Off-Road Riding

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Off-road Riding: Understanding Liability & Requirements

Off-road motorcycle riding delivers an adrenaline rush very different than open roads. Minnesota State

Parks have some great off-road trails for motorcycles. If you're lucky, you, a buddy or family friend owns land suitable to off-road thrills. Whether you own land or intend to ride on someone else's, it's important to understand liability and who is accountable for safety and injuries.If you intend to ride your motorcycle at all, on Minnesota public or private land, you must carry insurance on it. Auto coverage is just that, coverage on your car or truck. And if you intend to ride without health insurance, one wipe out could create a mountain of medical bills and long term financial problems.


While property owners have insurance on their land and for their negligence, it's not going to cover you and your friends. Just because you get injured on someone's property does not necessarily mean they are responsible— you have to prove the property owner was at fault. Also, the doctrine of assumption of the risk will apply to your conduct.

Recreational Land Use

As long as an individual is not charging a fee for recreational use of their land, state law limits the property owner's liability in the case of accidents, injuries and damages.

"… an owner who gives written or oral permission for the use of land for recreational purposes without charge:

  • Owes no duty of care to render or maintain the land safe for entry or use by other persons
  • Owes no duty to warn those persons of any dangerous condition on the land, whether
  • Owes no duty of care toward those persons except to refrain from willfully taking action to
  • Owes not duty to curtail use of the land during its use for recreational purpose."

In offering free, recreational use, the owner may post signage in everyday language indicating that he /she assumes no liability for injuries or damage to equipment. In doing so, the owner isn't being a jerk and isn't bluffing.

Minnesota law further stands by the land owner, defining recreational use to include, "hunting, trapping, fishing, bicycling, skiing, horseback riding, snowmobile riding and motorized trail riding."

"An owner who gives written or oral permission for the use of the land for recreational purposes without charge does not by that action:

  • Extend any assurance that the land is safe for any purpose; for recreational purpose; patent or latent; cause injury; and
  • Confer upon the person the legal status of an invitee or licensee to whom a duty of care is owed; or
  • Assume responsibility for or incur liability for injury to the person or property caused by an act or omission of the person."

Off–road Compliance

Once you decide you want to ride off-road, there is more to know. Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) offers a comprehensive booklet about regulations, definitions of off-road vehicles, state trails and usage. It's important to know the off-road safety requirements, which vary slightly from highway-use standards.

Off-highway motorcycles must be registered with the DNR, regardless of whether you intend to ride on public or private lands. Even if your motorcycle is licensed for highway/regular use, you need to have a dual DNR registration if you plan to ride it off-road. The DNR's requirements are pretty clear and available online and in a booklet form.

Rick's Bottom Line

Going off-road is a blast. Some land owners have even set up off road courses. Most require signing a waiver/release of liability, which Minnesota courts have upheld. A bill was introduced at the Legislature to limit these waivers/releases—but for now they're pretty iron clad. Don't construe off-road to be a vacation from knowing the law, exercising judgment with regard to weather and riding conditions and the operation of your motorcycle. Just understand that you are accountable for all your actions, injuries and damages. And finally, be a responsible guest.