What Size ATV should you Buy?

Purchasing the right size ATV is an important decision.  It’s common for people to to either go too small to save money or go too big because they think higher CC means better quality.  Hopefully, I can help you to avoid making either of those mistakes with this article.

What size ATV should you get?  That is going to depend on how big you are, what type of riding you will be doing, where you intend to ride, and whether you are going to let others ride the ATV.  

Here is a short table with the basics before we get into the details.

50-70cc-young children under 12 that are learning to ride.

90-125cc-children under 16 that are still learning to ride.

200-300cc-bigger teens that know how to ride, smaller adults that are learning, wont be riding for long periods of time

400-500cc – price point shoppers, ranchers, acreage owners, farmers, new riders, light trail riding, most females

550-700cc- – aggressive trail riding, hauling, taller people, 

700-1000cc – aggressive trail riding, mud play riding, average male rider, hunters, hill climbers, speed demons, stream crossers

How big are you?

While your physical size is not going to play a huge role in what ATV you ultimately choose, it is a great starting point.  Generally, you want to feel comfortable while riding the ATV, especially if you plan to ride it for any long periods of time.  

The best way to figure this out is to actually get on some different ATVs and determine what sizes are comfortable and what sizes feel too cramped.  Keep in mind, ATVs within any CC class are going to vary a bit, as you can see by our article on ATV size, but you should get a general feel for what will work for you.

As a starting point, we have asked around and generally fit people into a few categories.  If you are under 5’10”, you are going to be okay on a smaller ATV, under 400cc, unless there is a different reason you want more power.  

If you are over 5’10”, you are going to be pushing it at anything under 400cc. At about 6’2” or 6’3”, you are probably going to want to move up at to a 500cc, but again there are variations in size at each class so these aren’t clear cut rules.

Where you are planning to ride?

These next two questions are going to be the most important for most people, and they are almost the same question.  Where you are planning to ride is going to be a big factor in how much power you need and, in turn, what size ATV you should buy.

If you are just planning on using the ATV for general riding around your property or easy trail rides, 550 cc or under is going to be plenty big enough.  

If you are going to be doing more aggressive trail riding, steeper hill climbing, or some towing and hauling, you will probably want to be in the 500 -700 cc range.  Finally, if you want to take the ATV through bogs and mud pits, tackle the harshest terrain or head out to the sand dunes, 700cc to 1000cc is going to be what you need.

What type of riding will you be doing?

So the last question really led into this question, but there is a little difference.  It is not just where you are going to ride your ATV, but how you are going to ride it once you get there.

Every person is going to ride their ATVs in different manners throughout their ownership of the ATV, but they typically fall into one of three groups.  Those three groups are roughly as follows: 1. Those riders that aren’t going to push the ATV; 2. Those riders that enjoy pushing the ATV a bit, but are not going to be extreme; and 3. Those that ride the most aggressively.

In the first group, those that don’t push it, are going to be the ranchers that just want an ATV to ride around the property or do some light snow plowing or towing..  It is going to be the people that just want to ride the ATV on casual trail rides to enjoy the scenery and not to max the speed.

These are going to be people that are not riding for long periods of time, so the extra space is not going to be as crucial.  These ATVs are also great for beginners because they usually come with automatic transmissions, or at least don’t require a clutch to shift, and are easy to handle. Put another way, they are often designed for beginners. ATVs for these riders are going to be in the 200-450cc range.

In the second group, those that push a little bit, are probably most riders.  These are riders that will be going on long rides where they need more comfort, but may not be going through the roughest conditions.  These are the riders that come across a big mud bog and choose to ride around, rather than through, it.

This group has the ranchers and farmers that want to do more than just ride around their property, they want to be able to hook up to farm equipment and haul things.  ATVs for these riders are going to be in the 450-700cc range.

In the third and final group are those that want maximum power and capability.  These are the riders that want to go as fast as possible. They want to race up mountain sides and, when they come across a deep stream or huge mud bog, they are going to slam the gas pedal and fly through it.  

These are the riders that are wanting to add a snorkel so they can submerse there machine and soak themselves with water and mud. These bigger ATVs are also great for big game hunters as they can be used to haul out your kill through the roughest of terrain.  ATVs for these riders are going to be in the 700-1000cc range.

If you plan to pull a trailer, boat or anything else with your ATV, you will want to check the ATV’s towing rating and the type of hitch it has, regardless of what size you are looking at.

The standard 5 cm (2″)  receiver (the one you likely already have on your car or truck) is increasingly common on ATVs and virtually standard on UTVs. Different ATVs within any given class will have different towing ratings so it is difficult to say any certain class will tow some amount.  You will have to do your own digging on this one.

Finally, you need to prepare if you want to be able to put more than one rider on the ATV.  Most ATVs are only designed for one person. ATVs made to carry two riders typically feature a slightly longer wheelbase for added stability, a second, slightly raised seat with grab bars for the passenger and a second set of floorboards or footpegs.  These ATVs are typically going to be found on your bigger ATVs such as 600-1000cc.

