atv tire guide

ATV Tire Buying Guide: Everything You Need To Know

There is no better replacement of a stock part than a tire and it’s by far the best bang for the buck. Having a new set of tires provides a cushion of safety for the next 70,000-100,000 miles of the ATV’s life. New tires also bring in increased performance, more power your ATV puts on the ground, the distance you cover before coming to a stop or the speed at which you can enter a corner all depend on the quality of your tires. Likewise, new tires also promise better gas mileage. Having a set of worn out tires with uneven tread pattern makes your ATV work harder than it should.  Why force your quad to perform worse when new tires provide a better driving experience and outperform old tires in different road and weather conditions.

How often should you check the tread on your ATV tires and how do you know when to replace them?

Usually, tire manufacturers will provide you with an estimated amount of time and distance that the tire will be good for. It is important that you are aware of the manufacturer’s recommendation and keep a close eye on the tire tread, especially when you approach the recommended mileage limit.

It is advisable to inspect your ATV tires at least once a month or whenever you intend to cover a longer distance. Look for excessive or uneven tread wear, tread separation, nails, bulges on the sidewalls or tread, stones or glass embedded in the treads and signs of tire puncture.

The first sign becomes evident while negotiating corners. You’ll notice that a cornering that gripped extremely well just a short while ago now slides out from underneath your ATV giving you slight tail-spin. It’s possible that you could even roll your 4 wheeler depending on how sharp the corner is. Because of this, you really should perform routine maintenance before and after every ride. If you notice that your tires are discolored, cracked, or if the rubber is dry with rounded down knobs, then you’ll need to invest in new ones. That said, let me walk you through the guidelines on how to select the best possible tire for your ATV.

Sizing (Width, Height, and Sidewall Height)

Tires have a lot of information on their sidewalls, and unfortunately, if you’re new to tires then the information might as well be written in Latin. Here is an example of what you can expect to see on a tire sidewall:

 

atv tire sidewall

This example has 120/70/R17, let’s it break down;

The first number, 120, is the width of the tire in millimeters which can also be converted to inches by dividing it by 25.4. This is obtained by measuring in a straight line through the tire from the edge of the tire’s tread to the other.

The second number, 70, is a little bit difficult to understand. This designates the aspect ratio between the tires width and its height and it is expressed as a percentage, in this case, it’s 70% of 120mm. This is measured when the tire is mounted and inflated to the recommended air pressure. The higher the aspect ratio, the taller the tire.

R stands for radial and it indicates that the tire uses radial construction.

The last number, 17, is the diameter of the rim that this tire will mount and it’s expressed in inches.

When replacing your ATV tires, we recommend that you do so with tires of equal, or as close to equal, height and width. Manufacturers invest a lot of resources towards coming up with the right tire sizes that will combine engine power, gearing, handling and component fitness before ATVs are released for sale. Here are some the advantages and disadvantages of using different tire sizes:

Smaller diameter tire – this reduces the overall speed and increases the engine RPM. A smaller tire diameter is sometimes chosen for quicker acceleration as opposed to higher top-end speeds.  Likewise, it increases the hole-shot speed while decreasing top end speed. Riding your ATV on too small of a tire causes stress on a number of components, for instance, the axels, transmission and engine, and this is due to the increased RPM of the tire. Smaller diameter tires are known to provide a firmer, but less flexible ride.

Larger diameter tire – riding a larger diameter tire increases the overall speed, decreases both the engine RPM and your hole shot speed and increases the top end speed. Installing too large of a tire on your ATV will also cause stress on a number of components, such as the axels, transmission and engine among others. This is as a result of the additional rolling mass and the decreased RPM of the tire. Additionally, large diameter tires tend to overheat the ATV’s engine since it now has to work extra hard to turn a larger and heavier tire. On the contrary, larger diameter tires provide softer and more flexible rides. Finally, due to the extra rolling mass, your ATV’s breaking efficiency is decreased.

