Should You get a Dirt Bike, ATV, or UTV for your Cabin?


When you’re at the cabin, chances are you’ll want a good vehicle to get around.  Yet sometimes a car just isn’t practical to get everywhere you want to go.

What if the roads to your cabin are made of dirt?  Or what if that area around your cabin has few roads but lots of area to explore?  You’re going to want an off-road vehicle to get around.  But what should you get?  There are a ton of options.  But the first decision comes down to dirtbikes, ATVs (or four wheelers), and UTVs (or side by sides). 

For most people, the best way to get around at the cabin, whether you’re going completely off-road, or you’re just driving up the unpaved street, is with an ATV.  However, your answer will depend on a few things that we’ll cover in greater depth in this article.

How hilly is the area?

The flatter the ground around your cabin, the less it matters which option you choose.

If the ground is really uneven and there are lots of fairly steep hills, then ATVs are actually not the best choice.  At least not for getting around the area.  Unless you’re going to stick to the roads, whether they’re paved or not, an ATV could actually be quite dangerous.

Not too long ago, a family member of mine tipped over on an ATV because she tried to drive on too steep of a hill.  The ATV tipped and bent the steering column.  But what was worse was the broken rib and concussion that the rider got.

When riding an ATV on hills around your cabin, you need to remember to drive as straight up and down the hills as possible.  Riding with the ATV leaning to one side or the other is really dangerous and likely to lead to tipping or rolling the ATV.

UTVs have the same issue.  The difference is that UTVs have a roll cage so as long as you keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle, tipping won’t damage you or the vehicle as much as if you were on an ATV.

For getting around hilly areas, dirt bikes are actually the best option.  While you can tip over sideways or backward on a dirt bike, it’s a lot easier to handle and keep yourself upright if you know what you’re doing.  It only takes a little practice to get the hang of standing up and leaning forward when going up steep hills on a dirt bike.  With good technique, a dirt bike can safely go up hills no ATV would dare go up.  And since dirt bikes have only two wheels, you can more easily drive left and right across a hillside, not just straight up and down.

So if you’re looking for a vehicle to get around at your cabin and it’s a pretty hilly area, I actually recommend dirt bikes over ATVs and UTVs.  Of course, your ultimate decisions will depend on more than just how hilly the area is.  Consider the following.

How wooded is the area?

Is the area around your cabin heavily wooded?  If so, a UTV is probably the worst of these options.

UTVs are less maneuverable than ATVs and Dirt Bikes.  They tend to be a little larger than ATVs on average too.  Between ATVs and UTVs, ATVs are easier to maneuver which makes them better for driving around in the woods.

Of the three, dirt bikes are clearly the most maneuverable.  You can quickly start and stop and depending on our skill level and the size of the dirt bike, you can turn very sharply.  As I said in the section on hills, you also have more flexibility to ride dirt bike across hills rather than just up and down giving you a lot more flexibility and maneuverability in a wooded and hilly area.

So if the area around your cabin is pretty wooded, I would recommend that you get a dirt bike or an ATV.

How experienced are you on 2 wheels?

Dirt bikes require a minimum speed to stay upright without putting a foot down.  So it’s not as easy to take it slow if you get into a precarious spot.

Dirt bikes also require a higher level of balance to use than an ATV or UTV.  So if you don’t have much experience on two wheels, I can’t recommend that you ride a dirt bike around through the woods.

If you believe that a dirt bike will be the best option for you and your cabin, then I strongly recommend that you practice riding on dirt roads first.  Then see if you can find an area where you can ride on trails, like you will in the woods, but without all the trees.  Depending on where you live, that may or may not be really easy to find.  But you should try to get some experience riding on hills and trails in an open environment before you try to ride around in the woods.

If you don’t feel as comfortable about riding on two wheels, then an ATV or UTV may be the best choice.  But don’t just assume that because it feels safer to ride on 4 wheels that it actually is safer.  A lot of people get hurt riding on four wheels.  I think that one of the leading reasons for that is the level of security that people feel.  People feel safer on a four-wheeled vehicle that doesn’t seem to want to tip and that gives them a false sense of security.  So people tend to be less careful.

Fewer people wear helmets and safety gear when riding ATVs and UTVs.  Any time you get on one of these vehicles to ride around you should wear a helmet.  Using an ATV to plow snow out of your driveway may not require a helmet since you’re working on level ground and at such low speeds, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Also, when people are on four wheels, they don’t think they’ll tip.  Well, let me tell you.  I’ve tipped an ATV in a flat pasture when I was younger because I was going too fast and turned too sharply.  It was a fun ride but could have been really deadly.

