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ATV and UTV Tire Buyer's Guide

>> Ashley Benson


All Terrain Vehicles, most commonly referred to as ATV's, and Utility Terrain Vehicles (UTV's) are some of the most versatile vehicles. For this reason, they seem to be growing rapidly in popularity. People with scenic ADD find that they can get their fill of different terrains and riding styles all with one vehicle. Just a quick switch of the tires and you can go from the MX track to the dunes without having to drop your hard earned clams on a whole new ride. This means that your tires have a huge impact on how your ATV and UTV rides. Having the wrong tires on in the wrong terrain can end in disaster for not only the tires but for you as well so it's important to know what type of tires are best for the riding you're going to be doing. Both ATV's and UTV's tend to be found in similar terrains and happen to use the same tires so this guide can be used for both type of vehicle.

Tire Types

There are a few main types of tires that are most commonly used for certain types of terrain riding. Each tire has characteristics that make it best in particular environments. There are, however, specialized tires that can be bought for quite a pretty penny and are designed to ride well in the various terrains you ride but most people can't afford to shell out their cost and so they stick to these main tire types:

All Terrain (or Trail)

All terrain tires are made to be good in (just as the name implies) all terrains. Confusing, we know. These tires are great for the person who wants to hit up every type of riding without having to switch up their tires. Sound too good to be true? It is. As convenient as these puppies are, they're not specialized in any way. So while you can use them everywhere, they're not really great anywhere. You may gain versatility but you lose the characteristics that each tire that is made specific to a terrain has to make it best in that environment. Because of this, even individual all-terrain tires tend to be designed to lean more toward one category or another so be sure to get one that favors the riding you think you will be doing most. This will allow you to ride in varying terrain while still getting some of the advantages you'll want for the more specialized terrains you'll be riding in more often.

Mud

ATV mud tires are great for sloshy terrain. Whether it's a muggy mud puddle or sticky snow, these tires are made specifically for wet and sloppy terrain. Mud tires are meant to plow through the muck and typically have an irregular and wide-spaced and deep tread for better grip. Though it is possible to use mud tires in other soft terrain types, mud tires are extremely uncomfortable in any kind of hard pack or rocky terrain. If used on them, the tires will be subject to much harder wear and damage and your ATV will also be harder to handle.

Sand

We all follow the call of the golden sands of the dunes at some time or another. Afterwards, you realize two things: the sand really does get everywhere and having sand tires is the difference between making it all the way up the dune or sliding aimlessly down the side. Also called paddle tires because of paddle like ridges on the back tires. Because these ridges do such a great job keeping the ATV stable in sand riding, it's common for people to mount the front with tires that have just a few simple ribs rather than the paddles. However, just like mud tires, sand tires are hardly good for anything else.


Racing

Ok, you're more competitive than recreational and sliding through mud puddles or hills of sand just doesn't seem to scratch that racing itch. We get it. Which means you're going to be spending most of your time doing laps on a medium to hard pack terrain. This eliminates the need for tires with massive ridges and, instead, require a more specialized suggestion. Racing tires come in a wide variety of tread patterns and compounds that are each designed for a particular type of track. A skilled racer will know exactly how each of these differences will affect their ride and pair the tire to the specific track that they'll be on. In ATV racing, the tire is a very important thing to be aware of.

Maintenance

No matter what type of tire you end up putting on your ATV, each and every tire requires a certain amount of maintenance to perform at its best, remain safe and live longer. Ignoring regular maintenance can cause undue wear and tear on your tires and will force you to replace them sooner than need be. Since tires aren't exactly the cheapest thing in the world, changing them as little as possible can allow you to be able to afford to ride more often. Most hardcore racers also know that proper tire maintenance can affect how well they ride and possibly be the difference between coming in first or coming in second.

Before each time you ride, we recommend that you inspect all of your tires to make sure that there are no cracks, punctures or damage to the sidewall or tread. Damaged tires have a tendency to fail which could leave you stranded in nothing but sand hills or mud puddles at which point we really hope you have a radio to call for backup. You'll find that you'll have little to no bad days due to tire mayhem if you just take a quick look before hopping on your ATV. Also check the valve stems and valve cores for leakage or damage. Damaged valves can allow for necessary air pressure to make a run for it, leaving your tire under inflated. Objects that have become lodged in the sidewall or tread can also affect how your tires perform and should be removed.

It's important to remember that how you ride affects your tires. Having a heavy foot when accelerating or slamming on your breaks will cause more wear and tear. If you're looking to extend the life of your rubber, take it easy on your riding.

Just as with any other type of vehicle tire, it's paramount to have the right amount of pressure in your tire. Along with checking for damage or foreign objects, check your tire pressure with a pressure guage like this Motion Pro Professional Tire Pressure Guage before every time you ride and often throughout your ride. Having the incorrect tire pressure can cause your tires to wear at an accelerated rate or even fail as well as cause your ATV to handle oddly. Driving with an over inflated tire will cause you to lose traction and will puncture more easily because they don't have enough give when going over sharp objects. If one of your tires is more under inflated than the others, you will find that your ATV will pull to one side. Under inflated tires can also result in premature wear, poor handling, fatigue or sidewall cracking. Still need another reason to make sure your tire pressure is right where it should be? We hope not, but just in case: having the right tire pressure will also help you get the best gas mileage out of your vehicle.