Wider tire – riding on a wider tire increases the amount of tread pattern on the ground and therefore increasing traction, more so laterally. Conversely, wide tires increase the amount of rolling mass while reducing breaking efficiency thus stressing the drivetrain. Furthermore, selecting a tire that is too wide can cause problems with not only the suspension components but also the steering of your ATV. In other words, when you use wider tires, there are high chances of the suspension coming into contact with the parts of your ATV it shouldn’t.

Narrow tire – installing narrow tires will decrease the amount of tread pattern contacting the ground, which in most cases is not a good thing. There are some tire experts who argue that narrow tires, especially mud tires, are more effective compared to wider tires whereas some argue that narrow tires will sink through the mud and in the process contact terra firma below. Wide tires, on the other hand, will float and skip across land like soft goo.

Sidewall Height – until recently, most ATV’s have had tires with very tall sidewalls (made for small diameter rims). Tire manufacturers have recently started producing tires that will accept rims up to 12″ and 14″ in height. Like tire diameter and width, sidewall height has its pros and cons too.

Sidewall will determine the stiffness of the tire, how much it flexes, the comfort and the slice and puncture resistance of the tire. A short sidewall tire of the same overall tire height means that the rims size is also taller. This means greater ground clearance, especially if you’re running your tires at a decreased pressure (for greater traction). Also, a shorter sidewall will produce less flex than a taller one, which can be good or bad, depending on the type of off-roading you’ll be doing.

A taller sidewall tire will produce far more flex than a shorter one. Good for technical off-roading, but bad for high-speed, hard-packed course runs. Further, a taller sidewall is also more susceptible to punctures than a shorter sidewall.

One question I tend to see come up often is: can you mount a tire if the width of the tire is wider than the width of the rim? The short answer is yes. It’s possible to fit a wide tire onto a wheel that is too narrow for a proper fit. However, this causes the tire to distort a lot sideways during fast cornering. Likewise, you’ll experience rather a rough ride since the sidewalls have no enough curvature to make them flex over potholes and bumps, and in some cases, the tire could fall off the rim. Again, i urge you to always check the manufacturer specs for rim sizing.

What’s the bottom line on selecting tire size? I highly recommend that you select a tire that is close to the original equipment size. If you determine that you do want to change the size (width and/or height), try and strike a balance as best as possible, to reduce the risk of over-stressing your ATV’s drive train and suspension components.

Lastly, tread lugs on rocky terrain tires should come far down the sidewall – this is good in case you are in deep, rocky terrain so that the side wall provides extra traction and grip to keep your ATV moving

Tread Design

Choosing the right tires for your ATV is more or less like selecting a rental car for your family road trip. There are many different designs to choose from, and as much as most will get the job done, some designs work better than others. For instance, a run-off-the-mill all-terrain provides an excellent traction in the paved confines of suburbia but wouldn’t do the same at a local mud bog. That said, let’s look at the key variables in choosing the right tire based on the tread design, I’ll also point out which compounds work best on a given environment. ATV tires should be chosen based on the terrain you ride on, this because every tire is designed to grip land, water, mud, sand or snow in a different way to keep you propelling forward.

What type of terrain are you riding?

When buying ATV tires, you should always do so bearing in mind the type of terrain you’re riding. Finding the right ATV tire is like choosing a new pair of shoes.   There are many types of specific shoes in the market, all of them go on your feet, but they are all designed for different activities and functions!  Likewise, if you buy an extreme sand tire and then you go climbing a rocky terrain, it would be similar to wearing cleats on a basketball court.  You wouldn’t wear cleats on the court just like you wouldn’t want sandals for hiking.

The point is that there are different tires for different riding styles and environments, be honest with yourself when identifying the type of terrain you ride most then choose the ATV tires that best matches that terrain. If you’re unsure what type of terrain you’ll be riding on most, or if you’ll be doing a bit of everything, then maybe a high-quality all-terrain tire would best serve you. Here are the guidelines regarding tread patterns and terrains.

