ATV vs Dirt Bike: Choosing an Offroad Vehicle

What’s better for offroad riding, a dirt bike or an ATV? Which one is the better choice largely depends on what you want it for and how you’ll be using it. 

ATV vs dirt bike

Both ATVs and dirt bikes are formidable machines for getting your offroad thrills. However, there’s a lot more to consider than just the fun factor when choosing between a dirt bike and an ATV. Here’s a guide to some of the differences between both types of offroad vehicle.

ATVs vs Dirt Bikes: Safety

The question of which offroad machine is safer depends on how you ride it. But ATVs are often viewed as being safer than dirt bikes due to their sturdiness and ease of riding, which often gives the rider a false sense of security. 

ATV vs dirt bike safety

Quads are prone to rolling over on the rider, resulting in severe injuries or death due to their massive weight. A typical ATV weighs more than twice as much as a dirt bike, which is more prone to crashing. Dirt bike accidents are no joke and can be lethal as well, but they often deal more in bruises and sprains than broken necks and backs. Riders are usually thrown clear off a dirt bike. And even if the bike does hit or land on the rider, it’s not as severe as a 1,000-lb. ATV rolling over on a person. 


Buy an offroad helmet

Buy offroad body armor


As far as minors go, parents tend to buy ATVs that are bigger than a young rider can handle due to the mindset that their child will outgrow a four-wheeler made for kids. This can lead to kids getting in accidents for trying to handle ATVs too big or powerful for their size. While the same goes for dirt bikes for kids in that parents often buy bigger machines thinking they’ll eventually outgrow smaller ones, a full-size dirt bike rolling over on a minor is still less severe than a quad doing it. 

ATVs vs Dirt Bikes: Learning Curve

Spending a good 10 minutes of instruction on an ATV is usually enough to learn how to ride one. Mastering how to handle a dirt bike, on the other hand, is more intensive and requires a lot more trial-and-error.

ATV vs dirt bike learning curve

Not only are ATVs sturdier and more stable, but some even come with automatic transmissions, where dirt bikes are built with clutch and throttle systems that take time to adapt to, especially for racing. ATVs are much easier than dirt bikes for minors and grownups alike to learn how to ride. And while powersports vehicle manufacturers make smaller and less powerful dirt bikes and ATVs for kids, dirt bike riding is still far more aggressive regardless of the machine’s size. 


Buy offroad riding gloves

Buy ATV accvessories


Learning how to balance on a dirt bike takes a lot of time and patience, whereas balancing an ATV doesn’t take much to master. Throttling and braking on a dirt bike can be tricky, so a first-time rider is more likely to crash or get thrown off than a beginner ATV rider.

ATVs vs Dirt Bikes: Utility

If your main interest is racing, the dirt bike is your best bet. However, if you want to get more use out of an offroad vehicle, ATVs are designed for much more than just riding. 

ATV vs dirt bike utility

From farming to hunting and towing, ATVs offer a wide range of uses and can haul supplies a dirt bike can’t. And when it comes to riding with a friend or group, ATVs are built for add-ons like winches for towing, and for hauling equipment and supplies. You can use an ATV for plowing, seed spreading, big game hauling, etc., activities that dirt bikes aren’t meant for. Carrying anything on a dirt bike pretty much means taking whatever you can fit in a backpack. So while dirt bikes can go faster and often further than ATVs, if you’re looking for more than just riding thrills, an ATV or side-by-side gets you a better return on investment. 

ATVs vs Dirt Bikes: Racing

Dirt bikes can race at higher speeds than ATVs. They’re also much lighter and can maneuver much easier into tight areas ATVs might not be able to clear.

Dirt bike vs ATV racing

While ATVs are fun to race, if you’re a speed and/or adrenaline junkie, you’re better off getting a dirt bike. ATVs are less fit for racing than dirt bikes because they’re heavier and slower. Plus, you can perform more tricks and stunts on dirt bikes, whereas ATVs are limited in this area due to their sheer size. And again, having a 1,000-lb ATV roll over on you is far worse than getting thrown off a dirt bike while doing a stunt. If leisurely offroad rides are your thing, the ATV is the better choice. But for pure thrills and adrenaline, the dirt bike is the way to go.

