Selecting a new set of tires for your ATV shouldn't be a difficult experience. If you know what to look for, you can get the perfect set of tires for your quad without emptying your pocketbook. There are five things you should be aware of and look for when selecting a tire, or set of tires, for your ATV. Selecting the wrong tires can decrease performance, kill your fuel economy, and possibly damage your ATV. Follow our guidelines below, and you should be able to select the best possible tire for your ATV every time.
The type of terrain you traverse most often should be one of the primary determining factors for the type of tire you select. There are basically four different types of tread patterns for ATV's:
a. Mud Tires - Characterized by their inside-to-outside, angled tread pattern, mud tires are directional tires that are designed to work primarily in, you guessed it - mud. Mud tires do work well, however, on other types of terrain (except hard-packed trails). If I had to buy only one set of tires, I would buy medium-aggressive mud terrain tires.
Mud tires typically have very tall (nearly an inch, sometimes more) tread patterns with large voids between them. The concept behind this type of tread pattern is that they are, for the most part, self-cleaning. As the tire spins through the mud, the mud is forced from the center section of the tread pattern and pushed outward to the sides. The faster you spin the tires, the better this function works.
There are three primary flaws to mud tires.
1) The tread life on mud tires is greatly diminished if you drive anywhere but mud (especially on hard-pack trails, or on concrete/asphalt.).
2) Because of the aggressive tread pattern, they offer less-than-optimal ride quality as compared to O.E. or trail tires.
3) Mud tires, again, due to their directional, median-type tread pattern, typically offer very little lateral stability when the ATV is side-hilling an obstacle.
b. Trail Tires - Trail tires, also known as "All-Terrain" tires, are tire manufacturers' best attempt to create a tire able to handle a variety of terrain. Trail tires, while they do not excel at any one terrain, do offer a good range of traction in various terrains. An aggressive trail terrain tire would be my second choice, if I only had to buy one set of tires.
The tread pattern on all-terrain tires vary tremendously, especially in the ATV industry. The tread on these tires range from approximately ½" to ¾" deep, and typically have overlapping tread patterns with smaller gaps between the tread lugs than mud terrain tires. However, if you are purchasing a set of all-terrain tires in order to see various types of terrain, you should look for a set that offers a good amount of self-cleaning capability.
All-terrain tires typically offer better lateral and vertical stability than most other tires, and will provide longer tire tread life than mud tires. The bottom line is, if you spend most of your time trail riding, seeing some mud, some sand, and some rocks, all-terrain tires are probably your best bet.
c. Sand Tires - These tires are characterized by their "paddle" or "scoop" type treads. The front tires typically have only one tread pattern: a raised rib, running down the center of the tire. This is the only tread pattern that provides good traction in the sand. All others fall short in this type of terrain. Furthermore, because these tires are so specialized, running your quad in the dunes with tires other than sand tires can overheat your ATV's engine quickly.
Sand tires only have one purpose, and that's sand. Don't attempt to take sand tires on the trails, in the mud or on the street. They provide very little lateral stability in terrain other than sand, and they'll fall apart (wear out, chunks will come off the paddles, etc.) on any terrain other than sand.
Sand tires are so specialized, that if your ATV sees sand dunes more than a couple times per year, you should consider purchasing a set of them for those runs.
d. Racing Tires - Racing tires, like sand tires, are specialty-built, and are primarily designed for medium- to hard-packed trails and courses. They are also characterized by their flat-top, knobby construction, and are designed for high-speed runs.