man going fast on atv

How To Make Your ATV Faster – 8 Tips That [Really] Help

So you’ve been getting out there on the trails and you’ve been practicing your technique. You’ve got the fundamentals down and you feel that, strategically, you’re a better rider than you were just a few months back.

But now something is different.

Maybe you’ve been considering entering into a race and you want to make sure you’re ATV is optimized to handle and respond to you and the track as best as possible.

Or maybe you’ve already had your hand at a few races, you’ve performed well, but want to keep the level of competition high so you’re considering a more advanced race.

Whatever the reason may be, you’re looking to make your ATV faster and better. Here are a few things you can do by spending relatively little money (in some cases, no money) on your existing quad. I’ll also share some upgrades you can add that are game changers guaranteed to increase the torque, improve acceleration, maximize top-end speed, and ultimately improve your over-all race time.

Have you ever heard the old saying: “small hinges swing big doors”? In this case, it’s absolutely true. Individually, these small changes might not win you the race (though they could) but collectively, they can create a large margin between you (1st place) and the losers.

In no particular order:

1) Air Filter

I’ve talked about air filters before in my previous post about properly maintaining your quad. It’s vital to the performance of your quad that you keep your air filter free from impurities. This could include mud, dirt, rocks, twigs, and even bugs.

You should make it a requirement, and good practice, to check your air filter before every single race you participate in. Remember that the purpose of an air filter is to maximize the amount of air that goes into the combustion chamber of the engine. When the air-flow is restricted, the amount of gas that gets drawn in will also be minimized. This translates into less combustion and less power (not good).

When it comes to performance, racers sware by K&N filters since they let in the most amount of air into the engine. The price can change at any time but you can see what Amazon has them going for here. Simply adjust the search for your quad.

2) Performance Nerf Bars

This might seem like something for an amateur, but they are essential for MX. There are only a few accessories that you can bolt on that would benefit you as much as a good set of nerf bars with the heel guards on them.

Nerf bars provide your legs and feet with extra protection and they are comfortable and provide more surface are for your feet to grip onto. They prevent your feet from accidentally hitting the ground, getting caught between your tires and keep other riders from having their tires get caught up with your own.

It’s extremely easy for you to lose your footing when coming off of a hard landing or when throwing your weight into a turn, nerf bars provide that extra area to keep your feet planted and firmly where they should be but they also give you the confidence to shift weight when necessary.

Because of their light weight and effectiveness, nerf bars are very high in popularity. Of all the motocross bars I’ve seen, and from talking to other riders, the brand that sticks out is Tusk Nerf Bars. Theirs are made out of 1 3/8” alloy tubes and carry some meaty heel guards on them. You can locate them on Amazon, simply specify your make and model for the exact one you’ll need.

3) Brakes

So you might be wondering how brake pads can make you go faster and the answer is that they can’t!

Well that was pointless, you say. Well, not really.

On some models, new OEM brake pads will not last long races or trail rides. Unfortunately, it’s the sad truth. New brake pads designed for MX use not only help you stop suddenly, but they also keep you from bumping and checking into other racers.

There are two main types of after market brakes pads you can purchase:

Organic pads – are created through the use of several materials such as glass, rubbers, resins and Kevlar, which can sustain high heats. These organic materials won’t pollute the environment as they wear and are easy to dispose of.

Before organic pads were around, brake pads used to be made of asbestos which were very resistant to heat and pressure, but as asbestos breaks down, it has been proven to be very harmful to our bodies. Brake pads release a tremendous amount of dust when they are used to quickly stop vehicles traveling at high speeds and for this reason, the use of asbestos as brake pads are no longer used.

Organic pads not only provide a much softer stop, but they are quieter, last longer and don’t release as much dust. These are usually used on smaller quads and ones that don’t need to stop all of a sudden, such as utility vehicles.

Sintered pads – by far the most popular type of pad on the market and the most likely to come stock on your vehicle. These pads are the longest lasting pads available to racers and are made by fusing together different metallic compounds that are all heated under high amounts of pressure. This results in a pad that is extremely resistant to friction.

These brake pads are the most common for racers because of their ability to withstand the most heat, but it also reduces warm up times and produces a strong braking “bite” right away. Because of their genetic makeup, sinter pads perform well under nearly all weather conditions including rain, snow and mud.

One drawback, however, is that the bite can ultimately wear on your rotors, so you should have your brakes inspected frequently just to make sure your rotors are functioning properly.

4) Tires/tire pressure

This is one that is so often overlooked but so incredibly important. In MX racing, sometimes races are won by less than a second, and that second can be determined by your tire pressure and the kind of tire you have on your quad.

Tire pressure – affects traction, handling and the ride quality of your atv. It is critical that you check your tire pressure before every single race and make sure that it is within the manufacturer’s specified pressure range.

Adding in a couple more pounds of recommended pressure won’t hurt but anything more than that and your ride will be very stiff without any added benefits. On the other hand, going too low on the air pressure will put extra strain on the wheel base and can pinch a sidewall. Not only will that instantly cost you the race, but it can cause you to roll over and injure yourself.