Are you going to let others ride your ATV?

This is a big question most people don’t think about when they are buying a new ATV, but is an important one.  Think about who else is likely to ride your ATV. Are you sharing the ATV with your spouse? Are your kids going to want to learn on your ATV or do they have their own?  Are your grandchildren going to ride it when they come visit? Are you going to let friends ride your ATV and, if so, how experienced are they?

If you think other people may drive your ATV you need to keep their capabilities in mind.  A 1000cc ATV may scare off a new rider. I remember the first time I let my 13 year old nephew drive an ATV.  

It wasn’t that big of a machine, but it was too big for him. The first thing he did was pull back on the throttle and drive right into the back of my mom’s car because he wasn’t ready for the power and it was too big for him to easily steer.

Typically, inexperienced riders will feel that a smaller sized ATV is better suited for their riding style. For inexperienced riders, it is safer to stick around the 400-550cc range, but most importantly, you want to make sure the ATV is automatic transmission and equipped with Electronic Power Steering. Those will make a world of difference for the new rider as the ride will be easier and the rider less sore afterwards.

If you are looking for an ATV that your wife, or older children will feel comfortable riding for the first time, we strongly recommend 550cc to 700cc. In the Arctic Cat line up, this will ensure your ATV comes with that all important Power Steering. Now, if you are purchasing an ATV for work, and employees are likely to be riding it, you will again want an all-around use ATV.

On the other hand, if you are an experienced rider and are mainly going to be riding with other experienced riders, it is important to consider their riding style.  Are you going to need a 700-1000cc ATV to keep up with them and through the kind of terrain they like riding in?

What about Children?

Depending how you look at it, picking the right size ATV either becomes easier or harder when you are dealing with children.  There are specific youth sized ATV’s and guidelines published by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

While that may be very helpful to some extent, there are so many other considerations to put into determining the riding ability of your child.  See our article on getting children started on ATVs.  You should also be aware that certain states have legal requirements about what size ATV children may ride.  Check out our guide to ATV laws for every state to see if your state has legal restrictions.

Youth ATVs are basically smaller, lighter and less-expensive versions of the adult models. Nearly all of them are designed for play and recreational trail riding with the family, yet some models can be quite competitive in the youth division racing.  

Most of the youth ATVs range from 50-125cc and tend to consist of lesser-known brands that are designed and built in foreign countries. As you would expect, this means the price range and difference in quality tends to vary more than other categories.

If you want to start with the CSPC guidelines, they are very broad as you will see.  

  • children under 6 not ride ATVs
  • children aged 6-11 should only use a 50cc ATV
  • children aged 12-15 should use an ATV ranging from 70-90cc
  • children 16 and older can ride any machine up to 700cc.  

As you can probably tell, I don’t find these guidelines super helpful.  After you read our guide about determining what your child is capable of, it’s time to determine what size ATV your child is physically sized for.

Have your child stand on the foot rests of the ATV and grasp the handlebars. There should be at least 3 inches of clearance between the ATV seat and your child’s seat of the pants.

Your child should be able to move the handlebars all the way to the right and to the left. They should also not have a problem operating the throttle and squeezing the brake lever with one hand as these controls are intended to be used.  

Finally your child should be able to shift their weight from side to side and from front to back and maintain their balance. You will only learn this by actually putting them on different ATVs and testing for yourself.

Also, do yourself a favor and check out our safety guide, as a huge majority of ATV injuries and deaths involve children, and many of those are due to children riding ATVs that are too big for them.

Is an ATV or UTV right for you?

When thinking about ATV size, the granddaddy of them all is actually the UTV.  The UTV, or side-by-side, is a a 2-4 seater vehicle almost like a mix between an ATV and a car.  For some, this may be a better alternative than any size ATV.

You will want to stick with an ATV if you meet any of the following:

  • You want something fast and nimble;
  • You will be riding narrow trails or tight spaces;
  • You want to haul it in the back of your truck or a small trailer;
  • You want to be able to quickly hop on and off the machine;
  • You want to take corners quickly (check out our article on cornering);
  • You want to do more active or sport riding;
  • You want to race;
  • You are on a budget; or
  • You don’t want to spend as much on upgrades like power steering, four-wheel independent suspension, electronic fuel injection and four-wheel drive.

You may want to consider a UTV if you meet any of the following:

  • You are looking for more comfort and convenience in driving;
  • You want to be able haul or transport more people or other cargo;
  • You don’t want to worry about balance and maneuvering your body as you ride; or
  • You want to show off with lots of personalization and performance enhancement.

Should you get Electronic Fuel Injection?

Most ATVs now come with Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI). EFI allows the ATV to adapt to whatever elevation you are riding at and minimize any performance issues that come along with changes in sea level.

This means that a rider can go from riding down the beach to climbing a mountain without adjusting anything on his or her ATV. It also eliminates the issues with starting the ATV in cold weather or when the engine is overheated as the EFI’s computer sensors tell the system how much fuel to send into the carburetor, thus allowing the engine to work to its full potential even when there are drastic changes in elevation or temperature.

