There are many tire offerings on the market these days. Selecting the right one for your machine shouldn’t be too hard, right? I’d like to think so, but far too often I see people making the same mistakes.

I finally get to quote the great Robert Duvall from a movie. Unfortunately that movie is Days of Thunder, but I digress. “You see, tires is what wins a race,” his character said to a dumbfounded Tom Cruise. Duvall’s character was commenting on the importance of not only using the right tire, but also not trashing it, something Cruise’s character needed to learn about. Luckily for ATV and UTV owners, selecting the right tire isn’t a hard thing to learn to do.

Know what you want

I have tested a bunch of different ATVs and UTVs, and there is one thing that I‘ve noticed right away riding all those different machines: different tires make an impact on how a machine handles. Manufacturers try to fit the right tire on the machine for all uses, but it’s difficult to do so.

Tires like these STI Roctanes have deep lugs that are good for loose terrain, but also have enough tread for contact with harder terrain, too. Image courtesy STI.
Tires like these STI Roctanes have deep lugs that are good for loose terrain, but also have enough tread for contact with harder terrain, too. Image courtesy STI.

Think of a truck going down the freeway. We’ve all been around that guy driving the big jacked-up truck with the massive mud tires howling down the freeway at 70 miles per hour. The truck is spotless and you just know that it has never been off-road. Did he pick the right tire for the application? No, of course not. The same goes for many of the tires offered on trucks on the dealership lot. Those tires are good for going down the road and meeting fuel mileage standards and so on. They aren’t going to be the best for driving across a muddy field during hunting season.

With ATVs, it’s a little different because the machines aren’t designed for being driven on pavement. Still, picking the tires that match your needs is pretty important.

STI Tire & Wheel’s Glenn Hansen said that you need to ask yourself a few questions.

“Where do you ride, and what do you expect a tire to do for you?” Hansen queried. “If you ride in the desert or rocky terrain, there is a tire for that, one that will be ultra-durable and grip on rocks. If you ride in extremely muddy terrain, there is a tire for that, one that can pull through soupy mud and maybe add some ground clearance, too. And if you ride in a bit of everything—from mud to hard-packed trails to rocky terrain—there are versatile crossover tires made for riders who want a little of everything: traction, comfort, durability, loose-terrain pull, and more.”

How do you determine the tire for you?

When you buy your ATV or UTV, it’s going to come with decent tires in most cases. With machines like Kawasaki’s Teryx, it comes with Maxxis Bighorn tires that get a ton of traction and are a common choice for people buying aftermarket tires. But how do you select the right tire for you?

The first thing to do is to look at what you are doing and then match your intended uses to the right kind of tire, said Kory Ellis from GBC Motorsports.

GBC’s Dirt Tamer is another all-around tire. Notice the sidewalls. Aggressive sidewall tread will help get you out of a lot of bad situations. Image courtesy GBC.
GBC’s Dirt Tamer is another all-around tire. Notice the sidewalls. Aggressive sidewall tread will help get you out of a lot of bad situations. Image courtesy GBC.

Look at the contact patch and the void (the space between the lugs) for the type of terrain that you will be using your machine on. Determining the size you need will also help narrow it down, as not all tires are offered in the same sizes, Ellis said. Changing sizes will affect your gearing and can cause your speedometer to not read correctly.

“Buying an aggressive tire, you lose the comfort of the ride,” Ellis said. “People buy a tire that is over-aggressive because they like the way it looks and don’t think about the performance they are losing by losing the contact patch where the tire meets the ground.”

Really aggressive mud-type tires will work great in the slop, but how will they perform on rocky terrain? And if you use the machine around home, think about your lawn. Aggressive tires will destroy your lawn—trust me, I know. Mud tires also add weight.

“Buy smart when upgrading from stock tires,” said Jamie Chisholm of STI Tire & Wheel. “When you buy an extreme-duty tire like the STI Roctane XD, you’re getting much improved traction and durability, but you’re also adding weight over the stock tires. With a tire like the STI Roctane, that’s not a big deal because the advantages are so many. Just make sure you’re buying a tire that fits your riding style and needs. A big mud tire can be great fun in the mud. But if you spend more time on the trails, you might be better served with a more versatile crossover tire.”

Uh oh!

What is the biggest mistake tire buyers make when it comes to ATV and UTV tires? The same thing that happens to a lot of truck owners. Hansen and Ellis both said the same thing—avoid buying a tire just because of how it looks. Think again of our buddy with the jacked-up truck. Not only does he pay big bucks for the tires, but also at the pump.

“Sure, image is a factor, but we know most ATV and UTV riders are about performance first, and tire/wheel combos can give great performance gains,” Hansen said. “So consider the specifics of your performance needs first.”

Think about what you are going to use the tire for. Don’t buy a mud tire just because you like how it looks if you’re only going to be riding in the mud five percent of the time, and on a hard-pack trail the rest of the time.

To avoid buyer’s remorse, do your research. Check tire manufacturers’ websites. Go to dealerships and compare tires. Go online and see what other riders are using on their own machines. Look around! There are so many really good tires out there. Finding the right one for you will help you get the most enjoyment out of your ATV. Isn’t that the point of owning one?

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3 thoughts on “ATV Tire Buying 101

  1. Great article, those Dirt Tamers look great what could you go into some more detail about what role sidewall tread plays?

    1. Sure thing. I stopped to stay within a word count. Sidewall tread really helps when driving through ruts and loose terrain. The trade off, according to the Manufacturers is the added weight. When you start building up the sidewalls, you dramatically add to the weight of the tire. Added weight means added drag, so you lose fuel mileage and a tiny bit of top speed. It also affects braking performance. I’m being brief, of course. Thanks for the read.

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