ATVs are as varied as their riders, all with different acceleration, rider and cargo capacities, handling characteristics, and ground clearance. With all these options, how do you keep it all straight? Fortunately, the ATV market is broken into some fairly straightforward segments.
If you are an avid hunter, camper, or own a ranch or farm, odds are you have spent some time on one of these big guys. The muscled up utility class is designed to be tough enough for serious work, and buyers responded by making this the most popular class of quads in North America. UTVs have a bigger engine than most other ATVs, which provides a ton of torque for crossing the worst terrain. UTVs can tow a trailer, pull another quad out of the mud with a winch, or take on any other number of accessories designed to get work done. Of course, it’s not all work and no play, as taking a UTV over harsh terrain can be a blast.
If you get why someone would drop serious coin on a Ferrari or build a drag boat, odds are you love sport ATVs. Think of a sport ATV as the answer for enthusiasts that wanted to see what a Gixxer would do on a muddy trail. Light and powerful, sport ATVs are designed with performance in mind. The suspension has lots of travel for high speed jumps, and they have a quicker acceleration than UTVs, while also having a higher top speed. Sport ATVs can also be modified, although instead of winches, you’re more likely to find engine and suspension upgrades.
Side by side
If you want, or need, to take a buddy with you on your adventures, a side-by-side is for you. They are not the fastest or most capable, but the comfort and passenger capacity are hard to beat. Side by sides offer a car-like seating position, and rather than handle bars, the vehicle is controlled by a steering wheel. Some heavier models can tow, and there are a handful of sport side by sides, but really this one is about carrying people and all their stuff.
Kids’ quads look like the real deal, shrunk by about 50 percent. These little ATVs offer kids and novices the chance to get some experience riding, before they step up to something more powerful. The real world capability is limited by the smaller, lighter parts, so Junior won’t be getting any big air on that 50cc quad.
There are a few other oddballs out there. AATVs are truly all terrain as they are amphibious, and you can buy ATVs with more than 4 wheels. There is considerable debate about the advantage of a 6×6 versus a 4v4, but the option exists, and the 6-wheelers have their fans. Electrics are on the way, mainly due to tightening emissions and noise requirements in certain areas. While they are still essentially off-road gold carts at the moment, electric torque has huge potential for enthusiast ATV riders.