If you're not running the right tire, then you're undercutting your machine's potential. Sometimes the best-looking tire—you know, the one with treads like a chainsaw on steroids that makes your hackles stand up—isn't the best for your riding style and can even make your vehicle harder to drive.
Fear not! We'll break it down and let you know what's what when it comes to tire size, tire tread, and even tire pressure. You need the right tire for you, your environment, and your machine. Choosing the correct tire can make a world of difference for your ride's overall feel and performance. If you think your ride sucks, it might just be the tires.
You really need to pick a tire size that works for your machine, not for your ego.
You may not know what you want out of a new set of tires, but I'm guessing you know you want to go big! Why? Because bigger is better of course!
Well, not necessarily. That might apply to beds and bank accounts, but that's not always true when it comes to tires.
When is bigger better?
Bigger is better when you need to roll over some serious obstacles and you need serious clearance.
Big tires (I'm talking 32"+) are popular with the mud boggin' crowd because they can reach the bottom of the mud hole without putting you neck deep in the mud. That means more grip and less drag because your machine doesn't have to plow through all that peanut butter.
They're great for rocks, fallen trees, and other trail blips like that. With a big enough tire, you'll just roll right over them without much effort. Every bump feels smaller when your tire is bigger.
When is bigger worse?
There are a lot of good reasons to stay with a smaller tire, not the least of which is the toll a big tire takes on your machine.
Think about it, a bigger tire means more weight and more work for your machine just to spin them. If you add too much weight, your drive train will take a beating. We're talking busted axles and shredded belts. What's the solution? A new clutch kit can help save your belts; aftermarket axles are your only cure if your stock axles start snapping.
Plus, your stock machine can only fit up to a certain size before the tire starts rubbing. A 2018 RZR Turbo, for example, can fit 32" tires on stock suspension; a 2017 Maverick X3 can fit 30" tires, but they'll rub a little bit in the rear. That means you'll need to invest in a lift if you want to go any bigger.
Every pound you add to your tire is torque that you lose. Every inch your tire is bigger also costs you torque regardless of weight change (it's a complicated gear ratio type thing). How do you get that torque back? A clutch kit, gear reduction, or ECU tune all help.
Getting bigger tires is a compromise. Huge 40" tires can turn your machine into the monster you always imagined it as... if you're willing to put in the work. Simply going big without the proper considerations could leave you with a gimped machine that's not good for much.
If you're just starting to think about upgrading your tire size, just go up an inch or two from stock. If you're willing to lift, tune, and tweak your machine to perfection, then the sky's the limit. As they say: go big or go home.
What do you want out of a tread pattern? Do you want an ultra-aggressive tread that will chew up and spit out anything you roll over? I bet you do, and while that's the perfect tread pattern for some riders, that might not be exactly what you need.
There are tons of different tread patterns out there from mud, to road, to sand, to all-terrain, to race. Each of those tire types has a whole spectrum of different varieties to help you fine tune your ride.
All terrain tires are your best bet if you're not focused on a single terrain type. They generally have a tight pattern of deep lugs similar to what you might see on a big truck, but more aggressive.
A good all-terrain tire will get you through most obstacles and terrains. They especially shine on tracks, in hard pack, gravel, and rocks. You won't be disappointed traversing loose earth on hillsides either. Most racers will use a version of an all-terrain tire because they give just the right amount of grip to go fast.
A good feature to look out for on all-terrain tires is siping. These small slits (or "sipes") in the rubber help the tires grip on super smooth surfaces like rocks, roads, and snow.
SuperATV has a nice all-terrain tire that will make you grin.
When you think of a super aggressive tread pattern, you think of mud tires. These have huge lugs that are designed to get as much purchase on the slippery goop as possible.
The key to a good mud tire (besides those big lugs) is its ability to self-clean. That is, the lugs are angled in such a way as to eject the mud as the tire spins. Less mud stuck to the tire means better grip. The next thing you want to look for is a strong lug down the centerline of the tire. It makes the ride smooth on hard surfaces. All of SuperATV's mud tires excel at clean-out and smooth riding.
Sand tires are highly specialized and aren't useful anywhere besides on the sand. Likewise, most other tread patterns will perform poorly on loose sand dunes. If you plan on spending the majority of your riding time in the dunes, then definitely grab a set of sand tires. Even if you're going to split your time 50-50 between dunes and elsewhere, having a set of mounted sand tires to throw on your machine for dune day would be a good idea.
The choice is clear: if you're a specialized rider, get a specialized tire, otherwise, go for all-terrain. There is a little crossover between them—you can find aggressive mud tires that work really well for most terrains (like SuperATV's Intimidator and Terminator tires) and you can probably find an all-terrain tire that will handle mud or sand better than others.
Generally, though, put an all-terrain tire in mud that's too deep and you'll get stuck. Put a super aggressive mud tire on a hard pack surface and you'll feel like you're riding on ice. Put a sand tire on anything but sand and you might vibrate to death on those paddles if you don't crash into a tree first.
The final piece of the puzzle is tire pressure. How much is too much? How little is too little? Why would you ever want to inflate the tire to anything other than the manufacturer's recommended tire pressure? Generally, the rule of thumb is that you want higher pressure for smooth surfaces and lower pressure for rough surfaces, but how high and how low you go is dependent on a number of factors including what kind of tires you have.
Lower pressure means more grip no matter what you're doing. It also means you'll have a smoother ride and your tires will absorb bigger impacts without having chunks torn out of the tread. When traction's an issue dropping the pressure will usually help, but there are some issues to watch out for.
Every tire is a little bit different and will react differently to different tire pressures. A super aggressive mud tire with massive tractor-style lugs might not change its shape at all when tire pressure is dropped and therefore yield no advantage. A low tread all-terrain tire might deform a lot, in which case you would need to lower pressure more cautiously. The point is, you need to do some experimenting to see what pressure works for you and your setup.
If you want to run a very low-pressure tire (1-5psi) because you need that traction for rock crawling or running on dunes, you'll want to make sure you run bead lock wheels. Your tire requires a certain amount of air pressure to stay stuck on to the rim, the lower you drop that pressure, the more likely your tire is to jump off the rim. You don't want that. Bead locks literally bolt your tire to the rim so your tire will maintain pressure even in wild, off-camber situations. It won't guarantee that you won't lose pressure, but it's a requirement for any low-pressure action.
Running higher pressure is easy to understand and easy to accomplish. You don't need special rims because a higher pressure means it will stick to your stock rims better. Racers tend to run the recommended pressure or higher because too much traction will slow them down, and the surfaces they race on are usually smoother. Likewise, if you're running DOT Approved all-terrain tires, you want to use the recommended or higher pressure. You'll get better gas mileage and a more secure tire at high speeds. Some will run higher pressure en route to the trail, then drop pressure once they get there, and reinflate on the way home.
Do Your Research
Every tire is different, and every setup is different. You should have a pretty good idea of how you can get what you want, and chances are a tire that a lot of people like (like this all-terrain tire) will be great for you.
If you want to get into the weeds and you want a highly specialized tire just for your needs, you'll need to read reviews and product descriptions. Apply the information here and you'll be on your way to a perfect ride, tweaked and tuned just for you.