Should I buy a dirt bike or an ATV?: Things to Think About

Our knee-jerk answer would be, “dirt bike,” but there are many things to consider when making the choice between buying a dirt bike and buying an ATV.

Should I buy a dirt bike or an ATV?

Should you buy an ATV or a dirt bike? The answer may not be as simple as you think. Factors such as where you live and what type of riding you do may sway you toward one or the other.

While the very name of our website might make the answer to this question seem like a no-brainer, especially to our core audience, even we aren’t too blinded by lust to recognize the pros and cons when comparing a dirt bike to an ATV.

For starters, we have to admit that ATVs are far more versatile than dirt bikes. Sport utility ATVs make up the bulk of the market and for good reason. Many of these units live a double life, handling their fair share of work on farms, ranches, construction sites and pipe lines across the country. And when work time is over, sport utility ATVs make great mounts for sportsmen who take advantage of their generous cargo capacity and handy racks, which work great for hauling camping, fishing and hunting gear.

Geography may also be a factor when considering whether or to buy an ATV or a dirt bike. ATVs enjoy tremendous popularity in southern states where wet, marshy terrain can often impede the progress of your average dirt bike. With their balloon-like, low-pressure tires, ATVs can float over ground that might sink a dirt bike halfway to China. Many ATVs are also available with some form of all-wheel drive, and a lot of them also feature dual-range transmissions that allow them to crawl through some pretty gnarly stuff like a Sherman tank. On top of that, an ATV’s versatility can drastically extend the riding season in wet and snowy climates for the same reasons. While we know a lot of dirt bike riders in the Midwest who enjoy ice riding on frozen lakes, dirt bikes are pretty useless in the snow unless one is willing to invest in a snow bike conversion.

An ATV will work better in the snow in stock form, but if you’re willing to invest in a snow bike conversion kit, you can definitely extend your riding season in colder climates.

But, lest you think that we’ve just made the case that ATVs are the bomb when compared to dirt bikes, here’s where we think the tables turn in a dirt bike’s favor. For starters, having plenty experience with both, we know that dirt bikes are way more fun to ride than ATVs just about anywhere that terrain opens up and the traction is above marginal. If you can ride a section fast on an ATV, chances are good that you can ride it faster on a dirt bike, even in the woods, where a dirt bike might have a distinct advantage by being able to thread their way through the trees while an ATV might not.

But, most importantly, there is an added skill factor that one gains when riding a dirt bike that the ATV rider is effectively cheated out of: balance. Riding a dirt bike is more of a three-dimensional experience than riding an ATV because the rider learns to take into account balance, throttle position and lean angle when learning to ride, and that makes dirt bike riders better-skilled riders. The perfect litmus test is to take an experienced dirt bike rider with limited ATV riding experience, and vice versa, and have them run the same section on both vehicles. Unless he is a complete spode, our money will be on the dirt bike rider to have the faster combined time every time.

No matter which way you choose to go, it is important to learn the right way. Take a riding course, take your time, and wear all of the appropriate safety gear.

That isn’t to say that ATV riders can’t ride. We know a few ATV riders who haul the mail around our local motocross tracks, and it’s fun to watch them display their riding skills, which go well beyond even the average dirt bike rider. But they are the exception rather than the rule.
So, we say that if you really want an ATV, or if you live in an area where it makes more sense to own one, or if all your riding buddies have one, then go for it. The same is true for dirt bikes. If you want to know more about ATVs, check out

But, no matter which way you go, take the time to learn how to ride your chosen off-road vehicle safely. Wear all the proper safety gear and be careful and courteous to others when out on the trail. Do that, and the odds are good that you’ll enjoy which ever vehicle you choose for a very long time.