How to Put Different ATV Types in Reverse (Incl. Hondas)

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Getting an ATV in and out of reverse can be tricky if you’re unfamiliar with the correct procedure. Some types are relatively straightforward, while others can be a bit fiddly. 

Whether you have never owned an ATV with a reverse or just bought a new bike with a different style of gear selector, this post has you covered.

To put a manual ATV in reverse, squeeze the clutch, turn the reverse button, and press the gear lever below the first gear. On a semi-automatic ATV, you must activate the reverse release before changing down into reverse. On an automatic ATV, you shift to reverse with a hand shifter.

Continue reading to learn how to identify your ATV’s method and the exact steps for each technique. 

Related: Beginner Guide: ATV Controls Explained (With Photos)

The Procedure for Changing an ATV into Reverse Varies

There is no universal way to put an ATV in reverse. The steps vary depending on transmission design, trim level, and manufacturer preferences.

There are three main transmission types used in ATVs:

  • Manual – Manual clutch lever and gear shifter
  • Semi-Automatic – Automatic clutch and manual gear shifter (buttons or foot lever)
  • Automatic (CVT belt drive or auto-mode on some Hondas)

Manual and semi-automatic transmissions are a bit more tricky to get in reverse than automatic ones that operate similarly to an automatic car.

All three designs use a slightly different method to change into reverse. In addition, there are variations within the transmission designs. For instance, some semi-automatic use a mechanical reverse lever while others have an electric reverse.

Honda stands out from the other brands as they have not adopted the CVT transmission design. Instead, they offer clutch and gear transmission style variations in semi-automatic and fully automatic options. 

It’s normal to feel confused at this stage. As we explore the various types, the instructions should become more understandable.

How to Know What Style of Transmission Your ATV Have

To know what procedure to use, you need to know what style of transmission your ATV has. If you already know, you may skip this step.

Look for a Clutch Lever

Only manual ATVs have a clutch lever. The lever is located on the left-hand side of the handlebars and looks similar to a brake lever. 

To differentiate between a clutch and a brake lever, observe their behavior when pressed. A clutch lever typically moves easily all the way to the handlebars. In contrast, a brake lever offers increasing resistance and usually stops moving about halfway or two-thirds of the way in.

Look for a Foot Shifter

All manuals have a foot shifter and a clutch lever. Some semi-automatics use a foot shifter but don’t have a clutch lever.

The foot shifter is located on the left-hand side of the engine, down by the footrest. 

Look for a Hand Shifter

If there is a hand shifter, you know it’s not a manual. Also, look at the gear shifter markings.

The gear selector on an automatic typically has five options or a variation of these:

  • P – Park
  • N – Neutral
  • R – Reverse
  • L – Low gear
  • H – High gear

Some semi-automatics use a hand shifter to change between low and high gear ranges. If the hand shifter markings indicate only “Low” and “Drive” or “High” but no “Park,” “Reverse,” or “Neutral,” you know it’s likely semi-automatic.

Look at the Dash Gear Indicator

The gear indicator on a manual or semi-automatic displays all the individual gears, while on an automatic, it only shows the various gear ranges listed above. 

And often (but not always), you will find that the order of the gears is slightly different on a manual and a semi-automatic.

Five-speed manual
5 – Fifth gear
5 – Fifth gear
4 – Fourth gear
4 – Fourth gear
3 – Third gear
3 – Third gear
2 – Second gear
2 – Second gear
N – Neutral
1 – First gear
1 – First gear
N – Neutral
R – Reverse (not always indicated)
R – Reverse
Typical gear layout on different ATV types

Look for a Reverse-Release Button

The reverse release button, also called a reverse actuator, allows you to put a manual or semi-automatic ATV in reverse.

On a manual, the button is typically located away from the clutch lever, often on the right-hand side of the ATV.

On a semi-automatic, the button is typically colored red and located on or near the left-hand side handlebar brake lever. Some older semi-automatic ATVs have a reverse release handle down by the transmission. 

