ATV vs Dirt Bike: Which Is Better (And Safer) For Kids?

Getting kids interested in outdoor activities is a great idea! And what could be more fun than an off-road adventure on a dirt bike or an ATV? When it comes to which is better and safer for kids, an ATV, or a dirt bike, there are a few aspects that should be considered.

Dirt bikes seem to be the better option for kids compared to ATVs as they have an advantage when price and safety are considered. However, ATVs have an advantage when it comes to the learning curve and how quickly the child will be able to master the vehicle.

Let’s look at all the factors to see how they compare when it comes to the best choice for getting your child started in the wonderful world of off-roading.

The question which is better for your child has a lot to do with personal preference, age of your child, and the depth of your wallet! We will cover some of these issues so you can make an informed decision when choosing a dirt bike or an ATV.

The safety issue is a pretty hot topic; after all, we want to keep our kids safe when pursuing outdoor activities. We will discuss each vehicle and its safety issues for the younger aspiring off-road riders!

Starting Age

Starting with the age-appropriate question, there is obviously a certain entry-level skill required to ride a dirt bike. The first required skill being the ability to ride a bicycle. This would mean that the child’s sense of balance is already well established.

That being said, it is completely feasible for kids from the age of 3 years old to participate in off-road dirt bike riding. If they can ride a pedal bike without training wheels, they can ride a dirt bike! While you can get training wheels for small dirt bikes, the rough nature of the terrain makes them pretty inadequate.

The dirt bike industry has taken note of the young starting age and has manufactured appropriate machines for the various ages.

When you think of dirt bikes, you think of 2-stroke powered two-wheel beasts roaring around a track! However, the little nippers can start on the small electric-powered bikes that are speed and size-appropriate for their age! As they get older and more accomplished, they can progress to the gas-powered bikes of lower engine capacity, such as the 50cc.

ATVs can be just as much fun for the little guys. The major difference in these vehicles is the advantage of the four-wheeled configuration over two. The ATV does not have balance as a pre-requisite for learning to ride.

As with dirt bikes, ATV’s come in various sizes weight, engine capacity, and technology that are suitable for kids of various ages.

Due to the riding position and no need to balance, the main pre-requisite would be for the child to be able to reach all the controls comfortably. They would also need the required strength to maneuver the machine! So while a child under 3 years old may be able to sit on an ATV, it may not be a good idea to let them start riding.

Learning Curve

As with learning any new skill or starting any new activity, there is always a learning curve required to gain the basic skills. Off-roading with an ATV or dirt bike is no different!

With the little guys, as mentioned earlier, balancing may be an issue for starting out on a dirt bike but is less of a problem on an ATV.

What about clutch control, you may ask! The good news regarding the entry-level electric versions of both types of off-road vehicles is that they do not have a clutch. It is basically getting on, twist the throttle and go!

As they grow and gain confidence and skill level, they can progress to combustion engine-powered machines. Some of the small versions of this type also have clutch-less transmissions, but when they progress to the higher engine capacities, learning clutch control will be a requirement.

Hand-eye coordination is another basic human skill that kids will need to build when learning to ride either vehicle. Controlling throttle and brakes in conjunction with judging the changing terrain will help with the development of this skill.

It may, however, be a little more frustrating on a dirt bike. The added complication of continually falling off, picking yourself and the bike up and starting again may be too much for the little guys. So in this respect, an ATV definitely has the advantage.

Dirt Bike vs ATV Costs For Kids

Now we start getting to the nitty-gritty. I hear the plaintiff cry of all you parents out there saying “How much is this going to cost me?”!

Before you go ahead and open your wallet and buy an off-road vehicle for your youngster, let’s take a look at what you can expect to pay for an age-appropriate off-road vehicle.

Let’s begin by taking a look at dirt bikes for the younger generation. What you should look for in respect to purchase price? This information should give you an indication of the ball-park cost you can expect when looking at this option.

For a very basic, low speed, low power bike for a child on the very young side, you can get started with something for around $250. You can however get a pretty decent model for around the $500 mark!

Even at this level, there is a range of options that vary in speed, weight, and engine capacity, measured in Watts for electric bikes. They start at 250W and go all the way up to 1000W with a corresponding increase in weight, speed, and price.

The disadvantage of the electric variety is the need to charge the bike. Facilities for this may not be available at the track where you ride, so you may need to take your own generator, which adds to the cost!

The price of the combustion engine dirt bikes increase somewhat compared to the electric versions. Decent 50cc models will set you back in the region of $1500. While this price is a bit higher, the convenience of using gas rather than electricity is worth the price difference, in my opinion!

Let’s take a look at the prices for ATV’s for kids in comparison. Once again, they are available in electric versions for the little ones, but the same charging limitations would apply as for the dirt bikes. The lower end of the electric ATV price is around $300, but this is for a very basic model that is not much more than a toy. The more substantial electric versions are closer to around $1000!