ATV Sand tires

atv sand tiresTo be able to drive safely in the sand, your ATV tires need to almost float on top of the sand.  Think of the texture of sand, it’s somewhat easy to sink in and it takes a lot of effort to get yourself out.  Because of this, sand tires need to stay of the sand’s surface as best as possible.  Usually sand tires will come wider than a “standard” tire and will have a light wave-like tread to them.  Often times the front tires don’t have any tread at all!

Floatation is brought about by the sidewall’s ability to flex when air pressure is lowered. Having too stiff or short sidewalls interferes with floatation. Without floatation, your ATV will simply sink into the sand.

As mentioned, rear sand tires have a unique feature, the saddle tread pattern. This feature creates a scooping motion which allows the tires to grip effectively propelling the quad forward. These tires offer a wide footprint, ensuring ideal traction so you can comfortably climb dunes or carve up the deep, soft sand.

The front sand tires, on the other hand, have a ridge in the middle to aid in steering and very limited tread patterns, in some cases may be even bare, they are therefore able to float across the dunes without sinking in the sand. Because there aren’t many nails, shards of glass or jutting rocks in the dessert, ATV sand tires come in 2-ply rating and are very lightweight.

ATV Mud Tires

atv mud tiresATV mud tires have wide inside-to-outside, angled tread patterns which allow them to disperse mud and dirt instead of holding it inside the tread. Heavy duty mud tires have treads that are an inch or two inches deep and are very recognizable due to the wide tread pattern.

The wide spacing and deep treads offer intense traction capabilities, making it possible for these tires to be used in soft terrains such as mud. The large voids between the mud tires allow for self-cleaning; as the tires spin through the mud, the mud is pushed from the center section of the tread pattern and forced outward to the sides. The faster you move the better this function works.

Mud tires are not recommended for use in heavy terrain, but if you intend to buy only one set of tires then you should buy medium-aggressive mud terrain tires.

Mud tires aren’t perfect and often times have three recognizable flaws:

  • The tires wear out very fast if you drive on rough terrains instead of mud, and more so on hard pack trails or asphalt.
  • Due to the aggressive tread pattern, mud tires provide less than optimal ride quality as compared to trail tires or Original Equipment (O.E) tires.
  • Finally, mud tires are known to offer very minimal lateral stability especially when the quad is side-hilling an obstacle.
ATV All-terrain tires

atv tire guideThese are also known as trail tires. These are tires that are designed to handle a wide range of terrains. All-terrain, in as much as they don’t excel at any one terrain, they boast a good range of traction in various terrains. All-terrain tires are long lasting, smooth riding and offer excellent traction in all directions. If you are looking for tires that are suited for intermediate mud, hard pack, soft dirt, trail riding, desert or mountain riding, all-terrain tires are your best bet.

All-terrain tires have different tread patterns, especially when it comes to ATV tires. Unlike mud tires, all-terrain tires have overlapping tread patterns with smaller gaps between the tread lugs. The treads are about ½” to ¾ deep. When purchasing a set of all-terrain tires so as to experience different terrains, get a set that provides a good amount of self-cleaning capability.

All-terrain tires typically provide vertical and lateral stability, ensuring a good grip on just about all surfaces so you will be able to enjoy your rides even at higher speeds.

ATV Racing Tires

atv racing tiresRacing tires, just like sand tires, are specifically built and designed to be used on medium to the hard-packed trails and courses. These tires are characterized by their flat-top, knobby construction and are meant for higher speed runs. The knobby construction, coupled with being lightweight makes them perfect for tackling medium to hard terrains. The race patterns are designed for maximum traction while optimizing rider’s feel and control. You’ll also find some racing tires, especially the cross-country (XC) racing tires, having large knob shapes in the pattern, this is to provide an extra traction off the track.