People also get hurt more on ATVs and UTVs because they assume they can drive them without any real training or practice.  People don’t usually have that same misconception about dirt bikes because, for someone who has never ridden one, they feel dangerous and intimidating.

My point here is that ATVs and UTVs are not necessarily any safer to ride around at your cabin than a dirt bike.  That said, before you ride a dirt bike around in the woods, get some instruction from someone who knows what they’re doing.  That, and practice riding in safer circumstances.  In fact, the exact same can and should be said for ATVs and UTVs.  Practice on level ground and open areas with some moderate hills before you take off riding through wooded hills.

Do you need your vehicle to also be a workhorse?

At the cabin, off-road vehicles are often used for a lot more than just getting around.  They can also be used for work.

Sometimes you need to haul some tools or equipment to another location on your property.  Sometimes you need to plow the snow off of a long driveway at the cabin.  Maybe you’re using your vehicle to pull a drag harrow rake to clean up the ground at your cabin.  These are all things you can’t do with a dirt bike.

That said, not all ATVs and UTVs are great for this either.  So the decision on what exactly to buy will get more specific as you think about the potential uses for your vehicle at your cabin.

Many UTVs actually have more cargo space than ATVs.  So for carrying tools around, UTVs are a good choice.  Being a little larger, UTVs are often more powerful as well.

All that said, there are some really powerful ATVs that are designed for hard work.  If you’re going to be plowing, pulling, and towing you’re going to need a vehicle that can do the work.  And there are many ATVs and UTVs that will be up to the task.  But you won’t find a dirt bike that can do what these ATVs and UTVs can.

What’s your budget like?

Budget, often the primary criterion for decision making.  How much do you plan to spend for your cabin vehicle?

I spent some time researching prices for different vehicles and here’s what I found.

Dirt bikes are the least expensive of the three.  Like most things, you can spend about as much or as little as you want and get a trail bike.  In fact, you can pick up a Coleman CT200U on AmazonOpens in a new tab. for less than $600.  That might be fine if you’ll just be zipping around trails at the cabin and don’t ever plan to go over 24 miles per hour.  A good starter dirt bike in the 150cc to 250cc range though will usually cost between $3,000 and $4,500 brand new and of course less if you buy one that’s a couple years old.  If you are interested in getting a good trail riding dirt bike to get started on, I would check out this guide on Dirt Bike PlanetOpens in a new tab..

A good utility ATV is going to cost you a little more than a dirt bike, but maybe not as much as you’d expect.  If I were buying an ATV for my cabin, I would go for a utility model.  It’ll be more powerful and have more cargo room than the sport models.  And about the only reason I prefer to buy an ATV over a dirt bike for the cabin is because of its utility capabilities.  If I wanted something just to get around, a dirt bike would be my choice.  For a quality utility ATV from a good manufacturer like Honda or Polaris you can expect to spend more like $6,000 to $8,000.  Of course you can spend a lot more or a lot less depending on what you’re looking for.  And you’ll save quite a bit by going used.  But this number will give you an idea of the difference between a utility ATV and a trail dirt bike.

Now here’s where it gets interesting.  For a comparable utility UTV made by the same manufacturer and with the same size engine and the ones I researched for the ATV section, I found that UTVs cost $2,000 to $4,000 more than ATVs!  That’s right.  You’re getting almost exactly the same vehicle in the UTV form and you’re paying around $3,000 more for it.

So if cost is your primary driver, then a dirt bike may be your best option.  But if you need utility and not just transportation, then an ATV is a far better choice than a UTV based on cost alone.

Your Conclusion

Here’s the short of it.

If you’re looking for a low-cost vehicle that can be used to do work around the cabin then an ATV is your best option.  Even if cost isn’t your primary driver, an ATV will generally outperform a UTV in wooded areas.

If you’re set on four wheels and really like the idea of a roll cage because you plan to take this vehicle out joyriding at fast speeds, then a UTV is a good choice.  Just make sure that when you do tip over, you fight the natural urge to stick an arm out to brace yourself.  Just stay buckled in and let the roll cage protect you.

If you don’t need utility and are confident on two wheels then a dirt bike is the best option for getting around in hilly, wooded, or even flat areas.  Dirt bikes are a lot of fun and don’t give you the same false sense of security that ATVs and UTVs often do.

Whichever you choose, just be smart.  Don’t go riding without proper safety gear.  You need to be wearing a helmet at a minimum.  So be safe, and enjoy your off-road vehicle at your cabin!

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