ATV vs. Dirt Bike - Understanding the Pros and Cons of Each
a rider on a green atv in a dirt lot

ATV vs. Dirt Bike – Understanding the Pros and Cons of Each

ATVs and dirt bikes are two of the most popular powersports vehicles around, and they both make it easy to have tons of off-road fun. Picking one or the other is kind of like asking whether you’d like to have a pair of killer Bluetooth motorcycle speakers in your helmet or an amazing subwoofer in your car — can’t a person just have it all?

But if we have to make the choice of ATV vs. dirt bike, how do these two vehicles stack up? Which is better for which types of off-road rider? When it comes to the big ATV vs. dirt bike question, these are the facts that every outdoor powersport lover should know. 

Cost

  • -Dirt bikes and ATVs both have a wide spectrum of price points. That said, when it comes to entry- and mid-level models, the price range of dirt bikes is typically several thousand dollars below the price range of ATVs.
    • -Advantage: Dirt Bikes

Ease of Operation

  • -ATVs have relatively simple controls that make them easy to operate, and most beginner-friendly models have automatic transmissions. Dirt bikes are substantially more complex and require the rider to learn more about balance and shifting gears. Note, however, that both types of vehicles require training to operate, and they shouldn’t be left with untrained operators or unsupervised children.
    • -Advantage: ATVs

Safety

  • -Dirt bikes and ATVs are both reasonably safe vehicles when riders take the right precautions, like wearing protective gear and riding safely. However, when it comes to which is safer in an accident, a Johns Hopkins study revealed that ATVs were significantly more dangerous in crashes than dirt bikes. ATVs are more likely to flip over and trap riders underneath, and their heavy weight makes them hard to move off an injured person.
    • -Advantage: Dirt Bikes

Terrain Capabilities

  • -Dirt bikes can certainly handle lots of different terrain, but there’s a reason that ATV stands for all-terrain vehicle. ATVs, especially ones with four-wheel drive, are built for maximum traction and utility across mud, gravel, hills and whatever else you can throw at them. They’re also much better than dirt bikes in light snow, which extends their riding season considerably.
    • -Advantage: ATVs

a person riding a dirtbike

Motorcycle Riding Gear that Every Beginner Needs

Work Capabilities

  • -ATVs are a more functional vehicle that can be outfitted with features like a trailer hitch and winch cable, making them great utility vehicles for farms, forest preserves and other rural areas. (If you need something focused on working performance, you should also consider a UTV or side by side.) Dirt bikes are pretty much exclusively for recreation, although dual sport bikes are a solid transportation option for some people in rural areas.
    • -Advantage: ATVs

Fuel Efficiency

  • -The average ATV gets approximately 15 to 20 mpg, while a 125cc two-stroke dirt bike will typically get approximately 30 to 50 mpg. Dirt bikes are lighter and need less engine power to move, giving them better fuel efficiency.
    • -Advantage: Dirt Bikes

Speed

  • -Few ATVs can keep up with a dirt bike in a race, and they shouldn’t try. Dirt bikes are built for speed and agility, whereas most ATVs are designed for versatility and comfort. If you do want to drive an ATV at high speeds, make sure to look for a sport ATV model rather than a utility ATV.
    • -Advantage: Dirt Bikes

Rider Comfort

  • -The stable and relatively natural seating position of an ATV rider means that ATVs tend to be more comfortable to ride. In fact, standing up in the saddle is one of the key skills for riding a dirt bike.
    • -Advantage: ATVs

ATV vs. Dirt Bike: The Showdown

So, how does the ATV vs. dirt bike question stack up in the final tally?

  • -ATVs are the better choice for someone who needs a versatile working vehicle or something for a casual, comfortable ride.
  • -Dirt bikes are a superior option for thrill seekers who just want to have some off-road fun. They’re also safer than ATVs in some ways.
  • -Both ATVs and dirt bikes are a ton of fun to take on off-road trails, although many trails are designed specifically for one type of vehicle or the other. 
  • -Both ATVs and dirt bikes require riders to wear the right safety gear and learn to ride correctly. In addition to essentials like a helmet and padded jacket, consider getting a motorcycle Bluetooth headset for hands-free communication on the trail. 

a rider racing an atv on a dirt track

Source: david n madden/Shutterstock

Cardo Systems creates the most flexible and most powerful helmet communication technologies for powersports lovers of all kinds. Want to learn more about the off-road life beyond the ATV vs. dirt bike debate? Read our rundown of the essential dirt bike riding gear and our guide to the most useful ATV hand signals