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Why are UTV Tires Smaller in the Front?

One of the most common questions asked is `Why are UTV tires smaller in the front than in the back?’ It’s important to understand the size difference comes in the width only – front tires are narrower than rear tires, however the height is the same on all 4 tires. 

A number of new stock machines come with staggered tires, or different size tires in the front and rear. Most come with a 9″ width on the front and an 11″ width on the back.

New sport machines, however, are starting to switch from the staggered tire to the same size all the way around. The new Arctic Cat Wildcat XX comes with 30” stock and a 10″ width, while the new Polaris RZR Turbo-S comes with 32” and a 10″ all the way around.

Whether a machine comes with staggered or the same size tire really depends on who the machine is designed for. Whether it’s used in agriculture, trail riding, mudding, rock climbing, etc., each machine is designed with an intended purpose or ideal riding style.

In this blog, we investigate why UTV tires are smaller in the front than the rear, and the pros and cons of running staggered vs the same size tire all the way around.

UTV tire up come. Notice the lugs and the size of the tire. Some UTV tires are smaller in the front than rear

Understanding Tire Size

First, it’s important to understand how to read your tire size.  UTV tires are generally laid out in a 3 number sequence. For example 27x10x14.  The first number, 27 – is your tire height in inches. The second number, 10 – is your tire width in inches.  And the last number, 14 – is your wheel diameter in inches.

If you’re running staggered tires on your machine – as we’ve said most machines come stock with – then it’s only the middle number, or width of the tire, that will be different when comparing your front and rear tires.

Why do OEMs choose Staggered Tires?

If you’re wondering why OEM’s choose staggered over the same size, it’s a mix of tradition and physics. 

Back when UTVs first became popular, they had a number of different features than they do today.  It was, and still is, easier to design a machine that worked well for all uses and terrains, than to design a machine that excelled in one area but hurt the performance of the machine when used outside its intended use.  

Staggered tires offer the ability to easily use your machine for different purposes and in most terrain.

Before power steering became common on UTVs, running staggered tires gave you a narrower front on your machine, allowing for easier steering and manoeuvrability.  Many machines started out as exclusively 2 wheel drive models, so the rear was fatter for more traction and better payload, with narrower fronts for quicker response and lighter weight.

Staggered tires are not as important as they used to be with power steering becoming a standard feature on stock machines.  

Today, we’re seeing a number of people change to the same size tires all the way around when they upgrade to aftermarket tires. Especially when the rider is looking to run larger than 30” tires. However, it also depends on the individuals needs and what kind of riding the individual will be doing. 

notice how utv tires smaller in the front turn and steer

Pros to Running a Staggered Tire

So what are the advantages to running a staggered tire?  We’ve already touched on one: easier steering. But there are a few others.

  1. Easier to Steer: Having narrower tires in the front makes your machine easier to manoeuvre.  You can turn easier, as well as navigate rough terrain and obstacles easier. Power steering may have eliminated the necessity of running staggered tires, but the benefit of easier steering is still there, even with power steering.  The lighter tire upfront does provide a more dynamic feel to both steering and turning.
  2. Aesthetics: Some people just like the look of staggered tires.  For them, it’s just the way it is. A narrower tire in the front helps to provide for more clearance under the fender. This also prevents the tires from kicking up mud and debris inside and outside your vehicle.
  3. Stability: There is a rationale that larger tires on the back end help stabilize the additional weight of the machine/load so that – in theory– the inch/sq.ft of the machine is perfectly balanced 50/50.  That being said, the stability offered by a staggered tire vs the same tire is probably not all that different. We find people aren’t focused as much on stability as they are on say flotation or carrying loads over soft ground.
  4. Traction: There is a claim that the wider tire in the back offers you better traction.  In our experience, improved traction is dependent on a number of factors – like the terrain you’re riding on, the compound or material of the tire,  and your momentum and speed. Everyone’s needs are different – a desert racer, a trail rider and a rancher all want very different things from their machine. To each, traction means something different.

Cons to Running a Staggered Tire

Of course, there will be disadvantages to running staggered tires.  None are major – but they are worth mentioning.

