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ATV Tires 101

ATV Tire Purchasing Guide

Tires on an ATV or Side by Side are like underwear on a human. You must have them and over time they wear out. If you don't use them it's tough to move forward or backward without causing damage to your undercarriage. Some are too small, some are too big and some are more comfortable than others. Some perform really well in one condition but poor in another, some perform decent in all conditions. When you find some you like you don't want to take them off. They come in all types, designs and there are many brands to choose from. They look really good when they are new but before long they get dirty. You ask to borrow some from your buddy and he'll look at you really weird then tell you no. Last but not least, if you don't like skid marks you should avoid them both.

No but seriously, this article titled 'ATV Tires 101' is basically a purchasing guide for tires on our website. It's not as simple as one might think to pick out a new set of rubbers for an ATV or UTV. We take phone calls daily from customers that are overwhelmed while shopping because there are so many options, sizes, styles and brands to choose from. Browse through this article and we're sure you'll have a much better idea of what to look for as you shop for tires on our website.

The very first step is to ask yourself the following questions so you can narrow down your search and find specifically what will fit your machine and what characteristics to look for in the tires to meet your needs.
1) What size?
2) What tread?
3) Bias ply or Radial?

 

Step 1: Determine your tire size(s)

Look at your current tire sizes on your machine and see what you are currently running (make sure you check both front and rear as they are not usually the same). Or use our tire sizing guide to figure it out. Most (but not all) tires you see on ATV's and UTV's are measured in inches. Automotive tires are usually measured using the metric system. A common ATV tire size would read something like this: 25x8.00-12 whereas an automotive tire would read something like this: 205/75r15. First off, let's address the R that you frequently see in a tire size. The R simply stands for Radial. If you don't see an R listed in the size of the tire the tire is likely a bias ply tire instead of a radial. If you aren't sure what radial or bias ply means scroll down farther in this article where we cover that topic. So what do these numbers mean? Since this is a guide about ATV tires we won't get into the metric measurements found on automotive tires, we're just going to cover the ATV sizes measured in inches.

Help reading ATV tire sizes

The 1st number is the overall height of the tire after it has been mounted and inflated. In the picture example above we have a UTV tire that says 32x10-16 soyou immediately know this tire is 32 inches tall. Keep in mind these numbers are fairly vague. Just because this tire says 32 on itdoesn't mean it will measure exatly 32 inches tall. There are so many variables that can affect your tire height so don't be surprised if they don't measure 100% accurate but they should be within reason, give or take about 3/4 inch either way. Your air pressure, age of tire, ply rating, tread wear, weight of vehicle, width of rim and brand of tire are all factors that come into play in the overall height of your tires. OEM tires that come on your machine from the factory are notorious for being much shorter than they are advertised. We hear reports from customers that say their tires say 26 on the sidewall but they only measure 24.5 inches tall. Aftermarket tires that we sell also run a little short on average but it's usually only a 1/2 inch or so.

The 2nd number is the width of the tire. In our example above the tire says 32x10-16 on the sidewall so you immediately know that the width of this tire is 10 inches. This has nothing to do with the width of the rim other than you know your rims are more narrow than 10 inches. Your rims must be skinnier that your tires or they won't mount and seal around the bead properly. This is a misconception that many of our customers have, they think the middle number on the tire size is the width of the rim but that is not the case. The 10 (or whatever your middle number is) is the width of the tire. Again, just like with the height, just because your tire says 10 on it doesn't mean it will measure exactly 10 inches wide. The width of your rim has a huge affect on how wide your tires will measure after you install them. There are other factors that can affect the width just like with your height so don't be too surprised if your tire says 10 in the middle number but it only measure 9.5 inches wide.

The 3rd number is the diameter of rim that your tire will fit. This number is very crucial. In the example picture above the size says 32x10-16 so you immediately know you need 16 inch rims for this particular tire. You cannot mount a 32x10-16 tire onto any other rim other than one that is 16 inches in diameter. The first 2 numbers you can adjust a bit. You can always mount taller or wider tires onto your rims (as long as it will fit your machine) but if the 3rd number (16) doesn't match up with your rim you will not be able to use them together. So as you shop for new tires for your quad you will want to make sure you know what you are doing, otherwise you may order a new set of tires, we ship them to you and then they won't fit your rims. Tires are super expensive for you to ship back to us so let's make sure it's right before ordering!

