meaning that you will eventually need to replace them. You can simply
replace them with the same stock tire, but what if you want a better
performing tire or what if the tire manufacturers have discontinued
that particular tire? You might also want to change the style and tread
pattern of your tire to better fit the terrain that you ride. If that
is the case for you, it is important to understand how different styles,
sizes and tire constructions can affect how your ATV will perform in
certain terrains. With the right knowledge, you can make an informed
decision when you purchase your next set of ATV tires.
- Trail (or all-terrain ATV tires) are the most common tread design that you will see, partly
because most ATV's come stock with trail tires. The reason for this is that they are extremely
versatile and can handle most terrains and situations fairly well. They also tend to last the
longest over all of the other styles. The downside of an all-terrain ATV tire is that they are
not designed to excel specifically in any one terrain. If you tend to do all of your riding in
one specific terrain, like just mud or just sand, a terrain specific tire is the way to go.
All-terrain ATV tires come in the widest variety of tread patterns. Some come with more squared
lugs, while other trail tires come with long lateral lugs. One common theme of trail tires is that
the lugs or treads are set close to each other, which creates a somewhat large contact patch.
The tread depth of trail tires generally ranges from a 1/2" to just under an inch. This depth of
tread combined with the large contact patch gives the trail tires a good amount of traction
with a smooth ride.
- ATV Mud tires are known for their aggressive looks and performance capabilities. Less
aggressive treaded mud tires can work well in a variety of conditions, with the exception of
hard-pack surfaces. More aggressive mud tires with tall lugs really only perform well in mud,
which is their biggest downfall. These aggressive mud tires should only be considered for an
ATV that will be ridden primarily in the mud pits. Often times, the ATV will need to be lifted
and fitted with wheel spacers or the offset of the wheel can be changed to accommodate the larger tire.
Larger mud tires tend to be on the heavy side and require more low-end power to properly
turn them through the mud. The added weight could also add more stress to the differentials,
CV joints, axles, hubs and wheel bearings.
The most important aspect of mud tires is their tread pattern and lug depth. The lugs are
generally longer laterally with a tread depth anywhere from 1" to 2" and above. The long and
tall lugs act as paddles to get the best traction in the soft mud. To be able to slice through
the mud, the tread pattern is usually directional. The lugs are spaced much further apart
compared to trail tires. This is done so that the mud will not get stuck between the lugs
and as the wheel spins, it will clean itself by spinning off the mud. On many mud tires,
there are additional lugs on the shoulder of the tire to help grip the sides of the ruts.
This tread pattern may work great in the mud, but it will make for a rough ride with less
than optimal handling on any harder terrain.
- Many trail and mud tires work fine in the snow, but an actual ATV snow tire is
designed specifically to get the best traction in the snow. There are two main designs
for ATV snow tires, both of which are like a combination of other tire styles. The first
has shorter lugs in the shape of a trail tire, but the spacing of a mud tire. The second
has the pattern of a trail or mud tire, but the lugs are very thin like a dune tire,
just shorter. Both types have their own advantages. The flat lugs of the first style
allow you to add studs (some tires are even pre-drilled for studs) for more traction
in icy conditions. The second style will paddle through more powdery snow and works
great for play on a sport ATV. Both styles feature wide spacing between tread so the
snow can be cleared away easily as the tire spins.
- ATV race tires are purpose built to get the most traction possible on motocross
style terrain. These tires need to be durable to be able to handle the abuse of a
race from start to finish. They are usually constructed with a harder compound to
get the most bite, with little give. While ATV motocross tires excel on medium-
and hard-pack terrains, they are a poor choice for softer terrains like sand, mud
and snow because of the shorter tread depth.
Racing tires for ATV's feature a knobby tread design that runs vertically and
horizontally. The knobby lugs are very stiff and have tread depth of 1/2" or less.
They are also very square in shape, which allows them to be able to bite in every
direction. The spacing between lugs is fairly close together to create a large
contact patch, which aids in acceleration. This setup is perfect for the harder
terrain of a motocross track or on hard-packed trails.
- Sand tires for ATV's are the most specialized tires available and
really shouldn't be used in any other terrain. While they may not be good for
anything other than sand, you won't want to go to the dunes without them.
These paddle style tires will get you the traction and flotation that you
need to get through the dunes.
Rear ATV sand tires are also known as paddle tires and for good reason.
Instead of a typical lug tread, dune tires have long ridges that run across
the entirety of the tire that work as paddles in the sand. These paddles
are usually over an inch long and are spaced extremely far apart. Front
sand tires have a different tread pattern. They are mostly slick with one
or two ridges raised in the center that run all of the way around the tire.
