The ATV is a popular investment for recreation enthusiasts and those who love the outdoors.
Anyone can reasonably expect to get on and ride with little difficulty. Where the dirt bike poses a balancing challenge the four-wheel ATV can be looked at like a small car. Unless you drive it in a tree or off a ravine the ATV offers an easier to learn alternative for any beginner wanting to ride the track or trail.
An ATV is not necessarily safer than a dirt bike as riding recklessly or buying an ATV with an engine too big for your experience can be just as hazardous. However, for the beginner, riding on four-wheels is easier, more comfortable and drastically reduces the learning curve. Jumping on a dirt bike for the first time and riding off in the sunset is much less likely to happen when compared to grabbing the controls of a quad and being able to roll out in five minutes.
To get the maximum enjoyment out of your ATV it is best to buy an ATV based on age and experience. If you're part of a family with little kids you won't all be riding the same ATV. Perhaps you stay at home while a bunch of friends go riding every weekend and now you want to join in the fun. Or, maybe you’ve been borrowing a friend's quad for months and it's time you grabbed one of your own.
Photo: Yamaha Motorsports
Age and experience level determine the best ATV for you.
Many manufacturers make ATVs for kids. It is a fast growing sport and smaller ATVS in both engine and actual size are readily available. Additionally, the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is one source to consider as it makes recommendations in relation to engine size and age. For example, children aged 6 to 11 would be best on a 70cc engine size and smaller. As you shop, you'll find these and manufacturer's recommendations typically get posted on the ATV.
One thing to consider first is how you plan on using the ATV.
- Trail riding
- Motocross racing
- Farming or work
Next, consider the engine size:
- Up to 70cc - children aged 11 and under
- 70cc to 90cc - children 12 to 15 years of age
- 125cc to 250cc - Beginner older teens and adults
- 250cc and up - Intermediate to advanced riders
The above are suggestions. An adult with 20 years of car driving experience who rides mountain bikes on the weekend may find a small engine ATV to small and flat out boring. A mature 10-year old who has done some occasional riding using a borrowed ATV may quickly grow out of a 70cc ATV. However, we can say you're better off going too small rather than too big.
Photo: Honda Powersports
How to Choose an ATV
First decide on what your plans are for the 4-wheeler. If it's fun in the sun on the track or trail then you'll want a smaller youth model for the kids and perhaps a more entry-level quad with a 125cc to 250cc engine for you. This gives you enough power to have fun and push your limits but not too much power where you might get hurt.
If you're looking for an ATV for work or plowing then a UTV or Utility Terrain Vehicle is the best choice. Traditionally, a UTV is not designed for racing or bumping along backcountry trails. The engine is more powerful for towing or pushing with less pep than a traditional ATV. Theoretically, the UTV is a great machine to learn on however if your ultimate goal is to ride recreationally, then stick with a versatile yet smaller engine-sized ATV. The UTV is also popular with hunters and campers.
Once you've decided on an ATV or UTV, an option for many beginners is buying used. Some dealers sell used ATVs and you can also check out local riding clubs or even Craig's List or other online communities. Of course, the problem with a used ATV is the unknown history. You might get a great starter-quad or one that flipped after the owner took a turn way to fast.
A dealer is your most reputable option and if you can get in with a local riding or racing club members usually offer assistance to steer you in the right direction.
Buying used is much more cost effective especially if you or a child is a true beginner. You'd rather dent and bust up a used quad then a brand new shiny one. Additionally, that first crash, especially with smaller kids can be all that's needed to close the door on this hobby.
If possible, test ride whatever ATV you look at - new or used. This is a great way to figure out if the 50cc is too small for your child or the 500cc is too big for you.
Best ATV Brands
It's pretty hard to go wrong with any of the major ATV brands. The industry is growing and especially in parts of the mid-west, an ATV is almost a must-have. Kawasaki, Honda, Yamaha and Polaris manufacture well-built and reputable ATVs in all engine sizes.
The Kawasaki KFX90, Honda TRX90 and Yamaha Raptor 90 offer great options in the 90cc range. The Polaris Outlaw model is available in 50, 90, 450 and 525cc engine sizes. The Cam-Am DS series is also a popular choice with a range of engine sizes.
Focus on engine size first and then price your options to see what best fits your budget.
One thing to keep in mind is, like cars, the ATV offers a bunch of options that jack up the price tag and may prove difficult for beginners to master. Manual clutch shifting, power steering, independent rear suspension and liquid cooled engines have their place but unless you're fully invested in riding, buying a lower-end model without so many attractive features might be your best option.
Photo: Yamaha Motorsports
ATV Riding Gear
Welcome to dirt bike riding! You may think that riding on four wheels eliminates the need for body protection but you couldn't be further from the truth - especially for beginners. Riding an ATV is much like riding in a car without a seat belt. Getting bumped off or worse yet, thrown from your ATV, is a real possibility especially for beginners and anyone riding in an unfamiliar area. A large pothole and hidden tree trunk across the road can stop your 4-wheeler and the faster you're going the more likely you're going over the handle bars.
ATV riding gear is no different than dirt bike riding gear. Chest protectors, boots, helmets, goggles, and gloves vary little, if at all, when it comes to dirt bike or ATV gear. Our ATV store carries all of the dirt bike protective gear featured in the guides below:
- How To Select The Right Motocross Protective Gear For Kids
- Motocross Goggle Buyers Guide
- Motocross Body and Chest Protection Guide
- Motocross Protective Gear Buying Guide
- Motocross Boots Buying Guide
- Dirt Bike Helmets for Kids Buying Guide
- The Big List of DOT, Snell & ECE Approved Motocross Helmets
ATV riding offers a lifetime of enjoyment when enjoyed responsibly and within your limits. It's tempting to want the biggest and baddest 4-wheeler available but if you can't handle the power or, once saddled up, find it somewhat intimidating, it's wasted money and you might get seriously hurt. Like any new venture, start slow and graduate to a larger engine as you get better and overcome challenges along the way.
Written By: AndrewT