ATVs vs Dirt Bikes: Riding Season

A dirt bike in snow? Don’t think so. ATVs are for built for all terrains and pretty much all seasons too. Put snow tires on an ATV during winter and you can keep riding it and even turn it into a snow plow. 

ATV vs dirt bike riding season

Dirt bikes with snow are a recipe for disaster, since they’re not made to handle slippery and icy tracks and trails. No offseason for quads is why we’ve yet to publish an article about winterizing an ATV, but we already have a couple of posts about winterizing motorcycles. ATVs can still go in snow while dirt bikes are spending the offseason in storage. Four-wheelers are better equipped to handle any and all climate conditions, so if you don’t want an offseason from riding, the ATV will better serve you.

ATVs vs Dirt Bikes: Comfort

ATVs and their side-by-side cousins give riders more comfortable, spacious seating, while on a dirt bike you’ll spend more time standing than sitting. 

Dirt bike vs ATV comfort

Riding a dirt bike is a jarring experience, so people with back or neck problems are probably better off riding ATVs. Dirt bike handling requires standing and sitting constantly, and the narrow seats can be harsh on the groin. ATVs offer wider seats, better cushioning and a balanced center of gravity, so if comfort is your thing, a dirt bike won’t be your best choice for an offroad vehicle.

ATVs vs Dirt Bikes: Transportation

Pretty obvious here, but any motorcycle is easier to transport than an ATV. Seeing as dirt bikes are slim and lightweight, you can easily load and unload them from the back of a pickup truck. And if you like riding in groups, you can fit 3-4 dirt bikes on a pickup bed versus one ATV. If a dirt bike gets stuck or breaks down, you can roll it or even carry it back to your truck. You don’t have to depend on others to tow your 200-lb dirt bike to safety like you would with a 1000-lb quad.  

ATV vs dirt bike transportation

ATVs vs Dirt Bikes: Durability and Stability

Both ATVs and dirt bikes are built for punishment, but quads are much better equipped to withstand wear and tear. The higher speeds dirt bikes ride in alone increase wear-and-tear faster, which means they typically require more maintenance and replacement parts than ATVs. They’re All-Terrain Vehicles, which makes them tougher and more durable than dirt bikes. Four wheels also provide more stability than two wheels, and as such they’re less likely to crash than dirt bikes. 

ATVs vs Dirt Bikes: Passengers

Dirt bikes are built to carry one rider, period. Having passengers on a dirt bike is a no-no, while ATVs are spacious enough to be passenger friendly. 

ATV vs dirt bike passengers

With an ATV, you can bring along others to hop in the back and share your offroad experiences. If you want company on dirt bike rides, you’ll have to find others with their own dirt bikes. ATVs typically have room for two, and if they don’t, they can often be fitted with passenger seats. If you’re a motorcycle person and you like having passengers, you’re better off with a cruiser or touring motorcycle type than a dirt bike. 

ATVs vs Dirt Bikes: Cost of Ownership

Finally, there’s the cost, and we’re not just talking sticker price here. There’s also maintenance and repairs to consider when choosing between a dirt bike and an ATV.  

ATV vs dirt bike cost

If you’re shopping for an offroad vehicle and budget is a concern, dirt bikes are the obvious choice. Their simpler designs means fewer parts to maintain and/or replace, and of course they cost much less to produce. ATVs not only have more components to maintain, repair or replace, but the two additional tires and the parts that hold them together add to the upkeep. Consider fuel economy as well, since two-wheelers in general consume less fuel than larger and more powerful four-wheelers. However, keep in mind that the more you use a dirt bike, the more fuel it’ll consume and the more punishment it’ll take, so it could end up costing more to maintain in the long run than an ATV. 

ATVs vs Dirt Bikes: Which to Choose?

Whether you go with an ATV or a dirt bike as your offroad vehicle of choice, you’re bound to get your money’s worth and then some in thrills alone. Just remember that ownership of either requires additional expenses in riding gear, as well as maintenance and repairs. In other words, neither is cheap to own. 

ATV vs dirt bike which to choose

If you’re an adrenaline junkie, go with a dirt bike. But if you’re more of an outdoorsman that enjoys activities like hunting and camping, or you simply need a reliable machine for labor like farming and plowing that can also serve up the thrills, the ATV is your best friend. If you can afford both, even better!



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