  1. Height Difference:  This sounds like a big deal, but for most of us it really isn’t.  When running staggered tires you will almost always have a height difference between your front and rear tires.  It’s usually within ½”, so you probably won’t even notice – but it’s important to recognize that it’s there.
  2. Tire Rotation: Running different tires on the front and back doesn’t allow you to rotate your tires like you would if you were running all 4 of the same. 
  3. Spare Tire: Staggered tires complicate carrying a spare tire.  Your spare must be the same size as your front tire. Your clearance won’t allow you to run a wider tire in the front. If you blow a rear tire on the trail though, your day of riding is over.  You can put the narrower front tire on the back to get you back to camp, but you shouldn’t run the narrower tire on the back any longer than that.
  4. Aftermarket Options: There aren’t as many aftermarket options for you if you run staggered tires.  You’re limited in your selection of size as staggered tires become less common as you go up in height. If you’re looking for DOT (Department of Transportation) Approved tires, you most likely won’t find them in staggered sizes.  Most DOT Approved tires are available in 10” widths.

Running the Same Tire On All 4 Corners

What’s the alternative to running staggered tires?  Running the same tire all the way around. Like we mentioned earlier, this option is becoming more popular, especially on new sport machines.  

As people are upgrading their tires, they’re moving away from the staggered tire and purchasing four of the same tire instead.  

Which is better?  

We look at the pros and cons and you can decide for yourself.

Pros to Running Same Size Tires

Basically the disadvantages to running a staggered tire become your advantages to running the same tire.

  1. Aesthetics:  Aesthetics was an advantage of the staggered tire, but it’s also an advantage of the same size tire. Some of us prefer the rugged look of the same tire all the way around.
  2. Rotating Tires: Running the same tire on all 4 corners allows you to rotate your tires properly and maximize the tread life.
  3. Spare Tire:  You only need one spare tire and a blowout won’t bring a premature end to your riding adventures.
  4. Aftermarket Options: With the same tire on all 4 corners you definitely have more options when it comes to aftermarket tires. You are not restricted by size in the same way you are with staggered tires. You also have the option to go with DOT approved tires if you want.

Cons of Running Same Size Tires

There aren’t any major cons to running the same tire size.

If you don’t have power steering on your machine, you probably wouldn’t want to run the same size tire as steering would be more difficult. Since power steering is becoming more and more common, this isn’t really an issue.

The only other potential negative would be, needing to replace your front rims so they are the same as the back ones; or get four new rims if you’re going with a different tire size altogether. 

UTV Canada's RZR XP 1000 with sand tires. Notice how the UTV tires are smaller in the front than the rear

What’s the Right Option for You?

So which option should you go for?  Unfortunately, only you can answer that.  

It really depends on the type of riding you do and what your biggest needs are.

Here is a generalized checklist of what riders looking for based on the different terrain they ride.

Sand/Dune:  As skinny as possible upfront with as little friction as possible, while running bulky tires in the back.  Your front tires are intended to cut through the sand while the rear tires use their size and paddle design to gain traction.

Mud: There are multiple theories here.  We will look at two, but it’s important to note that both would agree that staggered mud tires offer no benefit and only add additional strain to the machine.  One theory is ‘the wider the better’. The other, newer school of thought is tall and skinny – they cut through the mud providing ultimate ground clearance. If you look at the lineup of most mud machines and tire sales – it’s 4 matching sets of nothing wider than 7” and as tall as you can stuff under a machine. When it comes to mud riding though, there are different standards of mud. Every mud rider has a different definition of what mud is.

Rock Crawlers: These riders don’t need much when it comes to staggered tires.  For them, the contact patch is everything. You’ll see these riders opt for 4 mega wide tires with as soft a compound as possible (unless you ride sharp rocks – then go for a medium to hard compound).

Trail Blazer: Most of us would fall into this category.  We’re the ones who rack up the miles on all different types of terrain.  We’re not pushing our machines to the same limits as the extreme riders. It’s completely up to us what we run – we can run staggered or same size tires all the way around, depending on our preferences.

Got it all Figured?

There’s a lot of info to consider when looking to replace or upgrade your tires.  It can be overwhelming if you don’t know exactly what you want.

What we would recommend is, first understand what kind of riding you are looking to do. Does your machine have power steering? From there, research the different kinds of tires on the market, and look to see if a staggered size would work better for your riding conditions. 

If you need help making an informed decision or want more information regarding tires, please feel free to contact us. We’ve got the knowledge and expertise to guide you in your decision making, and we’re number one in customer service to boot. Check out our huge selection of tires for all riders and terrains.


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Danielle Herbison