In order to find the right pressure for your tires it is best to check with your vehicle's manufacturer or owner's manual. The tire will have a PSI listed on its sidewall but this pressure is not always what is best for your particular ATV.

When mounting a new tire onto your ATV, take it easy at first. We know you'll want to dive right in and test out your new digs but they'll handle differently than the old ones. Take a moment to get a feel for how they handle before doing any extreme cornering, braking or accelerating.

Switching it up

When buying new ATV tires, many people feel the need to jack up their ride with bigger tires. But bigger is not always better. Putting tires on your ATV that are bigger than it can handle can result in the tire rubbing on your fenders as well as a larger turning radius depending on the condition of your shocks, the weight of the rider, the riding style and so on. Typically, any tire bigger than 28" will need to be installed with a lift kit.

Before moving up to bigger tires, know your current tire size or the tire size that came stock. You can either find this in your owner's manual or on the sidewall of your tire. When looking at the sidewall, the size of your tire will read as a number like 25x8-12 where 25 is the overall height of the tire, 8 is the overall width of the tire and 12 is the rim diameter. On radial tires you may see the dash replaced by the letter "R" for "radial."

If you haven't already bumped your tires up to a bigger size from the size your ATV came stock with, you will probably be safe to move a single size larger. Otherwise, check with your vehicle's manufacturer or owner's manual to see what size tires your ATV will allow. It's always better to be safe than sorry and putting on new tires only to realize that they're too big can not only be annoying but be costly as well.

Ply Rating

While you were looking at the sidewall of your tires to check their size, you may have noticed stars molded into it. No, this is not a rating to tell you how good your tire is so don't have a fit if the sales guy told you they were the best and your tires only have two stars. This marking is to indicate the ply rating of the tires. Each star represents two ply so if your tire has only two stars then your tire's ply rating will be four. This rating indicates the "ply" constitution of the tire. Back in the day, tires were literally made of ply and the more sheets of ply that were used, the tougher the tire would be. Though most modern tires no longer are made of ply, the higher the rating: the stronger the tire. This gives the tire a higher load carrying capacity and also makes it better for rocky conditions as it will withstand being punctured better.

Tread

You'll also find that when you buy new tires you can change up the width of the tread as well as the height of the diameter. Changing each of these things can have advantages or disadvantages depending on the type of riding you will be doing. If you decide to change up your tread from the tread that came stock, you can go two ways: wider tread or narrower tread. Putting a wider tread on your vehicle, like the tread on the top-left, will increase your cornering traction and give you better handling on your acceleration and braking in some terrains. However, these tires usually require more steering effort and cause more stress on suspension components. Going with a more narrow tread, such as the tread on the bottom-left, will be easier to steer and give you a better grip in soft terrain such as mud or snow. Unfortunately, these fall short on hard surfaces and have a tendency to follow ruts.

Height

Changing the diameter, or height, of your tire can also have some advantages and disadvantages. Moving down to a smaller diameter will lower your center of gravity and ground clearance which will make you less likely to tip in tight turns but will make you more likely to high center in rough terrain. A Smaller Diameter will also allow you to accelerate at a faster rate but will have a negative effect on your top speed. Mounting a tire with a larger diameter will have the opposite effect. These tires will raise the center of gravity and make it easier to tip your ATV but will also allow for better ground clearance. Tires with a larger diameter will have a higher top speed but will accelerate slower and also put more strain on the drivetrain and brakes. Depending on the type of riding that you are doing, getting a smaller or larger tire can either have great benefits or be absolutely ludicrous.

While shopping for new tires, you may also see that the aspect ratio, also known as the sidewall height, can vary as well. Just as with all other characteristics of your tire, differences in the height of your sidewall can either be a help or a hindrance. For instance, having a taller sidewall will have a better ride and be easier to control in rough, low-speed terrain. But the more sidewall there is, the more sidewall area is prone to punctures. A shorter sidewall will require a taller wheel as well in order to maintain ground clearance. And while these will be harder to handle in rough terrain, they will be more stable at high speeds.

Profile

There are two types of ATV tire profiles that you should know as well. Depending on what you will be using your ATV for, you may have either a tire with a flat profile or a tire with a round profile. Tires with flat profiles, such as this ITP Terracross R/T XD ATV Tire seen on the top-right, have stiffer sidewalls and are typically found in ATV racing. Having a flat profile allows for the tire to handle better at high speeds on medium or hard terrain and makes sliding during sharp cornering more predictable. A tire with a rounder profile, like this ITP Quadcross XC ATV Tire on the bottom-right, is more likely to be found on utility and 4x4 ATVs. These tires offer better traction in softer surfaces such as snow or mud but have to be ridden at lower speeds.

Knowing what kind of riding you will be doing is important to allow you to pick the best tires for you. And while more specialized tires will be more expensive, the pay off that they will give you in quality of handling and ride in a particular terrain will be worth it. And with so many different brands, styles and sizes that you could buy, more research on what to buy never hurts so study up!




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