They are designed this way to aid in steering. Without the ridges in the center,
the tires would not be able get enough bite in the sand to make immediate turns.
- ATV turf saver tires are specially made for lawns, turf
and pavement. Any other form of ATV tire will tear up turf, because they are
designed for maximum traction in dirt. Turf saver tires very much resemble
lawn mower tires, or even car tires. The tread is very tightly spaced to
provide a very smooth ride on flat, solid surfaces. The depth of the tread
is also very minimal so as it will not dig or bite into the turf. This tread
design will last much longer on these harder surfaces due to its flat and
closely spaced tread. Turf saver tires are the best choice on hard surfaces,
but they are a poor choice for any other terrain as they will not provide
For many years, bias-ply tires were the only offering in the ATV world.
Recently, that has changed with more and more brands producing radial ATV tires.
Both styles have their own advantages and disadvantages. Deciding between the
two comes down to the rider's personal preferences and riding styles. To make
the choice, it's important to understand how each is constructed and how the
construction will affect the ride and performance.
- In the past, the ply rating of a tire was the actual number
of plies that were bonded together to construct the carcass of the tire.
With the advancement in the materials used to construct tires, manufacturers
now do not need to use as many plies. Because of this, ATV tires are
giving a ply rating, which is determined on the strength. A modern
6-ply tire might not actually be 6-plies, but rather only 2 or 3.
Bias-ply tires get their name from the way that they are constructed.
Each ply is laid at a bias (diagonal) from bead to bead, with the next
ply being laid over the top in the opposite direction, which creates a
Bias-ply ATV tires tend to be more durable than radials. The sidewalls
are very tough and resist punctures well. Bias tires also seem to get
better traction because of their stiff construction. Bias ATV tires
work well in side-hill riding because the sidewalls flex very little
and resist rolling. This makes them a very popular choice for riders
who like to take their machines through very rough terrain. On the
downside, the stiff construction makes for a rougher ride compared
to radials and they tend to heat up faster as well.
- Radial tires are constructed by laying plies down perpendicular
(90 degrees) to the direction of travel or the center of the tread. These
plies run from bead to bead, over the face and down the sidewall of the tire,
which creates a wrapping effect. Some tires are then finished off with some
sort of belt (usually steel), which helps stabilize the tire and reduces wear.
For most radial tires, the sidewalls remain thin and weaker compared to bias tires.
Some manufacturers are reinforcing the sidewall construction with strong materials
More and more riders and switching to radial ATV tires because they provide a
very smooth ride and the tread does not wear as quickly as it would on bias tires.
The softer sidewalls act as a "spring" to help absorb the bumps. They also allow
the tire to flex on corners, which keeps more of the tread on the riding surface
and results in more traction. Belted radial tires distribute the weight of the
machine very evenly throughout the tread. This keeps the heat generated very low
and helps prolong the life of the tire tread. Though the weaker sidewalls provide
a smoother ride, they also make the tire more susceptible to punctures. Radial
ATV tires cannot be aired down because they rely on the air to ride on, whereas
bias-ply tires can run on low pressure due to their thick sidewalls.
When choosing the ATV tire size, it is always a good idea to stay with stock,
especially if you have not made any modifications to the wheeler. The manufacturers
choose the stock tire size to work in harmony with how the ATV is set up. This
includes the horsepower, torque, gearing, handling and body. A dramatic change
in tire size can throw these things out of balance, which in turn could lead to
less desirable performance or even equipment failure due to the extra stress created.
If you do want to go with bigger tires, most manufacturers leave enough clearance
for a tire that is 1" larger than stock. Anything larger, and you will need to
modify your ATV to accommodate the extra height and weight. Conversely, you need
to be careful when choosing a smaller tire. The smaller diameter will increase
the RPM, which could over-rev the engine and over-work the transmission.
If you are not sure what the stock size tire of your ATV is, you can use the
Dennis Kirk tire finder to pull up all of the tires that will fit your make and
Most casual riders do not pay attention to whether their ATV tires are rounded
or flat. This seems like a non-issue to these riders, and for the most part it is.
If, though, you want the best performing tire for your type of riding, the shape
of the tire should be considered. A simple breakdown places round tires with
soft terrain and flat tires with medium- to hard-packed terrain. Utility and
all-purpose ATV's usually benefit from rounded tires, while sport and racing
quads benefit from flat tires.