If you’re an ATV racing enthusiast or are thinking along those lines, then you should make sure that you check out all the racing or sports tires available. Also, note that premium racing tires are usually made of lighter materials and therefore wear out faster, and are available in 2-ply, 4-ply and 6-ply ratings. Tires with lower plies are lighter, creating an ideal situation for motocross racing, but more durable tires are often required for courses in the woods.

ATV Snow Tires

atv snow tiresThere are no available specialized snow tires on the market. This is because the texture and consistency of snow packs respond very well to ATV mud tires. However, if you want to give your stock tires extra traction for simple tasks such as snow plowing then you can do so by adding tire chains to your ATV. Tire chains provide sufficient grip on ice and snow at low speeds.

As much as it may not be the best idea to run the most intense mud tires, the rest are ideal. Look for tires with a wide and deep enough tread pattern to effectively grip the snow.

ATV Rocky or Hard Terrain Tires

all terrain atv tiresFor rocky terrains, you need a tighter tread pattern not only increased contact but also deep angled grooves that will climb rocks with ease while providing exceptional traction in the loose terrain. It is also a good idea to choose tires with extra lugs on the shoulder as this will provide added protection to the sidewalls.

One key feature that hard terrain tires boast is that they’re designed to optimize the contact patch of the tire to the ground, and this allows the tire to hook up better while accelerating, turning or braking. Rocky or hard terrain tires generally come in 4-ply, 6-ply and 8-ply ratings. This extra durability is preferred when the tires are used on trails or surfaces which are particularly rocky or which may have protruding objects which could otherwise puncture the tire.

Tire Construction (Carcass, Ply Rating and Radial or Bias Ply)

This is an area that might be confusing and is quite often overlooked when buying a set of tires. All tires are constructed using a special combination of polymers. Of course, each manufacturer typically uses their own secret ratio for their product. As a customer, you should focus more on the ply rating and the belt type construction, as each of these aspects has an impact on the tire’s pliability, stability and handling characteristics.

Carcass

Carcass is the internal cord layer of the tire that sustains load and absorbs shock. Carcass takes the shape of a horseshoe, and is composed of several parts like tread, bead, sidewall, and ply.

atv tire carcass

Ply, on the other hand, is the layer of fabric that covers the whole of the casing, from bead to bead. In simple terms, ply refers to the bones of the tire layers, and are located in the sensitive areas of the tire such as above the layer of synthetic rubber that serves the role of the air valve for tubeless tires. Plies are also found in direct contact with the chafer to limit scrubbing against the wheel.

There are two types of plies, bias ply and radial ply. Radial tires are made with rubber-coated steel belts and cables, making them extremely strong, durable, and offer a smooth ride even with extreme loads. However, radial tires are very expensive and more difficult to repair in case you get a puncture.

Radial tires are fairly new to the ATV market. These tires are constructed in two parts. The first part has a single layer of rubber-coated steel cables arch that runs from one bead to the other, forming the tire casing. The second part has several rubber-coated steel belts that are placed in the crown, under the tread, forming a strong stabilizing unit. Radial construction makes the tires more flexible, hence reducing the rolling resistance and improves fuel economy.

Bias tires are constructed with several layers of textile cords coated in rubber, something that makes the tires in general less rigid. In as much as that is a disadvantage, it is an advantage when it comes to off-road. But how? The fact that the tires have the ability to flex, translates to offering better grip on irregular terrain, easy conformation to undulations as well as absorption of outcrops that might through off a stiffer radial tire.

On the downside, bias tires are less directional, with a higher wear rate, increased fuel consumption and lower grip at speed. Given that they are cheap compared to their counterparts, they dominate the world of ATV. Note that if you use your ATV on the street, get radial tires, and buy bias tires for all the other uses. As an ATV sporting enthusiast, bias tires will provide you with superior weight and rolling resistance.

