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Bug Out ATV Vs. Motorcycle For Long Emergencies: Lessons From Venezuela

Avatar for Jose Martinez Jose Martinez  |  Updated: February 16, 2021
Bug Out ATV Vs. Motorcycle For Long Emergencies: Lessons From Venezuela

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Within the prepping community there seems to be endless debate about too many stuff, ranging from personal defense tools, all the way down to canning or type of livestock to raise, variety of potatoes, and so on. I won´t go into more detail, for obvious reasons. Debates need to have a start, a middle part, and an end. Otherwise, it’s a futile waste of time. 

This being said, one of the “debates” so to speak, where I feel comfortable even not having rode an atv in years (a couple of weeks ago needed to make an emergency temporary work and had to piggyback in one guy´s backseat and enjoy it as a little kid, LOL…even though it was a small bore little bike), is in the motorcycle Vs. quad debate.

To start from a level playing ground, the first thing we have to assess, is this: what is going to be the main use for your intended vehicle?  

Are you planning on running like a scared rabbit with a pack of coyotes in your fluffy tail, heading to the hills but have to make it on a six lanes highway? Then get yourself a 1300cc Suzuki GSXR Hayabusa, duct-tape a boombox in your backseat and play your favorite hardcore metal record for inspiration while you fly down that highway, provided there is an SHTF behind you and no LEOs nor any type of rule of law in place.

You’ll have had plenty of fun, and a crazy history to tell to your grandchildren if you survive.

On the other hand, if you live in the middle of suburbia and your plan to bugout “unnoticed” with 4 bug out atvs, each with a trailer loaded up to the ears, rifle cases, fuel and all kind of supplies, and what not…I would suggest thinking very carefully. If you have to pass by, even a few kilometers, a road near a ghetto…well, I will leave that to the reader’s imagination. 

The message here is, you have to think in terms of balance, as much in the amount of the investment (do you really know how to fix that fuel injection V-Strom 650 engine?) in everything, and try to overcome the obstacles of potentially hazardous situations.

Using your imagination and the worst case scenario (something that, even I´m good at, ended by chewing in my buttocks) then we should be able to provide us with the best possible solution, within our limited means. 

As an example, my worst case scenario, in my former town, would have been to bugout under the rain, at night, with roadblocks all over the place. The SUV filled up to the ears, two cats (now just one) a dog (now gone too ☹ ) and two kids. I would ride in front of the SUV, on my motorcycle, over 600 km under the rain, in the middle of the night. No fuel resupply: no gas stations open.

 All of our expensive equipment, gear, consumables, fuel, and valuables in the SUV. After a while, we noticed it was not going to have enough space, though. And then, the collapse configuration was something else, completely different. 

If you have more realistic plans to bugout, like many of us, then your choice must be careful. Not just because of the vehicle itself; it’s because of the financial aspect involved. To maintain an aging vehicle, dedicated just for a single purpose (like bugging out) can be cost-prohibitive in the future. 

Mechanical maintenance, insurance, storage if we don´t have space in our place, keeping it in top condition can be quite time-consuming (like those military huge Deuce) laws in each country, there is an entire pile of details that can add to the financial impact in our choice.

I believe, to be honest, that an SHTF scenario like “Red Dawn” or whatever other fictional story is highly improbable at a global scale; however, we need to detect what potential disruptions of our regular life we could have locally, and how to measure their severity in order to make us bugout. 


There is a vast difference between a bug-out vehicle and something you´re going to use in your compound every day for an assorted spectrum of different tasks. But let´s elaborate on this later. 

This applies if you own a location retreat, of course. Do you have a huge underground cellar with food for 5 years? Cool.

 Maybe a motorcycle will be useful to scavenge, bartering, or gathering more supplies. Hopefully, you´ll have plenty of fuel, too.

But there is a lot of technical (and others not so technical) that will be useful to decide what the best choice for you is, based in your own matrix, your own arrangement of variables that define your situation and will configure the best solution, including as well your personal preferences. 

A motorcycle is a wonderful vehicle, if long as you have the right level of experience.

It can be useful to get you out of a fender to fender situation and cars piled in the highway. If needed, it can get you through dense forest, limited only by the wide of your handlebars or your panniers. With good tires, it will take you through sand and mud. 

It can carry you and your partner, with some gear. Dual-sport models are tough and reliable. It’s unlikely they will leave you stranded. They have plenty of accessories for adventure travel, just like a desperate bugout. They´re fast, especially, and can get us out of trouble in a wide variety of terrain conditions. 

I remember when, back in 1999, heavy rains generated huge mudslides in Vargas State in Venezuela (a disaster which generated hundreds of thousands of casualties)…the first responders were young kids in their 20s, with their small-bore endure motorcycles, carrying water, supplies and medical emergency response personnel. These proved to be invaluable in those conditions. 