How to Put a Manual ATV in Reverse

This transmission style is primarily used in sports and racing quads and is uncommon in recreational and utility models.

To change gears on a fully manual ATV, you must press a clutch lever and operate a gear lever, similar to a motorcycle.

This is how you put a manual ATV in reverse:

Put the ATV in Neutral

Get on the ATV and put it in neutral. On most manual ATVs, the neutral is between first and second gear. Apply the brakes to make sure the ATV is not moving. 

As you get more experienced, you can shift directly from first gear to reverse, but when starting, it’s a good idea to begin in neutral.

Press the Clutch Lever

Press the clutch lever in with your left hand until it bottoms out against the handlebar to disengage the clutch.

Shift to First Gear

Press the gear shifter one click down with your left foot to get in first gear. Keep the clutch pressed in. 

Activate the Reverse Button

With your right hand, activate the reverse knob or button by turning it to the right. This opens the lock that prevents the ATV from going into reverse by mistake. 

Shift Down One More Time

Press the gear shifter down with your left foot one more click to shift from the first gear into reverse. After shifting, you can release the reverse button.

Tip: Rock the ATV back and forth if the lever won’t go in gear.

Slowly Release the Clutch and Apply Some Throttle

Gradually let go of the clutch lever while gently applying the throttle until the ATV begins to move backward.

Remain seated with both hands on the handlebars and head and your torso turned backward to see where you are going.

To Stop, Press the Clutch Lever and Apply the Brakes

Simultaneously press the clutch lever to disengage the clutch and apply brakes until the ATV stops completely. 

To Shift Out of Reverse, Press the Gear Shifter One Click Up

With the clutch lever pressed in, shift the gear lever one click up to move from reverse to first gear. Another half a click up will put the ATV into neutral.

There is no need to use the reverse button when shifting out of reverse.

Related: ATV Won’t Go Into Gear or Shift – the Most Common Causes

How to Put a Honda ATV in Reverse 

Hondas are designed a bit differently than most other ATVs and are the brand most people seem to need help getting into reverse.

Honda ATVs use various transmission designs, and navigating the various types can be confusing.

We’ll only focus on how they change gears to keep things simple; they use two main designs:

  • Manual Foot shifter. Automatic clutch and manual transmission where you shift with a foot shifter. 
  • Electric Shift Program (ESP). Transmission designs vary, but on a Honda with ESP, you shift by pushing up or down on push buttons. Some models also come with a full auto mode besides the push button shift ESP mode. 

Some Hondas are only semi-automatic, while others also have a full auto mode. The basic procedure to change into reverse is the same in full auto as in semi-automatic.

Honda also uses two main designs to shift into reverse:

  • Mechanical lever or button: All foot-shifter versions and some ESP models use a mechanical reverse-release lever. The lever is located on the left handlebar brake lever. Pull back the brake release with the brake lever before changing into reverse with the foot shifter or push button. 
  • Electric reverse switch. Newer models (after 2019) with ESP are available with electric reverse. Activate the electric brake switch before changing to reverse with the push buttons.  

The electric reverse system has two main advantages over the manual version.

  • Shifting is faster. With the electric reverse system, you can shift directly from first gear to reverse and vice versa. You must go by neutral on the mechanical lever version, which takes longer. 
  • More convenient. With electric reverse, you do not have to press the brake lever to change into reverse; you only need to push the reverse switch. 

We’ll go through the exact steps to get a Honda or any other semi-automatic into reverse below.

How to Put a Semi-automatic ATV in Reverse (Incl. Hondas)

By semi-automatic ATVs, we’re primarily referring to non-DCT Hondas. Besides Honda, some Suzukis and various older ATV models use this transmission style.

To change gears on a semi-auto, you don’t need to use a clutch lever; the clutching happens automatically. You change gears up or down with a foot lever or pressing push buttons on the handlebars.

