No major injuries but 911 had to be called to clear the trail and separate the machines to even get the one driver out. I personally knew of two other head on collisions that happened on the same day. The ORVs keep getting bigger and the trails are not. I LOVE meeting new people in the trails but NOT like that! I think the chance of accidents being so high riding is what led us to racing.

Speed, experience, dust & so many other things affect your safety when you are on the trails. I don’t want to scare everyone, but I want everyone to be aware of the dangers and take off roading seriously as you would driving a car! •

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