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The early 2000s was a time when powersport shops were filled with all different brands of sport ATVs with varying sizes to fit the growing market for them. 2008 was a big year because KTM, Polaris, Kawasaki, and Can-Am made the decision to start making 450cc sport ATVs. Up until then it was primarily Honda, Suzuki, and Yamaha that dominated that category and dominated the races.
The sport ATV market took a huge hit because of the recession that started at the end of 2007 and ran until 2009. The huge boom of side by side UTVs landed the final blow to sport ATVs. Most people wanted a four wheel vehicle they could haul a couple passengers in and feel safe with features like roll bars and seat belts.
As a sport ATV fan, I really hate to say this, sport ATVs are a dying breed. It was once thought that maybe it was a dry spell but 6 or so years later, the only player still left in the sport ATV game is Yamaha, and who knows how long they will hold out. A lot of factors play into why sport ATVs seem to be going the way of the dodo bird and I have come up with 12 good reasons why they may not ever make a big comeback into the mainstream. At least I can still use all my old ATV gear with UTVs!
Side By Side/UTV Boom
Many companies such as KTM, Polaris, Kawasaki, and Can-Am dove into the 450cc sport ATV market in the early 2000’s because the 450cc class racing circuit was booming. These companies, along with Suzuki, Yamaha, and Honda were vying for race wins and attracting visitors to race tracks.
Around the same time, side by sides were being released and these were 2 new HUGE markets that were competing with each other. Side by sides took a commanding lead in sales and popularity and have continued to grow year by year, signaling the end for sport ATVs. Kids love driving UTVs and side by sides and parents often would rather their children be in a UTV than on a Sport ATV.
Side By Sides and UTVs Are Safer
Side by Sides and UTVs really only differ by what they are designed to do. UTVs are for hauling and general purpose while side by sides are designed for performance and designed to go fast. Side by Sides and UTVs are inherently safer because they have roll bars that prevent rider injuries in a crash. Side by Sides and UTVs also come equipped with seatbelts so it is more like driving a car than an ATV that can flip over and land on top of you or even throw you.
There have been more than 15,000 ATV related deaths since 1982 and there has been a large stigma that ATVs are not safe. While they are not typically as safe as dirt bikes and UTVs, none are safe if you ride improperly. This means riding where you shouldn’t and riding beyond your ability level.
Examples of places not to ride any off road vehicle is on a paved road where on road vehicles operate. Many injuries and deaths occur on these roads because people are not supposed to be there. Now, side by sides are not supposed to ride on these roads either but would still be a somewhat safer option should an accident occur.
Utility ATVs, UTVs, and Side By Sides Are Just As Fast As Sport ATVs Now
Side by Sides like the Polaris RZR XP 1000 boast a factory top speed of 80 miles per hour which is actually very impressive. You can add tons of aftermarket bolt on parts like performance exhaust systems, air intake systems, and performance ECUs on side by sides to increase their torque, horsepower, and max speed.
Similarly, the Can-Am Renegade has all wheel drive and has a factory top speed of over 75 miles per hour. So imagine having a Utility ATV that can go as fast as a sport ATV, haul more weight, go more places, AND carry passengers, it is easy to see why more and more people are moving away from sport ATVs and into things like utility ATVs and side by sides.
Side By Side UTVs, and Utility ATVs have Power Steering
When it comes down to it, power steering makes everything in off roading that much easier! With lighter sport quads you don’t necessarily need power steering (nor would it really have anywhere to go) but the larger ATVs and side by sides have the luxury of having enough room to put amenities such as power steering in place.
Power steering helps limit leg, arm, and body fatigue while riding for long periods of time and make for a more enjoyable experience overall. If you want to check out more about ATVs and power steering go check out this article I wrote about the topic. I cover what power steering is (in case you are wondering) and many of the advantages that power steering has when riding and ATV.
Only Dirt Bikes Are Racing At the Tracks
For the most part, all around the United States, tracks are only allowing dirt bikes to race at the track. Getting a track prepared for ATVs and dirt bikes is a whole different ball game. ATVs are larger and take different lines on the track causing the dirt bikers problems. ATVs do a lot of drifting and end up roosting all the dirt out of the good dirt bike lines.
The term roosting refers to the line of dirt or rocks that comes from the back of an ATV or dirt bike when accelerating rapidly causing it to resemble a rooster tail. Getting close to another rider’s rooster tail means you are getting roosted, or you could be the one that is considered roosting or trying to roost another rider with your rooster tail. Get yourself a good pair of goggles by checking out the pair I recommended.
When ATV races are held, there also are not enough people that show up to spectate and this clearly makes running ATV events not worth it for track owners. The two wheeler guys and gals on dirt bikes bring in all the attention at the track which means they bring in the money and as a business owner it makes more sense to cater to your crowds.