The old Pinzgauers (air-cooled) overheated under the Caribbean sun and the extreme abuse imposed by the no-road driving conditions, and some of them could not take it (as was narrated to me by people who was there). I have to make an important comment about this: most of these vehicles were equipped with gasoline engines. When they were acquired by the Army, gasoline was abundant and cheap.

 However, as these brand is European, I´ve learned the preferred engine there was the diesel one.  

After all of this, I believe the choice is not easy. Let´s see why.

Quads can handle usually a terrain as rough as any dual-sport bike.

They´re more comfortable and can carry a lot more gear, that´s true. Unless the forest is extremely dense, they will make their way out of most of the situations. They´re modern machines, with plenty of advantages, upgraded designs, high tech manufacturing techniques and oh, the materials! I could write for days about this. I see them as a product of the new century, albeit they have been around since the middle 80s, it’s 10 years later when they seem to have been optimized to the limit without room for any other significant improvement.

Their all-wheel traction makes them suited for an entire variety of conditions. Although I´ve never driven them in snow, I can say they are quite comfortable bearing with mud and some other conditions and circumstances that even a mule couldn´t handle. Those actually already owning one of this things can inform about their usage of a 4×4 traction system.

With such a low weight and my own experience, I don’t believe there will be too many places that a 2×4 can´t go behind the 4×4.  This all-wheels traction comes at a price, obviously, and this is a major decision because they usually cost twice or three times the price of a bike. Final use will be the parameter with the most weight, though.

Of course, there is another very important consideration, and it´s safety. Back in the day, riding was not as a big hazard like it is now, with the insurance costs in Venezuela (oddly enough, there are still some insurance companies working, of course charging in USDs) scarce and expensive as heck. Under the circumstances, we would be living (almost 20 km away from any kind of civilization), having an accident would be a huge problem. In the area, we have rain for 6 months, and another 6 months with a moderate drought. However, sometimes we can get off-season rain, because it´s a place in the middle of a forest.

We used to hike as teenagers, and the dry season was best because there were much fewer ticks. These would wake up from their hibernation state and would make our lives miserable. We used to soak ourselves in repellent before heading up to the forest. But many times we had to look for some cover when rain came in.

Why do I mention this?

Because riding in a mud road while raining is close to suicide.

It´s not the mud, the few roads around my place are rocky and clayish. You can imagine how slippery that is with a few drops of rainwater. Dang, we used to fall down even hiking on foot. Imagine knotty tires. And especially now, being someone over his 40s starting to feel his joints stiffening.  I have some few km of paved road, but it´s somehow transited, and a Quad wouldn´t be exactly a good choice when going to town. LEOs can get picky and generate problems. However this could be managed, but falling down and being injured at 22 km far away home (oh, and there´s no cellphone coverage there)

So in my area, a dual-sport, as much as I like them is definitely NOT a good choice as a vehicle. Not at least in the rainy season though. 

Not for bugging out (too small and almost all of the roads are paved except the last 20 km, and under these conditions, knotty tires are not a good choice). Our bugging out process, if it can be called that was slow, painful and in stages, given the nature of the collapse itself. Family dynamics did not work as expected, and the situation was much more concerning than we initially thought, therefore our bugging out plan to our retreat was changed, and many debates were subject via telephone on this, with negative results.

The scenario we were prepared for never presented, and now I don´t think will ever happen…maybe some other scenarios, but not the one we predicted. Things have changed and there will be a solution to our problem soon. 

Back on topic, if you have the intention to go for a simple life, have a compound, and may need in your senior days some way to haul firewood, or plow your field or garden, a Quad would be a good choice provided you can get to your retreat, in just one trip from wherever you happen to be living when you need to bugout. Remember, bugging out is just a brief, short, period. The real-life change is after the bugout. And I speak from experience.

The vehicle (s) of your choice must be able to be functional for years or even decades after you arrive at your compound with as little maintenance as they can get, and keep as reliable as possible in this period.

If you´re younger, have no family or not living with you and live in a populated town, or a city, a motorcycle would be your vehicle to go to your retreat.

This is, if you truly believe that a fast evacuation will be needed if you calculate you need agility, go with a good brand dual-sport motorcycle. Remember, the negative side of a motorcycle is the total lack of protection. That´s why I recommend using some kind of body armor. It´s a good investment, and you’re go-to need it no matter what. 

Provided I would have to go to the town, with the actual rationing of only 15 liters of gasoline per week, my first choice is the quad.

While the quad is much more expensive to maintain (those tires are expensive as heck here, but nothing is cheap anymore) and the initial cost is much higher than a used dual-sport within the range of 250-500cc engines, but the safety while riding under heavy rain is a very strong point in favor, provided it is quite likely I ride with my kiddo.