If you’re a rider that is harder on your turns then you will benefit from a slightly firmer tire that will allow you to drift into your turns and will deflect off of objects such as rocks, tree branches and pot holes. Whether you decide to leave the pressure on the light side, or gently over inflate them, you should always make sure to have the same pressure on both sides. Not doing so can cause your quad to respond unpredictably and could lead to injury.

Tires – this one is a bit trickier since tires are dependent on the terrain you’ll be riding on, and although we can silo them off into different categories, to make things easy we’ll consider all terrain tires for your racing needs. The main difference between all of these boils down to the tread of the tire.

Good all terrain racing tires need to allow as much surface area of the tire to make contact with the ground while still allowing them to clean themselves out. Getting a tire that does this will give you the most grip and responsiveness while racing.

Rear tires should have a staggered pattern to them, this ensures maximum contact with the ground while simultaneously giving you control and comfort. This staggering of the tread will also keep the tires free of mud and debris and help to prevent hydroplaning while on the tracks.

Front tires, on the contrary, are not constructed the same way. They contain a tread that runs straight down the center of the tire and acts as a blade or knife to deliver precise steering. Though you want some treat toward the sidewall of the tire, it shouldn’t be nearly as pronounced as on the rear tires.

5) Shocks/suspension

Arguably the most important component that determines the outcome of your race, is its suspension system. Nearly all quads offer some level of suspension adjustability and many offer preload adjustment.

What is preload? To get technical, it is the distance a spring is compressed from it’s free length as it’s installed with the suspension fully extended.

So what does that even mean? Well, first off, on most sport quads, this will be the only means of compression adjustment. The premise is that the more pressure you apply to the spring, the closer the shock is to reaching its maximum compression, therefore resulting in a stiff suspension. Conversely, reducing the spring pressure implies that the spring is returning to its free length (natural length without any pressure being applied) and your ride will be much more plush.

Most racers are quick to jump into a nice set of shocks without ever even attempting to adjust their stock suspension. Adjusting the ones you already have to a setting that works well for you can make a huge difference in the outcome of your race. Although there are certainly better suspension systems than the ones that came factory installed on your quad, don’t be quick to disregard them either.

So how do you adjust the preload on your quad? Well many come with a collar and several slots, turning the slots to the right increases the preload (stiffer ride) and turning it to the left decreases the preload (plusher ride).

6) Change gear ratio

Also known as changing the sprockets and refers to the size of the front and rear sprocket in relation to each other. In other words, it is the amount of times your front sprocket will rotate per every complete revolution your rear sprocket makes.

If you are familiar with the way gears on a bicycle work then this should relate to you easily since gears on a quad function using the same exact principle.

Example: if you have a 15 tooth sprocket in the front and a 39 tooth sprocket in the rear then the gear ratio would look like this:

39 / 15 = 2.60

In other words, the front sprocket would 2.60 cycles per every complete cycle made by the rear sprocket.

Ok that’s great, but what does that do for me, you ask?

Well you’ll often hear people talking about two different scenarios: gearing down and gearing up.

Gearing down – means either adding teeth to your rear sprocket or taking teeth away from your front sprocket. Gearing down results in more acceleration but it comes at a price of lower top end speed. If you are someone who does more technical riding, or more stop and go riding then this may work for you.

Gearing up – means either taking away teeth from the rear sprocket or adding teeth to the front sprocket. Gearing up results in higher top end speeds but comes at a cost of poorer acceleration. This works for riders who like to go very fast and tends to do well for desert riders as well.

Keep in mind that changes to your gear sprockets should be done so gradually and it is recommended not to change the rear sprockets by more than 1-4 teeth at a time, likewise, you should not change the front sprocket by more than one tooth at a time because changing teeth in the front cause much more drastic changes to your quad.

As a guide, ratios in the mid 1’s will give you high top end speed and poor acceleration while ratios in the mid 5’s will have amazing out of the gate acceleration but your top end speeds will suffer.

See the chart below as a visual reference.

chart for gear ratios

7) Camber, toe and caster adjustment

Alignment on your ATV is extremely important and professional MX racers devote a lot of time and many trial runs to finding the sweet spot on their alignment. There are a few items you’ll want to take note of when testing the overall alignment:

Camber – refers to the amount of degrees that your tires and wheels are either tilted inwards or outwards at the top of the tire in relation to the bottom of the tire. When a tire is tilted in at the top and protrudes outward at the bottom is said to have negative camber. The opposite holds true for a positive camber, the top is tilted outward while the bottom of the tire is drawn inward toward the center of the vehicle.

So why apply any type of camber to your tires in the first place? Well, your tire’s best performance comes when it has the most traction on the ground. This happens when as much of the tread is in contact with the ground at any given point in time. As your quad enters a corner, centrifugal forces naturally cause positive camber. To ensure that the tires have as much traction as possible, we make sure that maximum tread is always on the ground, so camber is normally purposely set with a slight negative position. How much negative camber you choose to adjust depends on the particular terrain you plan to ride on and the amount of travel your suspension has.