Ply Rating

In the early days of bias tires, casing strength was built up by adding layer upon layer of cotton fabric. The layers were then placed with the thread in each layer at an angle to each other. That added strength, because the tensions would be distributed throughout the layers of fabric. The Ply Rating used to refer to the number of layers of cotton. Ply rating is found on the tire sidewall

While shopping for ATV tires, you need to carefully look at the individual tire ply ratings in order to understand how the tire is designed to be used. If you’re a sports rider then choose tires with lower ply ratings because of their better traction and control, especially on high inclines with a minimal load.

But if you are looking to pull loads in muddier or slushier conditions then go for higher ply ratings as they are better suited to hauling weight over a distance with consistent traction.

Back in the day, a tire with a ply rating of “4” actually had 4 different ply layers, this is no longer the case, and nowadays the ply rating is a measurement of the load capacity and strength of the tire. 2-ply ATV tire 2 is on the very light side of tire ply and is for very light riding and cannot withstand much in term of punctures or rocky, uneven surfaces. Whereas 12-ply tire is designed to shift heavyweight over rough terrain. What’s more, they are more puncture resistant and longer-lasting than tires of lower ply count. The higher the ply rating the tougher your tire will be, but it will also be a heavier tire – this is important if you’re racing and don’t want to bring up your time due to tire weight.

The bottom line for choosing ATV tires based on tire construction is that you should try and find a good balance of ply ratings for your tire. Too great of a rating can, but does not necessarily mean a less pliable and stiffer carcass. Similarly, even though having low ply rating might translate too soft of a carcass, and ultimately a weaker tire, one that is more susceptible to punctures. Like anything else in life, there are exceptions and this is not always the case.

Price

Let’s face it, this is one factor that scares most of us and unfortunately, it determines the type of tire you purchase for your ATV. The price of a single tire can range from $35 for a budget tire, to more than $160 for a specialized tire. On average, you can expect to spend about $200 to $400 for a set of quality tires for your ATV.

Therefore, you need to determine how much you can spend before settling for a brand of tire. There are hundreds of brands, sizes, as well as types to choose from, and they vary widely in price. Set aside the amount of money you can afford, and then go over this guide again to know exactly what type of tire will suit you best.

Flat or Round

This is also another aspect of tire selection that is often overlooked by the novice tire purchaser. You’ve probably noticed that most utility ATVs comes with round-top tires, whereas most racing ATVs come with flat-top tires.

The benefit of using a flat-top tire is that it will put more tread on the ground, and is specifically designed for medium- to hard-packed courses or trails. Flat-top tires will allow you to execute “power slides” in a more controlled environment. Better still, this type of tire also provides superior sidewall stability.

On the contrary, a round-top tire is designed for more versatility and will literally roll under itself during hard cornering episodes, especially on hard-packed courses or trails. As opposed to a flat-top tire, a round-top will perform much better in soft and gooey environments. Finally, a round-top tire, for the most part, provides a softer ride.

Tire pressure

The right ATV tire pressure is based on manufacturer recommendation, terrain and load. Starting from the ATV and tire manufacturer recommendations, which generally range from 5 to 15 psi. Tire pressure is dependent on the terrain as well as load.

Terrain- we recommend that you stick with the manufacturer’s recommended pressures for the hard surfaces, such as dirt trails, sand or hard snow pavement. It is only by doing so that you will be able to experience the smooth ride and best traction. But, you can reduce tire pressure to as low as 2.5 psi if you will be riding on soft surfaces, such as gravel, mud, soft snow or loose sand, this will improve traction and flotation. Be careful not to go any lower than 2.5 psi as by doing so you risk popping the tire off the bead,

Load -as a single rider and with no load, I recommend that you stick with manufacturer recommendations for best results, and only make necessary adjustments for the terrain. For two riders or an extra load, such as tools, hunting or camping gear, or game, you should increase tire pressures to visually compensate, but never more than the pressure listed on the sidewall. Also, remember to take into account temperature when setting the PSI on your tire.

So there you have it, this guide should provide you with enough information to make you dangerous when buying a new set of ATV tires.  Take your time, look through your options and if you ever have questions, the sales team you are buying from should be able to give you some more insight.  Good luck!