A tire can be either directional or multi-directional. Whether you are mounting new tires to your ATV or if you just want to make sure the wheels are installed correctly, you need to know if the tires are directional or not.

Directional tires should be mounted in a specific direction for optimal performance, while multi-directional tires work just as well in either direction.

So are ATV tires directional? Some types of ATV tires like mud tires are usually directional, while other types like rock climbing tires are generally not. Whether an ATV tire is directional or not depends on what type of terrain and what style of riding the tire is designed for.

The table below tells you whether the different types of ATV tires are more likely to be directional or not.

ATV Tire TypeDirectional / Multi-directional
Mud tiresMost are directional
Trail (All-Terrain Tires)Either directional or multi-directional
Hard Pack / RockUsually multi-directional
SandRear are usually directional. Front are multi-directional
RacingUsually multi directional

How to tell if an ATV tire is directional or not?

There are several ways you can tell if a tire is directional or not. Some are relatively straight forward while others require that you take a closer look at the design of the tire. 

Please note that these are general guidelines only and that some manufacturers may offer other guidelines for specific tire models. 

Look for directional marking on the tire walls

Most directional ATV tires have markings stamped on to the side of the tire wall, indicating the forward direction of rotation. If there are directional markings, you know that the tire is directional.

These markings come in various styles. Here are some of the more common:

  • The word “ROTATION” next to what looks like a slope to a point. The point is the direction the tire should turn when going forward.
  • The word “TRACTION” next to an arrow. The arrow points in the direction the tire should turn when going forward.
  • A stand-alone arrow symbol. The arrow points in the direction the tire should turn when going forward.

Look for a V-like tread pattern

The treads on directional ATV tires often form a V like pattern, some more prominent than others.

Here are a couple of examples of what to look for:

The red lines help visualize the V-like tread pattern on both of these tires.

Note that some manufacturers offer tires with a less prominent V like thread pattern that is marketed as multi-directional regardless. The idea with these tires is that they offer more flexibility. 

The less aggressive V style tread pattern still offer decent traction when mounted as you usually would mount a directional tire. Then, if you want, you can mount the tire backward without being too troubled bu the potential downsides. 

Inspect if the tread pattern is symmetric 

If there are no directional marks on the sidewalls or no clear V like pattern, the tire is most likely multi-directional, but it can still be directional. To know for sure, you need to inspect the design of the tread pattern.

  • Stand the tire in an upright position and look at the tread pattern from the top. Then turn the tire 180 degrees.
  • Take notice of whether the thread pattern looks the same in both positions or if it looks different. It may be easier if you compare two similar tires at the same time.
  • The tread pattern on a multi-directional tire will look the same no matter which direction it stands.
  • The tread pattern on a directional tire looks noticeably different in the two positions.
The tread pattern on most multi-directional tires looks the same when you turn the tire up side down.

Read the tire specs or ask the dealer

When you shop for new tires online, you will often find that they include information about tire direction in the spec section of the listing. If there is no listed info, you should simply contact the seller and ask, or do a google search on the specific tire you are thinking of buying.

Your local dealer should also be able to tell you wich of the tires they offer that are directonal and not.

Three different tires that are all multi-directional.

How to know which tire tread direction is correct on a directional ATV tire?

If you’ve established that you have directional tires, you must make sure they are installed in the correct direction.

  • If there are directional markings on the tire sidewalls, the tires should be mounted so that the arrow is facing the direction of forward rotation.
  • V-style tread patterns should be installed so that the tip of the V hits the ground first when going forward. 
  • There is usually no “left” and “right” side on a directional tire. They can be mounted on either side, as long as the arrow is pointing forward.

Directional VS Multi-Directional tires, pros and cons

The type of terrain where you do the majority of your riding determines whether directional or multi-directional tires are the better choice for you. 

If the majority of your riding is on hard surfaces such as hardpack, rock, gravel, or pavement, you will probably be better off with a multi-directional tire. They are also the preferred choice in off-camber situations. 

If you ride mostly in wet mud, or if you prefer optimal traction the few times you ride in mud over ride comfort and handling on hard surfaces, a directional tire may be the better choice. 

  • Directional tread patterns provide better traction in loose surfaces like mud, snow, and sand. This makes them pull better in the forward direction. 
  • Directional tread patterns are self-cleaning. The V-shaped threads will push mud out as you go forward, creating a self-cleaning effect. This helps improve traction by keeping the threads less mud packed and ready to grip when going forward.
  • High power ATVs can utilize the lugs on a directional mud tire to create a paddling effect when going through the mud at high speeds. 
  • Multi-directional tread patterns are smoother on hard surfaces such as pavement.
  • Multi-directional tread patterns grip better on rocks.
  • Multi-directional tires can be rotated to even out tire wear.
  • Multi-directional tread patterns grip side slopes better. 
  • Multi-directional tires generally stop faster than a directional tire.
  • Some multi-directional tires are designed with the characteristic V-like thread pattern of a directional tire

Can you mount directional ATV tires backward?

For most ATV applications, you can swap directions on a directional tire, but it is not always recommended or beneficial. In some situations, it can negatively affect handling to a point where it gets dangerous.

Installing a directional tire backward may negatively affect safety

  • It may pull hard to one side as it is not tracking as good as when mounted forward. This may cause instability to such a degree that you lose control of the ATV, especially when riding at higher speeds. 
  • By installing a directional tire backward, you significantly reduce the traction of the tire on most surfaces, possibly leaving you stuck halfway up a slippery hill.

The specified direction of rotation offers the best traction

Many manufacturers mark the sidewalls of their directional tires with the word “TRACTION” instead of “DIRECTION”. The choice of words emphasizes the main purpose of mounting a directional ATV tire in the specified direction; it’s the direction that gives you better traction.

By installing a directional tire according to the specified direction, you will be able to take full advantage of its performance. For the average rider, it’s recommended that you follow the recommendations from the manufacturer.  

Mounting the tire backward may be beneficial in sand or snow

For lower speed applications, there might be situations where installing the tire backward might have its benefits:

  • Reduced tire wear and vibrations on hard surfaces. Tractor drivers that drive a lot on paved roads reverse the tires as it may reduce tire wear and vibrations, ensuring a smoother ride. It is also thought to reduce the so-called bubble effect at high speeds. 
  • Floating on top instead of digging in on snow and sand. When installed correctly, a directional tire will push mud out to the sides, effectively cutting into the ground for better traction. By installing the tire backward, it will pull the dirt to the center of the wheel instead. You will get less traction, but the tire will not dig in as deep as it would when mounted in the forward direction. Some riders report that this gives you better flotation in surfaces such as sand or snow.

In a spare tire situation, you should have no problems using a directional tire mounted backward to get home.

Related questions

Are SunF ATV tires directional?

The SunF brand offers both directional tires like the A050 “Godzilla” as well as multi-directional ATV tires like the A001.

Are Wanda ATV tires directional?

The Wanda brand offers both directional tires like the P375-10218 as well as multi-directional tires like the P350-10165.