Caster – the angle to which the steering pivot axis is tilted forward or rearward from vertical, as viewed from the side. If the pivot axis is tilted backward (top pivot is positioned further rearward than the bottom pivot) the caster is positive but if it is tilted forward, on the other hand, then the caster is negative. Positive caster will straighten the wheel.

Recommended positive caster for motocross racers is between 5-7 degrees and recommended negative caster for motocross racers is between 1-3 degrees.

Toe – is a relative term referring to the measure of the front edge of the tires compared to the back end of the tires. Toe-out means that the front of the tires point out, and conversely, toe-in means that the front of the tires point inward. Settings can vary but usual recommendations are ¼ inch toe-in.

8) Fuel upgrades

Anything that runs on gasoline, whether it’s a lawn mower, a weed wacker, a dirt bike, car or ATV, will perform better using higher quality, higher octane gasoline.

Gasoline with a higher octane gas burn more efficiently, have more explosive power and are more fuel efficient (not that you would have to worry about that on ATVs) and have the ability to create even the smallest of time gaps between you and your closest opponent that you can capitalize on.

Also, consider adding some race gasoline which can be safer than gas found at the pump. Although race gasoline isn’t as environmentally friendly, you usually won’t get the additives that fueling stations add. The lead will also act as a lubing agent, it causes the engine to run slightly cooler, and will prevent detonation from occurring.

Upgrades that truly make your ATV faster
Exhaust system

Upgrading the exhaust system on your quad is usually a very cost efficient investment when it comes to your quad. There are several reasons why exhaust systems get upgraded, in addition to the extra horsepower and torque, you also get something that is esthetically pleasing to look at and also sounds cool.

But why upgrade the exhaust?

Well, to answer this we have to consider an effect called backpressure. In its defined form it is the pressure opposed to the desired flow of gases in confined places such as a pipe.

In layman’s terms, backpressure makes it hard for exhaust fumes to cylinder and it robs your engine of potential power. As the cylinder valves open and close during their normal cycle, the pressure inside the cylinder is much greater than the pressure outside the cylinder causing the air to naturally flow from inside to out (high pressure to low pressure). The air/exhaust that is flowing through the pipes creates pressure going back towards the valves.

Naturally air can escape the cylinder (through the valves) when there is a greater difference in pressure from inside vs outside. This allows more gas to come through to be combusted. If the air is not flowing out of the engine because of stabilizing pressure, then horsepower is greatly decreased. The solution is to increase the diameter of the exhaust pipes to decrease the backpressure.

This can be accomplished in a couple of ways:

ATV exhaust slip-ons for racing – a slip on exhaust is only part of the full exhaust system. In this case, the exhaust pipes get reused all the way from the cylinder head to the muffler.

The reason slip-ons work is because they have carry less baffles than the stock muffler comes with. Baffles are silencers of sound and reduce the amount of noise created by the engine. Not only do they silence the sound but they create less backpressure and are lighter than the OEM muffler, which helps with weight distribution.

Full ATV exhaust systems for racing – upgrading to a slip on exhaust only address half of the exhaust equation and usually produces between 1-5 extra horsepower. To generate more horsepower, you would also want to replace the pipes traveling from the cylinder head to the muffler. This will produce the same advantages as the slip-on muffler, but will also reduce the overall backpressure within the entire system, all while looking and sounding great. There are very few upgrades that can mirror the aesthetic and performance effects at the same time like a new exhaust system can.  If you’re looking to give your ATV more torque and horsepower, then consider installing a new exhaust system which you can do for a reasonable price.

ATV bore kits

If you’re ready to take power boosting to the next level then consider purchasing a bore kit which is sure to increase horsepower and torque to your quad! A big bore kit produces more horsepower and torque by increasing the surface area on top of the piston which draws in a larger volume of air/fuel mixture. When the air and fuel mixture within the cylinder combusts, the force being exerted downward onto the piston is greater, which in turn produces more power that ultimately gets transferred to the wheels of your ATV. An increase in bore size translates into an increase in engine displacement.

A new bore kit is essentially a rebuild of the top end of your quad, and includes a new cylinder, piston, head and gaskets and also comes with all the bolts, clips, washer and o-rings you need for reconstruction of the top end.

The kit comes with everything you would need to completely replace the top end of your machine. But keep in mind that bigger is not always better, with big bore kits, you do reach a saturation point where the bore gets too big for the length and loses RPMs (RPMs are directly proportional to horsepower and output).

Conclusion

So there you have it, you now have multiple adjustment points you can play with on your ATV to see how they affect the output, handling and maneuverability. Instead of adjusting several areas on your quad at the same time, I’d recommend adjusting and maximizing one key area first and seeing if it improves your overall performance. Once you’ve confirmed the best setting for you, then you can move on to the next potential area of improvement. Remember to be patient, many riders are constantly tweeking, adjusting and monitoring their changes and I’m sure you’ll find yourself doing the same – it’s actually really fun!