If you’re new to the industry, it can be tricky to follow the various vehicle names that get thrown around in conversation. What is a side-by-side, and how is it different from an ATV? Why are there so many different types of machines, and how do I know which off-road vehicle is right for me?
As always, SuperATV is here to break things down and get you a little more comfortable maneuvering through this crazy, fun world known as the off-road industry. So today we’re discussing all things UTV! If you pick the right one, this machine can be your hardest-working sidekick, your most fun weekend companion, and your favorite way to unwind.
There’s a lot to learn—starting with the basic question of what is a side-by-side—so let’s jump in!
The meaning behind the term “side-by-side” is simple: most of these vehicles feature two seats situated—you guessed it—side by side. (Of course, not all side-by-sides have exactly two seats. More on that later!)
Although “side-by-side” is one of the most common ways to talk about this machine, it’s not your only option. You might hear riders refer to this vehicle using one of these other terms:
You may also see “side-by-side” stylized as “SxS” in writing. But whatever you call them, their purpose remains the same. They all help you experience the outdoors in a totally unique way, whether you’re working or playing.
Now that we’ve answered the question of what is a side-by-side vehicle, how do you decide which model is right for you? For the most part, it comes down to where you live and what you’ll use it for. There are sport models with impressive top speeds and utility models that are built for work. Or you could end up with a hybrid model, which is somewhere in between.
Here are some of the most common uses for UTVs:
Once you’ve narrowed down what type(s) of off-roading you’ll be getting into, you can determine what to look for.
In order to use your UTV as a pack mule for all of your outdoor adventures, you need storage space. Many side-by-side vehicles feature a bed similar to what you’ll find on a truck (just a little smaller). But if you want plenty of space to stow your rifles, fishing poles, or camping gear, here are some things to look for:
A side-by-side is the perfect tool for people who work outdoors! If your work involves hauling logs or heavy equipment, you’ll want everything we mentioned above. But in addition to that, there are a few other things you should look for in a hardworking UTV:
If you plan on taking your machine from the trails to the pavement, you’ll need something street legal. Learn more about your state’s specific “street legal” requirements.
You can always make modifications after purchasing—that’s something we’ll talk about later on—but if you want something road ready from the get-go, here are some things to look for:
Everyone has their own style of riding. Some riders prefer coasting over sandy desert dunes while others go deep in the woods, off the beaten path. Luckily, no matter what kind of riding you prefer, there’s a machine for that!
Here’s a super simple overview of what you might want for different types of riding:
Of course, no matter what type of side-by-side you go with, you want it to be capable. Nobody wants to invest in a machine only to get home and realize you just blew a ton of money on a hunk o’ junk. If the machine appears to have a lot of rust, emits any funny noises or smells, or doesn’t start right up, you might want to think twice before investing.
Learn more about what to look for when purchasing a pre-owned side-by-side.
What is a side-by-side? What’s an ATV? And what’s the difference between the two?
Because they serve similar purposes and their names only differ by one letter, it’s no surprise that the terms ATV (all-terrain vehicle) and UTV are commonly interchanged. But they’re actually two very different machines, and if you want to get into off-roading, it’s important to know why.
The most obvious difference is how you sit in (or on) the machine. ATVs feature straddle seating, similar to a bicycle. And side-by-sides have bucket seats or bench seating, like what you have in your car.
Steering is another difference. ATVs, also known as four wheelers, feature handlebar-like steering. UTVs, on the other hand, are operated with a standard steering wheel.
Finally, because of the straddle seats, ATVs are not equipped with seat belts. Most UTVs, on the other hand, come with restraints. For this reason, side-by-sides are typically considered the safer of the two options.
This is just a brief overview, of course—there are lots of other factors that make each of these machines unique. Check out our ATV vs. UTV article to learn more about the differences between the two and find out which ride is right for you.
Let’s summarize what we’ve learned about side-by-sides and go over a few other factors that set them apart from other vehicles.
When asking yourself “What is a side-by-side?”, look for the following physical characteristics:
As you can imagine, not every side-by-side is the same. For that reason, there are some exceptions to this list! For example, while four-wheel UTVs are the most common, some companies have added 6×6 models to their lineups in recent years.
And while a two-passenger minimum would seem standard for a vehicle whose name literally derives from having two passengers sit side by side, this isn’t always the case. Single-seater UTVs have been a thing since the 70s, when Honda unveiled the original Odyssey—not to be confused with the current Odyssey minivan, of course.
If you’re curious about where side-by-sides originated and how they evolved into what you see today, check out this article on the history of UTVs.
One of the most exciting parts of being a side-by-side owner is customizing it to meet your needs. It’s actually why some riders prefer UTVs over ATVs—because there are more opportunities to outfit it with sweet aftermarket parts and accessories.
Once you have a handle on what type of riding you enjoy, you’ll start to become aware of the products that exist to help you get the most out of each ride. And the best part? No matter what you want—speed, power, comfort, or all three—you can get it from SuperATV.
Here are some great parts to start with if you want to make some modifications to your new side-by-side:
When it comes to modifying your side-by-side, the possibilities are endless. And installing most of these products is quick and easy! Even if you’re new to the SxS world, we offer step-by-step tutorials on the SuperATV YouTube channel.
And if you’re looking for more inspiration on where to get started, we’ve put together this list of aftermarket UTV upgrades that will help you stand out in a crowd.
SxS, UTV, ROV—that’s a lot of acronyms for a single vehicle. But it makes sense when you think about how complex these machines are. From work to play and sand to snow, it doesn’t matter when, where, or how you ride. Somewhere out there is the perfect side-by-side for you. And once you find it, SuperATV is here to answer any questions you have about it.
Now that we’ve answered the question of what is a side-by-side, only one question remains: when can you start riding?