Determining what size you need to order would be step 1 in the process of buying new tires for your quad. This helps you narrow down your search so you are only viewing tires that are applicable to your machine. There's no sense in browsing all of our tires in all sizes when most of them won't even work for your application. You have options though and you'll need to decide which route you want to go. You can buy tires that are the exact same sizes as your OEM tires or you can adjust those numbers a bit and go with taller and/or wider tires. But remember you'll need to check your clearances on your machine to be sure you can fit larger tires. You can measure that yourself, you can call us and ask our opinion, or you can jump on forums online and see what sizes other guys are running on their machines. Regardless of the height or width you will need to make 100% sure that you buy the correct size for your rims. When you check your sizes you will also want to look at both the fronts and rears as most of the time they are different widths. The height should be the same (especially on 4x4 models) but the width is typically different on the OEM tires. If you want to run all 4 the same width you will want to read our article titled 'Staggered tires or all 4 the same?'

Once you have figured out what size(s) you want to run on your machine you can browse our tire by size here: Browse ATV / UTV Tires by Size

 

Step 2: Determine which tread pattern would be best for the terrain you ride

The tread design on your tires can drastically improve or ruin your riding experience. For example, if you spend most of your time cruising the neighborhood on the blacktop but you buy extremely aggressive mud tires with 2 inch deep cleats you will be miserable. The big aggressive mud tires are great if you use them for what they are intended for, but if you drive them on the blacktop they will be super noisy, they'll ride rough and they will wear out quickly. Take a look at the examples below to determine what kind of tread will work best for your needs. You need to ask yourself, what kind of terrain am I mostly riding in? Where do you spend the majority of your time on your ATV or Side by Side? Once you've determined that you can make a better selection from the tread types below for your new set of tires.
 
Example Tread Pattern for 95% Hard Packed, 5% trail
Our most popular tires with this type of tread pattern: GBC Afterburn Streetforce, Kenda Road Go, Kenda Speed Racer
This is an example of a tire tread that is primarily designed and used for hard packed terrain including asphalt, cement and some very light trail riding like gravel roads or dirt trails. The tread is very close together and shallow, this provides long lasting tread that is smooth and quiet when driving down the blacktop.

 

Example Tread Pattern for 70% Hard Packed, 30% Off-road
All Terrain UTV Tire Tread

Our most popular tires with this type of tread pattern: GBC Kanati Mongrel, Tusk Terrabite, EFX Motohammer, EFX Motovator, STI Chicane, ITP Ultracross R Spec, Tensor Regulator, STI X Comp ATR, ITP Coyote

 

This is an example of a tire tread pattern that is considered an all-terrain with a little more emphasis on hard packed terrain. Tires with this tread pattern are commonly DOT approved and are ideal for the guy that rides on the roads, slick rock and other hard packed terrain but still needs to perform when trail riding. The tread is a little deeper and spaced out a bit farther than the previous example. This type of tread is hands down the most popular on the market right now because there is a high demand for long lasting tires that can be driven comfortably on the blacktop but still perform well off-road.
 
Example Tread Pattern for 50% Hard Packed, 50% Off-road
On and Off-road ATV UTV Tire Tread

Our most popular tires with this type of tread pattern: Maxxis Carnivore, ITP Bajacross, Pro Armor Crawler XG, EFX Motoclaw, Sedona Rip Saw, Maxxis Vipr

This is an example of what we'd call a 50/50 all terrain tread pattern. The tread is spaced out even farther than the last example giving it an edge when off-road in mud and snow etc.. But the tread is still relatively close together so you still get the comfortable and pretty quiet ride for the times that you need to drive down the road or other hard packed terrain. Many ATV/UTV riders are looking for this type of tread so these are extremely popular among off-road enthusiasts.
 
