When Should You Use High vs. Low Gear On Your ATV?

ATVs will provide any off-roader with a fun, thrilling experience. However, if you want to make the most of your ATVing trip without incident or frustration, it is important to know when and where to shift gears from high to low. Let’s talk ATVs:

High gear on an ATV was designed to help the vehicle go faster and to pick up speed. Low gear was meant to be used to increase torque and grunt. Low gear should be used when hauling a load or driving in steep/difficult areas. Drivers should not go too fast in low gear as it could strain the engine.

If you are still confused as to when you should use high and low gear, don’t worry! Here are a few extra tips and tidbits that will help you to make the most of your ATVing experience:

Using Low Gear

As mentioned before, low gear should always be used when you are driving on difficult terrains or pulling a load of any kind. Rough terrains include steep hills, muddy ground, or deep sand. Low gear will help you get through the worst Mother Nature has to offer. With the added torque that low gear provides, your ATV will get through most sticky patches smoothly.

Climbing Hills

Obviously, if you have reached an ascent or descent that is simply too steep to be reckoned with, you should use your instincts and let fear caution you just a little bit; however, low gear is the best if you are going to be tackling a large hill, whether it’s going up or down. However, ATVs are not invincible and neither are you. Use your best judgment to decide whether or not you can make it—you don’t want to flip your ATV.

If you have decided your ATV can comfortably scale the ascent, shift your ATV into low gear. Keep in mind. Let the engine idle before shifting. Before heading up the hill, back up a little and speed up so you have enough momentum to make it over the top.

You should move forward in the seat and even stand up if that becomes necessary. You want to keep as much weight on the front of the quad as possible, as this will lessen the likelihood of you sliding back down the hill, or worse, tipping over backward. If a downshift becomes necessary, do so quickly while releasing the throttle. This will keep the front of the vehicle from lifting off the ground.

If you start scaling the hill and suddenly realize you are not going to make it, the last thing you want to do is panic. The best thing to do is to keep your weight forward so the vehicle won’t tip. Start to make a U-turn as soon into the climb as possible or you could risk tipping the ATV and seriously injuring yourself and any passengers you may have with you. Once you have turned, continue back down the hill in a lower gear. When going downhill, keep your weight to the back of the ATV so it doesn’t tip over.

Riding Through Mud

Mud can be extremely bothersome, especially since there could be hidden sticks or rocks underneath the muck. If you do not have 4WD, low gear is your best bet to get through it. High gear will move fast, but it does not have the same kind of power to get through stuff like mud. Low gear is the only way to go.

Though this method is less advisable, you can crash through the mud puddle at high speed and get a little dirt on your sleeves. However, if you are more in favor of caution, do your best to find ruts that have already been made by other off-roaders. Move along those as smoothly as you can. Keep in mind, this way is a lot slower, but it is also much, much safer.

Using High Gear

High gear is simple. In talking to some off-roaders and ATV owners, we learned that most drivers would use high gear all the time unless they were driving in rough areas at a lower speed. As mentioned before, high gear is meant to be used when traveling at higher speeds and on smoother trails. Unless you plan on using your 4WD, you can likely leave your ATV in high gear for the duration of your trip.

The only time you would want to return to low gear is if you are driving at increasingly slower speeds. Driving at a low speed in high gear can actually damage your driving belt. If you continue to drive at low speeds in high gear, your driving belt could snap, and that would wreak havoc on the rest of your engine. If this does happen, replace the belt as soon as you can. Failure to do so could result in a much pricier repair in the future.

Naturally, every ATV is different, so when you choose to ride in high gear, you will need to read your owner’s manual thoroughly to know what exactly is best for your vehicle. However, as mentioned before, most of your high gear riding can be done on smooth trails where there are few obstacles to bypass.

Typically, if you are driving for a prolonged period where your speeds will always be below 25 miles per hour, you should be using low gear. This will prevent your driving belt from becoming irreparably damaged. If you are concerned about your engine becoming damaged, you can also listen to it. If it sounds strained or is making noises it might not make otherwise, you probably ought to switch gears sooner than later so you don’t mess up your engine.

High gear is especially nice for off-roaders who prefer to go at high speeds and has added power to create a fast and smooth ride for you. In addition, it is fairly eco-friendly and is the most efficient way to cover ground quickly and comfortably. As long as you pay close attention to your vehicle’s needs, you should be good to go.

Brent Huntley

Brent Huntley is the owner of ATV Man and is responsible for almost all the material on the website. He also runs photographyandtravel.com and loves to travel and ride ATVs with his family. When he isn't playing, his day job consists of owning Huntley Law.

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