When it comes to choosing what size tires you should get for your ATV, there are several factors you need to consider.
One tire size does not fit all, and if you choose wrong, it may cause fitment issues or negatively impact your ATV’s performance and handling.
This guide covers everything you need to know to ensure you choose the proper size tire for your ATV, riding style, and requirements.
What Do ATV Tire Size Numbers Mean?
ATV tire sizes are usually listed with numbers separated by dashes (-), slashes (/), or the letter ‘X.’
A typical ATV tire size format is shown like this: 26X11-14.
- The first number (26) is the tire’s height in inches when fully inflated.
- The second number (11) is the tire’s width in inches when fully inflated.
- The third number (14) is the diameter in inches of the wheel the tire is designed to fit.
So, in the example 26X11-14, the tire measures 26 inches in height and 11 inches in width and fits a wheel with a 14-inch diameter.
Sometimes, you’ll come across tires with an “R,” like this example: 26X11R14
The R indicates that it’s a radial tire. Tire sizes with no “R” in them are bias-ply tires.
If you want to learn more about tire sizes and how to read them, I recommend our more in-depth guide.
How to Choose ATV Tire Size
To know what size tires you should get, you must ask yourself a few questions.
- Did the stock size serve you well?
- What type of performance are you looking for?
- Are you willing to accept the negative consequences of a bigger tire?
- Are you ready to pay for mods and suspension upgrades?
- Are you looking to reuse your existing wheels, or are you upgrading those as well?
- What is your budget?
You’ll often find that your honest answer to these questions can lead you to a decision different from what you first had in mind.
Let’s look at each question and why they are essential.
The Stock Tire Sizes Was Not Chosen by Chance
When ATV manufacturers decide on tire sizes for their vehicles, they need to find a tire that offers good performance through a wide range of riding applications.
ATVs are incredibly versatile vehicles, and their use varies from high-speed trail riding, mudding, rock crawling, and heavy utility work. Unsurprisingly, no tire size is perfect for all these ATV riding forms.
In addition, engineers and designers must consider suspension and drivetrain design, vehicle wear, fuel economy, and cost.
All in all, the stock tire size is what the manufacturers consider the ideal balance between all these factors. Changing size in any direction can bring things out of balance, especially if you make drastic changes.
So before you decide to deviate too much from the stock, it’s a good idea to carefully consider how good of a job the stock-size tires have done.
Do you actually need tires of a different size, or did the original (stock) size work well for you in most situations?
If you decide to replace your worn-out old tires and want the same size, you’ll find the sizing on the outside tire sidewall.
The tires you’re replacing may not be the ones that came with the ATV. That is why it’s always a good idea to check the owner’s manual or look up the vehicle spec sheet for stock tire sizes.
Note that most ATVs come stock with smaller tires in the front. Here is why.
Tire Size and Performance
Tire size can significantly affect vehicle performance in various terrains and riding applications.
Before choosing what tire size to get, you must consider the result you’re looking for.
When people are looking to get bigger tires on their ATVs, most of the time, it’s to improve traction, flotation, and ground clearance in wet and rugged terrains.
Ground clearance. A tire that is 2 inches taller will increase the ground clearance by half, in this case, 1 inch. The extra ground clearance allows you to go over bigger rocks and ride in deeper ruts without getting high-sided.
Flotation on soft grounds. A wider tire improves flotation on softer surfaces like snow, sand, and wet mud, effectively reducing the risk of sinking in. Better flotation is typically helpful for the average rider who goes through the occasional wet spot.
However, a wider tire may not be what you want if you are into extreme mudding. The more extreme mud tires are typically tall and narrow with aggressive paddle-style tread patterns, designed to cut through the soft top layer and down to a firmer subsoil to gain traction.
Ride comfort in bumpy terrains. A taller tire is typically more comfortable for riding on uneven terrain with pits and bumps.
The bigger diameter tire is more likely to skim across the pits and ruts without bottoming out. When it hits a bump, the larger circumference allows the tire to roll across the obstacle with less effort and less dramatic suspension movement.
Vehicle stability. While a bigger tire improves performance in most slow-speed off-road riding applications, a smaller tire makes the vehicle more stable at higher speeds and on sloped terrains.
Added height increases the vehicle’s center of gravity, effectively increasing the risk of the ATV tipping over at high-speed cornering or when riding across steep hills.
It is also worth noting that a taller profile tire flexes more from side to side, making for less precise handling, especially when cornering at speed.
So, if you’re looking for optimal ride characteristics on the trail, you don’t want a tire that is too big.
Downsides of Installing Bigger Tires
Some people want bigger tires mainly because of the more aggressive look, while others believe it can make their ATVs go faster.
However, bigger is not always better when it comes to ATV tires. Before deciding to upgrade to bigger tires, you must consider whether you’re prepared to handle the potential drawbacks they bring.
However, it is not uncommon for ATV owners to want to change tire size, typically into bigger tires. If that is you, there are a few things you consider to ensure a good fit.
Clearance issues: Most ATVs can handle a tire that is 1-2 inches bigger in diameter and 1-2 inches wider without any significant clearance issues. Anything bigger and the tires begin to rub the inner fenders, suspension, brake lines, and other components inside the wheel well.
Altered gear ratio: A bigger tire has a larger circumference than a smaller one. In practice, the bigger tire travels a longer distance each time it turns than one that’s smaller.