Example Tread Pattern for 70% Off-road, 30% Trail / Hard Packed
Off road UTV Tire Tread Pattern Our most popular tires with this type of tread pattern: Maxxis Bighorn, Maxxis Bighorn 2.0, EFX Moto MTC, STI Roctane, STI Roctane X2, GBC Grim Reaper, GBC Dirt Commander, Interco Reptile, ITP Blackwater Evolution, RP Spartan Run Flat
If you like the look and/or performance of the aggressive off-road tire but still want a decent ride that won't beat you to death down the hard packed terrain this is the type of tread pattern you should be looking for. We call these 70/30 all terrain with more emphasis off-road. The lugs on these types of tires are spaced out farther which helps give you traction, it gives you more paddle action off-road and they clean out better. These types of tires are super popular for the guys that spend most of their time riding off-road in mud and snow, general trail riding and occasionally drive on the road to get to and from the trail heads.
 
Example Tread Pattern for 80% Off-road / Mud, 20% Trail
Mud Tread pattern for ATV Tires Our most popular tires with this type of tread pattern: ITP Mud Lite, ITP Mud Lite XTR, Interco Swamp Lite, SATV Intimidator, Maxxis Zilla, CST Wild Thang, ITP Mega Mayhem
This type of tread is commonly used for muddy and swampy conditions with occasional general purpose use like dirt roads or trail riding. The lugs are spaced out even farther than the previous tread patterns we have discussed which provides excellent traction and clean out in the mud. This type of tread will not last as long or ride as smooth on hard packed terrain. If you like to play in the mud and you do occasional trail rides this type of tread is what you should be looking for.
 
Example Tread Pattern for 95% Off-road / Mud, 5% Trail
Extremely aggressive mud UTV Tire tread design Our most popular tires with this type of tread pattern: ITP Cryptid, CST Sludgehammer, STI Out & Back Max, SATV Terminator, EFX Motoboss, Gorilla Silverback
This is the most aggressive tread design available. This tread pattern is designed for the serious mudder with a high horsepower machine. Tires with this type of tread are typically offered in 28 or 30 inch and taller sizes for the guys with lift kits that like to play in the mud. If you go down south where the mud bogs are held this is the type of tread you'll see on most of the machines out there! These tires perform amazingly off-road in the mud but as you can imagine they will be rough and noisy on any other terrain.
 

Step 3: Understand Radial vs. Bias Ply, Which is better for your application?

The bottom line is Radial tires flex better, absorb bumps better and they contour to the ground better for a better footprint to the ground. They perform better at higher speeds and rock crawling situations. If you have a high performance, high horsepower machine and you want a premier tire with the best performance possible you should lean towards a radial. All DOT approved tires that we carry are Radials. Radials typically cost more so make sure you actually want/need what they offer before you pay a little more for them.

Bias Ply tires are typically used on slower applications where the high performance characteristics aren't needed. Many smaller tire sizes (usually 25 inch and smaller) that are used on older ATV's are bias ply. They are also more commonly used on the aggressive mud tires where you wouldn't want as much flex. Most of the super aggressive mud tires (see examples above) are bias ply because the radial flex isn't wanted or needed.

The radial vs. bias is an ongoing debate and it's a question we get daily from customers. Both options are great and some guys can't even tell a difference. We recommend you don't stress too much over it but read about the differences in this article and make your decision using your best judgment. To sum it up, we would use radials on any modern Side by Side or ATV where faster speeds and better performance is expected. We would use bias ply tires on ATV's or Side by Sides used primarily in the mud, on the farm, out on the railroad, oil fields, construction sites or other similar applications where you will be driving slower and you don't need the performance that radials offer.

 

Time to shop for Tires!

Now that you are educated on tire sizes, tread patterns and tire construction you are ready to pick out your new ATV or UTV tires. Here's a link to the tires on our website where you can shop by size, shop by brand, shop by type or there are several other filters where you can search by ply rating and so forth. We also have the option to buy tires and rims complete as a mounted kit.