As you may know, most quads are designed and recommended to be used by only one person at the time. Most places, it is even illegal to ride more than one person at the time on these types of machines. So then why do they make them with these long seats, that appear large enough to accommodate passengers? Let’s take a look at the reasons why ATV seats are designed the way they are.
Q: Why do ATVs have large seats?
ATV seats need to be as large as they are, to allow the rider to shift weight when doing active riding. Utilizing the rider’s body weight is important to maintain the stability of the vehicle, and to avoid a flip over when riding either up or down steep hills, sideways on slopes or when doing high-speed turns.
The seat needs to be big enough for the rider to be seated comfortably and secure in all the different seating positions the different riding situations require.
Variations between different types of bikes and brands
While an ATV seat by definition is a seat designed to be straddled by the rider, there is no industry standard for seat size and placement. There is no correlation between engine size/power and how big they make the seats.
On average, an ATV seat on a bike designed to be used by only one person is about 24-30inches (60-75 cm), but can on some bikes be even shorter or longer. Polaris is the brand that generally has the longest seats, while Artic-Cat has the shortest.
You will find that seats on ATVs intended for sport or racing typically are about 2-3 inches longer than on machines intended for utility use. Seats on racing bikes are also generally not as wide in the rear end of the seat as they are on utility style bikes.
This is likely because racing requires an even more active style of riding and therefore requires the rider to shift to even further extremes to maintain the balance of the bike.
On a utility bike the ride comfort, especially for longer trail rides, is more important than on racing machines. And because the need for extreme body movement is not as important as on the race bike, they are able to make a compromise and design the rear part of the seat a bit wider and softer for added padding and comfort.
The need for free movement
On an ATV, shifting your bodyweight is basically the only way you can affect the balance of the bike. The bike will lean the same way the terrain leans because of the four-wheel setup, so you will need to counteract by moving your body in the opposite direction.
You are not able to lean the machine itself like you are on a motorcycle, so the ability to move around is extra important on an ATV.
Especially when you are doing active riding, you need to move around a lot and shift your body weight from side to side and from back to front. This shifts the combined center of gravity of you and the bike in the direction you are moving.
Going up steep hills
When going up a steep hill you must lean forward towards the handlebar with your arms bent. Except when climbing very steep hills, there is usually no need to shift the whole body forward on the seat. This will shift the combined center of gravity forward and further in front of the rear tires, which, in turn, will make a backward rollover less likely.
On really steep inclines, you may even need to stand up and lean your body forward as close to the handlebars as you can to move the center of gravity even further to the front. This is why the seat is more narrow in the front so you can stand comfortably.
Going down steep hills
When going down a steep hill on the other hand you move your bottom back on the seat while fully extending your arms. This will keep the combined center of gravity backward and further behind the front tires which, in turn, will make a front rollover less likely.
Slopes and high speed turns
In a situation where you are riding on a slope, you need to shift your bodyweight to the upper side if the bike.
Or when you are driving fast while turning, you need to shift your body weight to the inside of the turn.
So the seat cannot be wider than what allows this type of leaning. The narrow front part of the seat will allow you to lean further to the opposite side.
What benefits would a small seat have on an ATV?
If shifting bodyweight were not such a crucial aspect of safely operating a quad, the manufacturers would most likely make the seats much smaller.
You see this on UTVs witch generally are wider vehicles with a lower center of gravity. These machines do not rely on body placement for vehicle stability, and therefore can be equipped with bucket seats and seatbelts which allows very little free movement of the rider or passenger.
A smaller seat would likely make it less appealing to bring a passenger.
Reducing the size of the seat would also increase the distance between the seat and the handlebar, making age-inappropriate use of the machine less likely.
Why is riding with a passenger on a one-person ATV a bad idea?
It is important to understand that ATVs are not equipped with large seats to be able to carry more people.
There is a very good reason why bringing a passenger is not a good idea, especially when doing active riding in difficult terrain.
A passenger will greatly restrict your mobility, so you won’t be able to shift the center of gravity as you need to.