ATV’s with combustion engines are a little pricier. The price for these types of ATV can range anywhere from $800 as a starting point to $1500 or more. In my opinion, however, the advantages of a gas-powered engine outweigh those of the electric motor and make the difference in cost a worthwhile consideration.

The price to get your kid into off-roading does not stop with purchasing the vehicle! Now we need to talk gear! Gear is not merely intended for your kid to look cool while off-roading! It plays an important part in having fun in the dirt! This is not an area where you should spend as little as possible! The right gear may well prevent serious injury!

The gear that you will need to buy for your kid will mostly apply to both vehicles, so it is not dependent on the type of vehicle, but rather purely from the safety aspect.

Here is a list of gear you can expect to add to the list to get your child started off-roading.

  • Helmet – This is probably the most important item. Do your research into standards and get the best possible helmet. Sizing is important as well. The helmet needs to fit well to be effective!
  • Goggles – The nature of the terrain means you need to take precautions to keep dust and grit out of the eyes. You only need to get goggles if your crash helmet is not a full-face helmet.
  • Leathers – This is a generic term for protective clothing. They are no longer only made from leather, but from a wide variety of light-weight, durable material.
  • Gloves – Hand protection is important, especially if the vehicle of choice is a dirt bike. Gloves prevent stones from hitting knuckles and hands getting skinned in the event of a fall.
  • Boots – The rough terrain of normal off-road tracks make this another essential piece of gear.

One thing to bear in mind is that your child is going to quickly outgrow all this gear! Once you need to replace items, you may want to consider selling the old gear as used items or passing them down to younger members of the family.

Safety Aspect – Dirt Bike vs ATV

Safety while off-roading is a topic that cannot be stressed enough, particularly when it comes to the safety of the kids!

When kids first straddle a dirt bike, the initial feeling is a wobbly, unstable one and the vehicle feels difficult to control. Believe it or not, this can have a positive effect from a safety viewpoint. The child will naturally be more cautious due to the inherent feeling of instability on two wheels!

The potential for injury on a dirt bike, particularly at slower speeds, is not that great. Yes, there is bound to be the occasional spill, but these seldom result in anything more serious than a few scrapes and bruises. The damage to the ego is usually a more severe injury!

The main way to minimize these scrapes and bruises is to have the right gear! As mentioned earlier, don’t go expensive on the bike and then spend as little as possible on the safety gear!

While serious accidents do happen when off-roading on dirt bikes, they are usually associated with more powerful machines and higher speeds.

ATV safety has received a lot of media attention and it is a topic that is hotly debated in off-roading circles. Research has shown that dirt bike riders have more accidents than ATV riders, but the concerning statistic is that ATV accidents are more serious. ATV accidents not only result in more severe injuries but also result in more deaths than dirt bike accidents.

The research shows that the risk of serious injury or death in an ATV accident is pretty much double that of a dirt bike!

At first glance, you would think this goes against logic! I mean, it is easier to fall off two wheels than four! That point is exactly why there are more dirt bike accidents, but what is the reason for the higher severity of ATV crashes?

Several reasons may contribute to the seemingly incongruent severity of ATV accidents over dirt bikes.

  • A false sense of security. The fact that an ATV has four wheels, making the vehicle seem more stable and the riding position is comfortable, may lull the rider into a feeling that less can go wrong. This mindset may encourage the rider, particularly a young inexperienced rider, to push the machine beyond its capabilities and take unnecessary chances with rough terrain.
  • The weight of the all-terrain vehicle. ATV’s weigh significantly more than dirt bikes. In fact, they weigh close to 3 times the weight of a dirt bike. This additional weight is significant in the event of an accident. The first consequence of the weight is that the vehicle has more inertia, so it is harder to stop. The second significance is in the event of a rollover and the machine landing on top of the rider. The average greater weight of the ATV has a significant crushing force, or the potential to trap the rider and cause further injury. The ATV rider will often not be able to lift the ATV off themselves, particularly a younger rider, requiring additional assistance in the event of an accident. A dirt bike, in comparison, can usually be pushed off by the rider himself.

Notwithstanding these points, there are a few safety guidelines that should be adhered to no matter what off-road vehicle your child will be riding!

  • Always supervise your child when they are riding. There is no substitute for parental control
  • Don’t allow kids to double-up on dirt bikes or ATV’s. In other words, no passengers!
  • Only allow your kids to ride in proper off-road environments. It is not only illegal for them to ride on public roads but highly dangerous due to other traffic that may not look out for them.


The final decision of which vehicle is better and safer for your kids when off-roading is essentially up to you. The conclusion of the matter from the points raised in this article, however, would seem to give the dirt bike a slight advantage in the price and safety considerations. An ATV has the advantage when it comes to the learning curve and how quickly the child will be able to master the vehicle.

Louis Pretorius

As an amateur off-road enthusiast, I have always been drawn to outdoor adventure. I have decided to share all of my learning experiences with you as I dig a little deeper into my new-found passion and wonderful world of off-roading. My mission is to create the Ultimate Off-roading space on the internet in the process. Stay safe and happy Off-Roading!

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