This is how you put a semi-automatic ATV in reverse:

Put the ATV in Neutral

Most semi-automatic ATVs must be in neutral before shifting into reverse. The exception is Hondas with electric reverse, which can shift to reverse from neutral but also directly from first gear.

Make sure the ATV is not moving to prevent damage to the transmission. 

Activate the Reverse Release

The reverse release feature activates the reverse gear but does not put the ATV in reverse. The procedure to use it varies slightly between ATV models. 

  • On an ATV with a mechanical reverse lever (usually red), this means pulling the lever while simultaneously pressing and holding the brake lever.
  • On ATVs, with a mechanical push button brake release (usually a red button with an ®), this means pressing the button while simultaneously pressing and holding the brake lever.
  • On an ATV with an electric reverse, you need to press and hold the reverse switch.
  • On some older ATVs, the reverse release is operated by shifting a mechanical lever near the transmission.

Change Gear Into Reverse

Now it’s time to put the ATV in reverse. Again, the procedure depends on whether your ATV has a foot lever or an electric shifter. 

  • On an ATV with a foot shifter, press the shifter one click down from Neutral.
  • On ATVs with push-button electric shifters, push down once from neutral.

Let Go of the Reverse Release

The ATV is now in reverse, and you no longer need to keep the reverse release activated. Gently apply throttle to drive backward.

To Stop, Release the Throttle While Applying the Brakes

Simultaneously, let off the gas while applying the brakes until the ATV stops. 

Shift Out of Reverse

To shift out of reverse, press the foot shifter one click up or press up once on the push button on an electric shift model. This puts the ATV in neutral. Push up once more to get into first gear. 

You don’t have to use the reverse release when shifting out of reverse, but doing so on ATVs with electric reverse skips neutral and takes you directly to first gear.

How to Put a Fully Automatic (CVT) ATV in Reverse

Most utility and recreational ATVs use CVT-style transmissions with a drive belt. This design has no clutch lever, and you don’t have to change gears manually. 

All you need to do to put an automatic CVT ATV in reverse is to brake until full stop, change into reverse gear, and gently apply throttle to move. 

Related: Which ATVs Have Automatic Transmissions? Do They All?

How to Use a Reverse Override Switch

Some ATVs have a so-called “Reverse Override Switch.”

As a safety feature, many ATVs have an electronically controlled rev limiter while in reverse to prevent unintentional acceleration. 

Too fast or unexpected acceleration in reverse will shift the rider’s weight forward against the handlebars, engaging the thumb throttle. As the thumb throttle gets pushed in, acceleration increases, causing the thumb throttle to be pushed in even further. 

When this happens, things spiral out of control in a fraction of a second, possibly leading to an accident. 

The reverse override switch turns off the reverse rev limiter for as long as the button is pushed in. This feature should only be used when you need additional power while operating in reverse, such as when trying to get unstuck from a mud pit. 

Use the reverse override with caution. Do not activate the reverse override switch while the throttle is open, as this can cause a loss of control.

General Guidelines When Driving an ATV in Reverse

These general guidelines apply when reversing any style of ATV.

  • Never change into reverse when the ATV is moving or at engine speeds above Idle, as this may damage the transmission.
  • Changing gear into reverse on a level surface is generally more manageable as it puts less strain on the transmission internals. 
  • Check for obstacles, animals, or people behind the ATV before reversing. You may not notice if a small child or a pet is behind the vehicle.
  • Drive slowly, don’t make any sharp turns, and avoid backing up hills. The chance of losing control of the vehicle is much higher when reversing than when driving forward.
Haavard Krislok
Haavard Krislok
Haavard Krislok is an ATV and off-road enthusiast with a rich background spanning two decades in owning, maintaining, repairing, and utilizing ATVs for farming, logging, and hunting. Outside his professional life as an engineer and project manager, he cherishes recreational trail riding and is the creative force behind, serving as its owner, editor, and content creator.

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