If you, for example, put a child in front of you, you won’t be able to lean forward on inclines.
Or if you put a passenger behind you will prevent you from moving your but back on declines. They will also limit free movement of your arms so you cant turn the handlebar properly.
Both of these scenarios will increase the risk of a rollover.
A passenger will also add weight, creating a higher center of gravity which will make your whole equipage more top heavy, making it harder to control and more prone to tipping over.
As the passenger will have limited ways to hold on to the bike, they are prone to be thrown off the bike from acceleration, jumps, tipping, etc.
About one-third of victims in fatal ATV accidents are drivers with passengers or passengers themselves.
So what are your options if you want to bring a passenger?
Choose an ATV designed as a two-up machine from the getgo.
Because of the risks involved in riding with a passenger on a one-person ATV, it is highly recommended that you get a bike that has been specifically designed to accommodate two people if you intend to bring passengers on your rides.
These ATVs are commonly named two-ups and come fitted with a special passenger seat from the factory. Usually, these types of machines are also equipped with a longer wheelbase (about 8 inches) and a stronger rear suspension to handle the added weight of the passenger.
These types of machines are now becoming widely available by most manufacturers. The price is usually slightly higher than on a one-up model, but not by much.
However, this type of bikes does have some disadvantages over bikes specifically made for one person.
The stronger suspension combined with the longer wheelbase will make it less nimble when going off-road. The extra seat will also possibly be in your way when you move around a lot. You should look for a model that has an easily removable rear seat for the times when you want to ride alone.
If maneuverability and off-road abilities are most important for you, and you do not plan to bring a passenger, choosing a bike intended for just one person would be the best option for you.
On the other hand, if you plan to bring your spouse or kid along on your adventures, I would recommend you accept the relatively small disadvantages and get a purpose-made bike for 2 persons. Remember that a kid under the age of 8 should in any case not be put in the rear seat.
Installing extra seat kits
For most ATV’s that are originally designed for only one person, you can find a wide variety of extra seat kits that can be attached to the rear racks of the machine. This will extend your current seat to the back so that a passenger can sit relatively comfortably.
One model that riders seem to recommend is the WES deluxe seat.
However, before you choose to go down this route, you should be aware of the potential risks involved.
In most places, mounting a kit like this will still not make it legal to bring a passenger on your ride, when your bike was originally designed for only one person. For you to legally bring a passenger the bike needs to be designed for this purpose from the factory.
Some people understandably think this is quite strange.
If the rear rack is rated for 180 pounds, why shouldn’t you be allowed to bring a 165 pounds human as your “cargo”?
While we can agree that the placement of the extra seat and the passenger will be less than ideal, where it sits on top of or even behind the rear axle. The same would be true to any ordinary cargo, wouldn’t it?
I’m no lawyer, but I would not risk these arguments holding water in court.
While this is purely speculation on my part, an explanation to why you are allowed to bring cargo, but not to bring a human passenger may be the fact that a “dead” cargo, when properly strapped down, will not move around as much as a live human.
With a moving person, there is a risk of altering the center of gravity or even potentially for the passenger to be getting in the way of the driver.
Also, the extra seat is a modification to the bike that has not been tested and certified together with the current ATV model and therefore is not approved to transport humans.
These seats are usually marketed as “storage boxes” or “rest seats”, and any serious manufacturer will inform you that they are not approved for passenger use.
But if you decide to accept these risks, and mount one anyway, you should be aware you may risk being fined, or worse, you may be in for some serious liability issues if the passenger where to be injured in an accident.
Q: Do ATVs have seatbelts?
No, ATVs are not equipped with seatbelts. Installing them could actually be dangerous as it restricts the need for free movement. On an UTV on the other hand, where you sit in a chair inside a protective roll-cage, you will need seat belts to keep you from falling out in a crash.
The ideal ATV seat on a one-up bike
The ideal seat should be no larger than what you need to move freely and comfortably while doing active riding.
It should go as far back as about just above the rear axle, and not extend forward toward the handlebars beyond what is needed for you to comfortably shift the center of gravity forward when going up steep hills.