How to Choose ATV Tires

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We take a detailed look at how to properly choose optimal tire for your ATV needs, and include brand examples.
December 1, 2008
By: Jason Giacchino

ATV riders are typically divided into two camps when it comes to the subject of tires: Those who are passionate about their tread and those who care only that theirs hold air. In either case, upgrades are inevitable which explains why tires are consistently the highest selling aftermarket component in the quad business.

Like any upgrade, it helps to begin by identifying the type of riding you intend to do with the machine in question. ATV tires are quite unique in that their intended purpose heavily affects the handling characteristics of the quad. If you’re unsure of which category you happen to fall in, your best bet is to select from the all-purpose category, which, generally speaking, represents a replacement for the stock tires on your ATV. Other names for tires in this class include all-terrain, general purpose, trail tires, or OEM replacements. So why then doesn’t everyone simply run all-purpose tread designs? The simplest explanation is that design-specific tires can truly make remarkable gains in performance when run in their intended environments.

Trail tires, while not intended to excel at any one particular terrain, do offer traction in a wide range of conditions. If you find yourself encountering stones, hard pack, mud, and everything in between, the all-purpose tire is likely your best bet.

Mud tires are typically easy to identify thanks to sparsely placed tread with sharp angles. The reason for this odd placement is twofold: First to gain traction where there is little to be found and second to fling caked up mud and trail debris free through the tire’s natural rotation. Mud tires are quite terrain-specific by nature so riders who split their time between ooze and dry-terrain need not apply.

It’s nearly impossible to mistake sand tires for anything else due to their unique tread pattern. The rear tires typically feature cup-shaped tread “paddles” designed to propel the ATV by displacing loose sand in scoops. The fronts resemble slicks with a single or pair of continuous rudders. Perhaps, the most terrain-specific of all tire choices, sand tires shouldn’t be considered by anyone who doesn’t spend their saddle-time out on the dunes.

Sport Performance/ Racing Tires excel at providing consistent traction on medium to hard packed terrain and are typically identified by a fairly even distribution of x-shaped knobs. Additionally, race tires are often much lower profile than other styles, which makes them appear square when mounted on a rim. Since we lack the server space to go into great detail with even a fraction of the tires available today, we’ll take a look at some of the top entries in each of the following categories: Sport/Performance (Racing), Utility & Side x Side (Mud) and All Purpose Sand.

ITP HoleshotSport/Performance
When it comes to carving laps on the MX track, GNCC course, or even aggressive trail riding, it’s difficult to trump the performance of ITP’s Holeshot series of tires. Whereas once the brand name was associated with a single model, ITP now offers half a dozen individual Holeshot designations that vary in both tread pattern and ply thickness designed for everything from motocross (MX) to supercross (SX), Grand National Cross Country (GNCC) to woods & trail (HD), rocks and roots (SR) to ruts & off-cambers (XCR). About the biggest drawback to the ITP Holeshot series is their steep entry cost. For comparable performance that’s a bit easier on the wallet, we recommend looking into the Razr series from Maxxis or the Badlands from Carlisle Trail Products (CTP).

maxxis mudzillaMud
For those of us who can’t seem to stay out of the goo, Maxxis offers the Mudzilla. Massive tread bars are designed for maximum traction in the slop but with a fairly smooth ride on hard pack surfaces. The specifically designed tread pattern is constructed to flex more in mud accumulating areas and a 6-ply rating for worry-free puncture resistance. Additionally the Maxxis Mudzilla tire offers rim guard for maximum wheel protection against those rocks that lie at the bottom of the mud-pit in waiting.  Like the ITP Holeshot, the Mudzilla isn’t for the particularly frugal. For the budget conscientious Maxxis offers the more affordable Mud Bug radial and High Lifter Products now sells the Outlaw MST mud tire. ITP also offers up a full series of Mud Lite tires that, like the Mudzilla, aren’t cheap but well known for their performance.

carlisle at489All-Purpose
As a general rule, the OEMs select tires that they feel will accomplish decent traction in the widest variety of terrains. As such, it’s tough to argue with the selection that many manufacturers use as the stock tire of choice: The AT489 from Carlisle Trail Products (CTP). If money’s no object, Titan’s Bandits series are a popular choice among trail enthusiasts. Kenda offers up heir impressive Klaw series, which excel in most conditions. Finally, for the ultra-frugal, Carlisle is the maker of one of the longest standing all-purpose ATV tires of all time, the Turf Tamer; continual winner of budget tire shootouts year after year.


ITP SandstarSand
ITP knows sand and they know it! The absolute latest in sand tire technology, the Sand Star features an extremely lightweight yet durable carcass using a special rubber compound that delivers an ideal level of flotation, flexibility and cornering capability. Like most performance class leaders, the Sand Shark isn’t cheap. Kenda offers a slightly more budget-friendly sand tire in the Gecko, as does GBC with their Sand Shark.


For more information/ ordering details, contact the manufacturers at the following URLs:



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