Less Places to Ride
While the track is definitely less and less attractive to sport ATV riders, there is always one place they are welcome: The Sand Dunes. I think sport ATVs will always have a place at sand dunes everywhere but it seems like trails are not what they used to be either. You can take a dirt bike on much smaller trails and travel deeper into the woods with them. This means your two wheel drive sport ATVs will not be able to go where even a four wheel drive utility ATV can venture with their more aggressive tires, four wheel drive capability, and overall ability to go wherever they want.
Sport ATVs are also very very loud, even more so than dirt bikes it seems. With more and more people in the world and more neighborhoods springing up everywhere it is becoming harder and harder to find good trails where you won’t bother local communities and even possibly have law enforcement called. Riding on land unlawfully can cause a ton of headaches you really don’t want to have to deal with. If you want to learn more about how loud ATVs are then I wrote an article that covers Why Are ATVs So Loud you should really check out.
Sport ATVs just aren’t practical for the majority of people in the market for an offroad vehicle. Dirtbikes, as discussed, can ride further and deeper than sport ATVs and take up take up far less room when being hauled. You can fit two or even three dirt bikes in the space one sport ATV occupies.
Side by sides, while taking up as much or a bit more space, has the option to accommodate multiple riders in one vehicle. They also have ample room to store and transport most of your equipment unlike sport ATVs.
Utility ATVs are also a lot more practical than sport ATVs. They can carry heavy loads anywhere you need them, transport your hunting equipment out to your favorite hunting spot, and even easily carry an extra passenger.
Sales is definitely one of the main factors driving down the production of sport ATVs. As a matter of fact, the only player left in the game that is producing any sport ATVs for adults is Yamaha with their Raptor 700 series and their YZF450 series of ATVs. If sales continue to dive downward then Yamaha may decide to pull their adult ATV lines from production as well. In my eyes, there may be a slim chance of hope if Yamaha continues production of their sport ATVs, but should that moment come when they stop, that will signal the death of the sport ATV market for me.
Side by sides have made a huge leap in technology while, with no one else making sport ATVS, they have fallen behind. Side by sides are a huge seller in the powersports world so they bring in more cash than sport quads so it seems logical for them to follow the money. It would be bad business planning to keep pouring money into products that just aren’t selling.
A part of the reason sales went down in the early 2000s was because of the recession that lasted from December of 2007 to June 2009. For almost 2 years the ATV market was hit very hard by people not spending extra money they didn’t have. For some strange reason, the side by side market kept increasing. I believe this was due to all of the points I have talked about concerning side by sides and why they did so well. They appealed to a larger audience and drew the attention away from the sport ATV.
Lack of Community Involvement
I mentioned earlier that ATVs were falling out of favor with track owners and it wasn’t worth it for them to continue to provide their tracks to sport ATV riders. When fans don’t show up for events it is a signal that there is little involvement and little interest. I think there will always be enthusiasts and people that will love to ride their sport ATVs but there is a limited supply of new stock.
Used sport ATVs will always be available to the majority of people because some people ebb and flow with what they want out of powersports and people will sell their old quads. People will also sell for various other reasons meaning we will be able to find sport ATVs if we look.
Proper maintenance will keep sport ATVs running for many many years to come – as evidenced by the ever popular Yamaha Banshee that stopped production in 2006 in the US but is still prevalent as ever at the sand dunes. The Yamaha Banshee is a legend in a lot of sport ATV enthusiasts eyes and you can see why in this article.
Not Family Friendly
If you have read through this article you can see why sport ATVs have taken a dive when it comes to their respective counterparts. A sport ATV is not very family friendly and that is a big selling point for a lot of parents that are in the market for powersports to enjoy as a family. Sure, there are youth ATVs out there and if you really want to get your kid into ATVs, choose the right youth ATV by reading this guide I wrote.
Side by Sides and UTVs are much more family friendly because they allow a family to get together and all ride in one, or maybe even two vehicles and have as much fun as possible together! Side by Sides also come equipped with power steering and seat belts and are MUCH easier for younger teens and children to drive around by themselves. Kids love to get behind the wheel and scoot around the trails or open fields. Just make sure they have the proper riding gear, even for a side by side. You can also find proper gear to get for your kids in the youth ATV guide I linked to above.
No Automatic Transmission
An automatic transmission is definitely much easier to drive than a manual, unless you have actually done it. I believe manual transmissions are just as easy and have distinct advantages but most people prefer automatic transmissions because they are easier to operate and are beginner friendly.
Being beginner friendly lends themselves to kids because they will have a much easier time when it comes to navigating a vehicle with an automatic transmission further compounding the fact that parents want to buy a side by side for their children.
If you don’t know how to drive an ATV with a manual transmission with a clutch and want to learn how, I put together a guide that goes into detail about how simple it really is to drive one. I show in 6 simple steps how easy it really is.
The Run Down
It is simple to see why you may think the sport ATV market has all but died. It has had a lot of competition a lot of adversity in the way. I really want to believe that sport ATVs will come back but if the trend continues, it may not happen.
I will probably always love sport ATVs, and even own some more. It is something I enjoy very much and want to be able to continue as long as possible. That being said, I still want something that my family can use and we can all benefit from and side by sides are really where it is at right now.