However, there are still Carbureted ATVs on the market and they typically run a bit cheaper.  However, you should keep in mind that the initial money savings comes along with more opportunity for future repairs and maintenance.

Also, for the rider who isn’t familiar with carbureted ATVs, you will see performance difference when riding at different altitudes. Because of these issues, it is smart to get the EFI unless you really know what you are getting into.

Do you need Power Steering?

All UTVs are likely to come with power steering and it is increasingly common on ATVs.  Power steering is a very nice addition on an ATV and you should probably get it unless you are an experienced rider that likes not having the feature.  

Not only is it much easier on your muscles, it means the handlebars won’t get jerked out of your hands when you hit a big bump. If your ATV doesn’t come with power steering, you are probably looking at about $1,000 to add it.  If you are going to be riding long days, this may be very worth the money to save your arms and shoulders.

Should you get an Automatic Transmission?

Like power steering, pretty much all UTVs come with automatic transmission and it is increasingly common on ATVs.  Also like the power steering, an automatic transmission is likely going to add about $1,000 to the cost of a new ATV, but getting a manual transmission is becoming less and less of an option.

The majority of four-wheelers sold today feature completely automatic transmissions. If you can drive a car, you can drive an automatic ATV. Most automatic ATVs consist of a variable clutch, belt-drive system similar to that found on snowmobiles. However, some of the ATV manufacturers have gone in a different direction by designing complex, internal gear-driven systems.

The gear-driven systems are a bit heavier and more expensive to make, but are also more reliable and won’t get flooded during deepwater crossings. The more traditional belt-drive systems also emit quite a bit more heat in the summer, which can be a  big deal since it is right underneath you.

You can still find a manual ATV, but should only get one if you have a good reason for it.  The two kinds of manual transmissions used in modern ATVs are the traditional five- or six-speed with a manual clutch or a system with an automatic clutch.

The manual clutch ATV is used on virtually all racing ATVs because it permits you to more precisely control your engine’s rpm and traction.  With this clutch, you shift with your left foot while your left hand controls the clutch. It takes some skill to really do this, but it’s the reason why expert trail riders and racers prefer this setup.

What kind of Cooling System should you get?

Liquid-cooled systems (also known as water-cooled, even though the coolant is actually a mixture of anti-freeze and water) are typically much more efficient, than more traditional cooling systems, at keeping the engine temperatures down.

The system works by flowing the liquid coolant from a radiator mounted on the frame to the hollow channels surrounding the cylinder. It’s pretty much the same setup that you’ll find in cars.

Many ATVs also have an auxiliary fan that blows on the radiator for further cooling. This extra fan is especially useful if you plan on traveling at slow speeds for long periods of time, such as during lawn mowing, snow plowing or farm work.

Having cooler-running engine is important for several reasons. First, the power delivery stays consistent and strong.  Second, the overall life of the engine is increased, as well as the time span between overhauls.

Overheated engines strain parts and decrease the effectiveness of the engine lubricants. Finally, a hot ATV engine can be a pretty severe nuisance for the rider on a hot day, trust us, we live in Las Vegas, as the ATV your radiates heat right onto your legs.

Should you get a Single-Cylinder or Twin Cylinder Engine?

Single-cylinder engines powered the overwhelming majority of most early ATVs, but you now have the option of getting a two-cylinder engine without breaking the bank.  

The twin-cylinder motor is going to be better for the rider that wants more power at the same displacement and that wants to rev more quickly. 

The single-cylinder engine is going to be a better choice for the rider that cares more about having a smaller and lighter ATV as the the twin-cylinder engines are considerably bigger and heavier.

Should you get Disc or Drum Brakes?

Most ATVs today feature the superior disc brake systems.  You should get one of these ATVs if possible. Simply put, they stop better, last longer and work much better in muddy and wet conditions. In the winter, you won’t have any problems with discs freezing up while drum brakes can get water inside that freezes after you put the ATV away.

Do you need a Four-Wheel Drive ATV?

A big question many ATV buyers have is whether to get a two-wheel or four-wheel drive. It basically comes down to how extreme the terrain is that you’ll be riding in.

Four-wheel drive ATVs do a much better job getting through muddy sections, climbing steep hills, crawling over big obstacles—such as logs and rocks—and navigating deep water holes. Four-wheel-drive ATVs can also plow more snow, carry more cargo and pull bigger farm implements and trailers.

Since you won’t always need it, most every four-wheel-drive ATV has a button that allows the operator to switch back and forth from two- to four-wheel drive without hassle. Some ATV four-wheel drive systems have sensors that automatically switch the ATV to four-wheel-drive mode when it feels the need for front-wheel drive.

If you aren’t going to be riding in extreme terrain, you can  save yourself some money with a two-wheel-drive ATV and probably be just fine.  It is always nice to have the four-wheel drive if you need it, but it may fit your needs better to save the money.

Just don’t get a 3 wheeler.  They stopped making them thirty years ago, but I saw one just this last weekend.  They stopped making them for a reason.

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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