This may not sound like a big deal, but when increasing tire height more than 1-2 inches from stock, you begin getting issues with the gear ratio being too much off and the transmission and clutches not working as they should.
Added weight: As tire size increases, so does the tire weight. And when it comes to tires, lighter is usually better.
A heavier tire is more challenging to turn from the added momentum, which can negatively impact handling.
Not only are heavier tires harder to maneuver, but they also require more torque to turn and stop. Added tire weight robs engine power, which causes poorer acceleration and puts added strain on the brakes that need to work harder to bring the wheels to a stop.
Here is a more in-depth look at what to consider when installing bigger tires on your ATV.
Mods and Upgrades Necessary for Bigger Tires
Installing significantly bigger tires usually requires one or several modifications to the ATV to reduce the negative consequences listed above.
Trimming the fenders: Cutting the fenders to improve clearance doesn’t cost much but can reduce vehicle resell value.
Installing a lift kit with bigger suspension and wide-angle axles: You might need to install long-travel suspension and longer-reaching undercarriage components to bring the wheel further away from the wheel well. As a side effect, the axles might need to be replaced to better handle the wider driveline angles. Learn the Pros & Cons of Lift Kits.
Installing a clutch or gear reduction kit: Significantly larger tires typically require a clutch kit to prevent poor performance and prematurely burn out the drive belt. A gear reduction kit can somewhat compensate for reduced acceleration and torque.
There is no definite answer to what modifications are required for the various tire sizes. But as a general rule, the farther you deviate from the stock sizing, the more comprehensive and expensive modifications are needed.
Reuse or Upgrade the Wheels?
Wheels come in many shapes and sizes, and the stock wheels that came with your ATV were specifically selected to fit well with the stock tires.
Generally, the tires can be 1-4 inches wider than the wheel’s width—anything wider, and you need to get wider wheels as well.
When it comes to tire height, you typically have more room to play, but sidewall height may become an issue if you go too tall.
Even if you can physically fit a bigger tire on the stock wheels, you must not forget to consider potential clearance issues.
When choosing a tire that is more than 1-2 inches bigger from stock, you typically need wheels with a different offset to increase the wheel backspace.
You could consider installing wheel spacers as a cheaper alternative to getting new wheels, but before you do, it’s a good idea to consider their pros and cons.
Tire Size Is Not Everything
When choosing what tires to get, the tire size is not the only thing you should consider. Other factors can have just as big of an impact on off-road performance.
Tread Pattern and Size
Stock tires typically have moderate, multi-purpose tread patterns to accommodate various surfaces.
If you prefer mudding over rock crawling, you might want a tire with a tread pattern that focuses more on traction on wet surfaces with taller lugs in a paddle-style pattern.
Choosing a moderately sized tire with a more aggressive tread pattern can be a good alternative if the size tires you first imagined become too expensive due to the modifications and upgrades required.
Tire Load Rating
A tire’s load rating indicates the maximum weight the tire is designed to handle. This metric is crucial for those who use their ATVs for utility purposes to haul cargo and pull heavy trailers.
The tire load index rating, ranging from 0 to 150, is based on a standard chart. For instance, a tire with a load index of 100 is designed to support 1764 pounds or 800 kilograms.
Most tires also have a load rating at a defined tire pressure.
Tire Speed Rating
A tire’s speed rating indicates the maximum speed it is designed to handle. The speed rating uses letters where A-rated tires can handle the slowest speeds, and Y-rated tires can handle the highest.
ATV tires typically have an “S” speed rating, which indicates they are designed to handle speeds of 112mph or 180 kph.
Remember that while the tires can handle such speeds safely, you and your ATV might not. ATVs are considered slow-speed vehicles that should never be operated at speeds over 50mph, so the speed rating is rarely an issue when choosing ATV wheels.
Radial vs. Bias Ply
ATV tires come in a radial or a bias ply construction, each with pros and cons.
Radial tires typically offer lower fuel consumption, better traction, improved flotation, and higher cut resistance in the treated area. The tread wear is better, and the tires provide a smoother ride. However, the sidewall is more prone to damage from hitting branches and sharp rocks.
Bias ply tires are typically cheaper with stiffer sidewalls, making them less prone to swaying on sidehills. However, the smaller footprint gives poorer flotation in the mud, and the more rigid design gives a less comfortable ride.
While radial tires are becoming the standard in today’s ATV market, some still offer bias-ply tires.
Will Bigger Tires Hurt Your ATV?
Installing bigger tires on an ATV will typically cause more strain on wheel bearings, bushings, suspension, and CV joints, leading to reduced service life or an increased risk of component failure during operation.
The Bottom Line
- If you’re happy with the performance of your stock tires and don’t want any of the negative consequences of a bigger tire, you should get a tire of the same size as stock. Stock-size tires typically offer a good balance between traction, flotation, performance, and maneuverability.
- Suppose you’re not too avid of a trail rider and want improved off-road performance without comprehensive modifications and reduced ride quality. In that case, you should choose a tire that is 1-2 inches larger and 1-2 inches wider than the stock.
- If you want optimal performance on the trails or in rock crawling, you should keep the stock size but could choose a tread pattern designed more towards traction on hard surfaces.
- If you’re into more extreme mudding and don’t mind paying for the upgrades required to make them fork, you might want a tire as large as 30 to 34 inches in diameter.