When I was looking into getting new tires for a side by side (UTV), many of the tires I was researching had different tire sets for the front and rear tires. While sometimes they had different tread designs, they always had smaller tires in the front than in the rear. This got me thinking why the smaller tires would be installed in the front of a UTV and what advantages that may have to just having all four tires be the same size.
Why do UTVs have smaller tires on the front? Having smaller tires (by width) on the front and larger tires in the rear helps make the UTV easier to maneuver, creates faster acceleration and increases traction.
Having smaller tires on the front of a UTV makes it easier to steer
The smaller-width tires on the front of a side by side have less surface contact due to their smaller size. This means there is less tire touching the ground at any given time.
Because of this, the UTV becomes easier to steer. Because the steering effort is reduced, the side by side becomes easier to maneuver. In other words, the side by side becomes easier to turn.
Think about it this way. Two items of similar weight should require the same effort to move; however, if one item is tall and skinny while one is is short and fat, the tall one will be much easier to maneuver because less of it is in contact with the ground.
Having larger tires in the back of a UTV increases traction
The smaller tires in the front are easier to steer because they have less friction. The larger tires in the back provide greater friction, which provides a whole separate host of benefits.
In general, you want your back tires to provide more stability than your front tires. The increased traction from the larger tires helps you avoid slippage, thereby giving you greater control as you take sharp corners (for expert advice on cornering like a pro, check out this article).
The increased traction in the rear tires helps with more than just cornering. It also helps with acceleration, hill climbing and torque. All these help you accomplish some very important things to UTV riders, namely towing and not getting stuck in rough terrain.
Are there downsides to having smaller front tires on a side by side?
There can be some downsides to having smaller front tires than rear tires on a UTV. The biggest key to avoiding these ATVs is confirming whether your model is designed to accommodate the size difference, and keeping the difference between the tire sizes from being too drastic.
Where you run into real problems is with height difference. One of the most obvious issues is that you won’t get an accurate speedometer reading, that is if your side by side has a speedometer. Because a speedometer counts the revolutions of a tire, different sized tires can cause it to read inaccurately. The more troubling part is that it can cause serious problems to your drive system. Because of this, you should keep the height the same and only have the width be smaller.
Another issue you may see when having different sized tires is that the tire treads may wear unevenly between the front and rear tires. Typically, the result would be the front tires wearing out before the rear tires.
Why do ATVs sometimes have larger front tires than rear tires?
On the opposite side of the spectrum, you may be surprised to see ATVs that have larger front tires than rear tires. This is never as drastic as the difference in UTV tires, as the ATV tires should never be more than 2 inches larger in the front. Because the difference is subtle you not have realized it before, but you definitely will now.
The configuration with larger front tires is called “nose up,” and can have some benefits for ATVs. It is mostly used by ATV racers because it helps you navigate moguls more efficiently.
The difficulty with riding through moguls (a series of repetive bumps and dips) is keeping the front end of your ATV from digging in on the dip. this can ground out the suspension, slowing you down, or cause the ATV to flip over the front if you hit the dip wrong at a high speed.
Riding nose up with larger tires on the front will help keep you from digging in because it shifts more of your weight to the back of the ATV and the larger tires will give more of a bounce off the dip at high speeds.
One other thing to be aware of with larger front tires on an ATV is the opposite result we looked at with smaller front tires on an UTV. A nose up ATV will have less traction on the rear tires so your rear end will slide a lot more around corners.
- What is a UTV? A UTV is a Utility Terrain Vehicle, commonly referred to as side-by-sides since the passenger sits on the side of the driver, rather than behind. UTVs are typically larger than ATVs, are operated by a steering wheel rather than handlebars, and have gas and brake pedals. For more information about UTVs, look at this introductory guide.
- How much does a UTV cost? The price range is pretty open for new UTVs. Utilitarian models are cheaper, with base models ranging from $8,000-$15,000, while high-performance UTVS range from $10,000-$30,000. For a more extensive guide on UTV pricing, go to this article.