As I said, everyone has a different configuration for the parameters that define their situation. 

My advice? Get them both if you can afford it. I´ve had two large motorcycles at the same time and got rid of one of them because maintenance was getting too expensive. Bad idea. (I should have divorced back then, instead. LOL). I would have multiplied my money now because good-sized motorcycles are selling well now in that economy with gasoline rationing.  

A major brand, I recently discovered, has been manufacturing a diesel quad, quite a good choice, I should add, for my particular case.  It’s like if a prepper would have designed that thing. I ran a search in the Venezuelan local eBay equivalent site and found engine parts. Great.

Oh, and I must say, even though Chinese manufacturers are not exactly my favorites regarding motor vehicles, I just found a diesel quad that deserves a closer look. It could result in a pleasant surprise. I´ve seen Chinese diesel engines with 20 years now, and they´re still running. This is not too rare, though: steel alloys for diesel engines are much stronger than those used for gasoline engines, because of the higher ratings needed for much more pressure, temperature, and vibration.

Modern gasoline engines are intended to save money to the manufacturers with reductions on both weight and size, and much weaker alloys are used, cutting corners here and there, in detriment of the overall quality of the engine.

This can’t happen in a diesel engine; therefore, it´s unlikely a diesel is going to suffer significant changes on time; and they are generally as reliable as the most trusty Japanese made engine (with the only exception of the H27 V6 Suzuki, it’s a piece of crap with design flaws never accepted by Suzuki and screwed me big time).

What I like most about diesels, is their behavior in our tropical weather. They just don´t care if it´s hot. I´m sure, as well, I could make a rig and use it to charge a battery rack if we suffer a sunlight scarcity some time. Or even put it to work with VWO. 

If you´ve made it this far in the article, maybe you´re wondering what happened to the side-by-side or UTV.

Got one? Fine, use it. I´m not considering it because my experience with it is zero, and can’t offer a sound, solid advice. Sorry about that. 

Editor’s Note: Matt and I have a Kawasaki Mule 4×4 Trans that has the ability to haul 1200 lbs total. It is excellent for working and getting around our property. Its top speed is about 25 miles per hour though so not a great option for those that want something fast. You also have the option of operating it in short bed or long bed mode depending on how many people you need seats for. There are seat belts for up to 4 people. -Samantha

I know from experience that quad can be dangerous even for careful riders.

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Always wear as much personal protection as you can afford when riding any kind of ATV. But just learn what this colleague (yes, he´s an engineer too) has to say about how many times his Quad has paid itself.

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6 Responses to “Bug Out ATV Vs. Motorcycle For Long Emergencies: Lessons From Venezuela”

  1. Very good article. A two track footprint makes more sense than a three (trike) or 4 wheeled (quad) just to be able to squeeze through tight spaces (under chain link / barbed wire fence, between two vehicles or building hallway as examples). Hiding the two track would also be easier. Four stroke engine (to avoid having to pre-mix oil and much quieter than the two stroke as well). Hooded headlights, remove and/or incapacitate the tail lights. To me, much better to run in the West due to more open public land space.

    Thanks for the article.

    • You´re welcome, buddy. Good to hear that. Much more to come. I´m on the track of a beaten Africa Twin to rebuild. Maybe start making some kits made with my CNC, like for panniers and such, in the future, for this and other bikes.
      Stay tuned!

  2. Another possible choice would be a Rokon Trailbreaker. This is also sometimes called a moto tractor and is a two wheel drive motorcycle with atv tires. Very dependable but with only a top speed of about 40 mph three gears. You do have to stop to change gears.

    • Dear Michael,
      Yes, you´re right. However my experience with driving in snow is nonexistent, and this bike seems designed to be outstanding on that terrain. It would be destined to off-road only, though. An enduro with good tires is quite versatile, but won´t compete with the wide track of the Rokon. Everyone´s needs are different, and that´s why the suggestion is to establish first such needs, and proceed to select a vehicle able to fill in the most requirements possible. I will make available to my patreons, though, an engineering tool we use to make choices, called a “decision taking tree”, to accelerate the process. It´s going to be an interesting exercise.
      Be safe!

  3. I would vote for the quad. I am 73 and my motorcycle days passed a few years back. Plus the quad is much more useful around the homestead. I don’t plan on bugging out so my needs for speed are not great. If the need to go into town, 6 miles, arose the quad would get me there and back better than a motorcycle.

    • Way to go, Pops! I´m happy to hear that. Anyone over 60 still behind some handlebars have my respects. I´m much further away from town, and there is a quite hazardous hill to climb up (or get down) with lots of victims there. There was a time that dang morons spilled oil to make semitrucks to have accidents and loot the food. I can´t imagine to go down that hill with my kiddo in a dirt bike. That´s why I´d prefer a quad, mostly.

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