I hear this question a lot especially when talking about technical riding, ATV camping and ATV Hunting. Now first off let me say that by no means am I an expert technical rider, nor am I an ATV expert, I just enjoy doing it a lot. In my opinion ATV technical riding is rock climbing, hill climbing, rough terrain, mud, and snow.
There are several sections of the utility 4×4 ATV that are important to understand before answering the question of size.
The important sections of a utility 4×4 ATV are:
- Engine Size
- 4X4 Drive System
- Load Capacity
Engine Size – The manufacturers are continuing to push the envelope with engine sizes in the utility 4×4 ATV market. But is all that power necessary for technical riding and ATV camping? The answer is NO! I ride with a lot of different people riding different machines and visit a lot of the online forums and while the bigger engines will product higher top speeds, when it comes to technical riding while carrying heavy loads a good 400 – 550cc utility 4×4 ATV does just fine and when properly equipped is all that is needed. Anything bigger is just personal preference. Keep in mind the larger the engine the more weight the suspension must support.
If you ride at different altitudes you will want an engine with Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI). EFI engines have been out for some time now and have proven to be very reliable. EFI automatically adjusts the Air/Fuel mixture for varying altitudes keeping the engine running smoothly.
Suspension – The suspension is probably one of the most important areas of a good utility 4×4 ATV. The suspension must support the weight of the machine plus the weight of the rider and cargo while providing a comfortable ride regardless of the terrain. The suspension needs to provide proper ground clearance and articulate all four wheels with plenty of travel in order to maneuver over obstacles with confidence.
In my opinion 4-wheel independent suspension is the best choice for ATV technical riding and ATV camping. 4-Wheel independent suspension is where all 4 wheels move independently from the other wheels. The suspension also needs to be adjustable to compensate for heavy loads such as camping gear.
4X4 Drive System – There are several types of 4×4 drive systems available with each manufacturer stating their system is the best. Well, all I recommend in a 4×4 drive system is that it is selectable, automatic clutch, and has a high and low range. By selectable I mean you can switch from 2-wheel drive to 4-wheel drive. Having this capability enables better fuel economy when 4-wheel drive is not necessary.
By automatic clutch I mean there is no manual clutch lever to operate. Most importantly is a high and low range. High range for regular riding and a low range for hill climbing and rock climbing. Having a low range enables the smaller cc ATVs to go almost anywhere the larger cc ATVs go.
Load Capacity – This is one area I see over looked a lot. Load capacity is the manufacturers maximum recommended load the ATV can carry. These ratings are usually listed by front rack, rear rack, and towing. Need to make sure the ATV you select can carry all of your gear. The latest two-up (two person) ATVs available today offer greater load capacities and with a wheel base 6 – 8 inches longer than a regular ATV provides extra stability in rough terrain.
Features – This is an area that you may have to do some research to understand. There are so many features available on new utility ATVs it can get rather confusing. Concentrate on the features that are going to help you. Flashy wheels and paint may look good but they do nothing for the way the ATV rides and do nothing for you when you are technical riding.
One of the latest features to hit the market is electric power steering. I personally see power steering as another thing to break on you. But the people that have it swear by it. Stock tires are pretty basic, this is an area that a simple upgrade can make a lot of difference in the ride, handling and performance of the ATV. Ask around and do the research necessary to understand the features before purchasing.
Reliability – All of the major ATV manufacturers offer good reliable machines, and there is a lot of import ATVs hitting the market these days offering incredible savings. But beware, this influx of low cost machines have no warranties, no reliability data and parts availability is scarce. If you are new to ATVs then these low cost imports offer a cheap machine to learn to ride on but they just don’t have the durability and suspensions for rough terrain. The major manufacturers offer good warranties and parts availability.
Price – Have a good understanding of the type of riding you anticipate doing, are you going to be riding alone or with a passenger, are you carrying a lot of gear, what options or features do you require. Again remember bigger is not necessarily better. If you are anticipating riding with a passenger purchase an ATV equipped to do so. Prices can range from $2000 – $6000 for used major manufacture ATVs and $4000 – $13,000 for new major manufacture ATVs.
Conclusion – Very rarely when riding in rough technical areas or when ATV camping is there opportunity for speed, therefore based on what I have experienced and seen the answer to the question “What Size Adult Utility 4X4 ATV Should I Have?” is:
- A new major manufacturer 500cc – 550cc EFI two-up ATV with 4 wheel independent suspension is a good adult utility 4×4 ATV. With the money you save invest in some good tires (1 – 2 sizes larger), suspension and clutch upgrades. These machines are incredibly stable due to the longer wheelbase and offer load capacities to handle almost anything you want to carry. Plus you can carry a passenger if you want to. Anything bigger is just personal preference.
- If you are new to ATVs start out with a used major manufacturer 300 – 550cc utility 4×4 ATV ($2000 – $3000).
- If you are an experienced adult ATV rider base your decision on your weight. If you are under 200lbs then a new 400 – 550cc utility 4×4 ATV will do just fine. If you are over 200lbs then a 400 – 1000cc utility 4×4 ATV, remember engine size is a personal preference.
Check out our list of ATVs for Sale and my post on How to Buy a Used ATV. One last note, whatever size ATV you end up getting always purchase ATV insurance for it, it is money well spent and the best accessory you can have. Make sure whatever brand you buy that you can get parts and good service locally. Always Wear A Helmet!