First of all, the fact that you’re even considering buying either of these makes us happy. Seriously, the amount it will cost you to buy a dirtbike or an ATV will pay itself back over and over with an endless supply of fun and memories in no time. I’ve personally owned and raced both dirtbikes and ATVs, so I’ve grown quite familiar with each of their pros and cons. I started out on two wheels and rode dirtbikes in Connecticut until I got to high school. I then moved to Pennsylvania, and sold my dirbike in favor of an ATV, not because I didn’t like riding dirtbikes anymore, but because most of my friends and cousins had them.
I lived in Scranton, PA, where it snows a lot in the winter. Having an ATV there was more practical for year-round use. A lot of people in PA also had snowmobiles, but a quad was able to get around on snow-covered trails and roads easily too, so long as you had decent tread on your tires. A dirtbike, unfortunately, not so much. The rural parts of Pennsylvania are very popular amongst outdoorsmen, fisherman and hunters, and ATVs are perfect for this kind of stuff because of their ability to carry more cargo. Utility 4×4 ATVs come with racks both front and rear, and can basically go just about anywhere. Sport ATVs are rear-wheel driven and weigh much less, and they don’t come fitted with racks like utility quads do, but there’s an endless supply of aftermarket bumpers and grab bars you can get that quickly fixes that problem.
Most of the trails in Pennsylvania are enough to fit ATVs or even Jeeps and other 4x4s no problem. The same is likely true for wherever you live. Sport ATVs are a ton of fun to ride, and steering with the throttle is a blast, but compared to dirbikes, they do have their limitations. On the flip side, the same is true for dirtbikes. So let’s talk about the highs and lows.
Should I Buy a Dirtbike or an ATV
An ATV’s four wheels provide more stability than a dirtbike, and this can make traversing rough, slippery and/or uneven terrain a lot easier. But, an ATV doesn’t have as much ground clearance as a dirtbike, so there’s that to consider. A dirtbike is much narrower than an ATV and can get in and out of much tighter places and ride along skinnier single-track trails – an ATV usually cannot. Then there’s also the weight of the two to consider. A sport ATV can weigh almost twice as much as a dirtbike. Most newer ATVs now come equipped with a reverse gear, but that wasn’t a luxury I was afforded back in the day on my Honda TRX450R or Kawasaki KFX450, which meant I had to heave and pull the darn thing around anytime I got stuck or had to turn around on a tight trail. Dirtbikes don’t have this problem, and can be flipped around much easier.
Then there’s the cost of maintenance and ownership. With a dirtbike, you only have two tires to replace. On a quad, there’s four. So you’ll be spending about twice as much on tires every time they need replacing. And then there’s the question of storage and transporting them. Of course, an ATV takes up more space than a dirtbike, and transporting either of them is easy if you have a pickup truck, because they can both usually fit pretty easily. A pickup truck, however, can carry up to three dirtbikes depending on your setup, but only one quad. I’ve seen people get creative by standing their ATVs up on the grab bar and rear wheels, and fit two in a bed, but it’s not an ideal setup, which means if you have more than one, you’ll need to factor the cost of a trailer into your budget.
In college I bought myself another dirtbike. I had ATVs at the same time, but found myself gravitating back to two wheels, mostly because I found dirtbikes to be more versatile for the type of riding I was into, and I could ride more trails in more areas. Plus, it was just easier to load and unload by myself. But your situation could be different. You could possibly ride your ATV anywhere you want and never have to worry about loading or unloading it – I didn’t always have that luxury, especially if I wanted to ride a motocross track.
In the end, it really boils down to what type of riding you think you’ll be doing and where. In the right hands, an ATV can do just about anything a dirtbike can, but there are just certain places an ATV can’t go. If a trail is too narrow, it’s too narrow. Simple as that. Just like trying to fit into size 32 jeans if you’re actually a 36 – it ain’t happenin’, Mack.
One final thing to consider is if you plan on riding any motocross. There are ATV motocross series all across the U.S., but most tracks have a propensity for and prefer dirtbikes. ATVs kick up a lot of dust, way more than dirtbikes, and they steer with the throttle and slide the rear around, which means they’re constantly pushing dirt off the track. Dirtbikes, on the other hand, carve ruts into the track, which doesn’t bode well for ATVs. ATVs and dirtbikes on the same track at the same time just don’t mix, unfortunately. As a result, tracks often only allow ATVs to ride on select days and/or on select tracks because of the way in which the tracks have to be prepped afterwards.
We support your plans whether you end up on two wheels or four. You really can’t go wrong either way, and you’re going to have a blast no matter what – that’s guaranteed. But at the end of the day, if we had to choose one or the other, we’d have to give the nod to dirtbikes well, because, this website isn’t called Dirtbikes.com for nothing, but also becaude they’re all-around a little easier to live with. Then again, if you live somewhere where it snows a lot (we don’t), you might be better off with an ATV. So maybe just get one of each! 😉