ATV Transmission Options Explained | Hunt or Shred

One key component to remember when picking out a brand-new ATV is the type of transmission it runs on. Various options work well and impact performance.

ATV transmissions are critical to the vehicle’s performance because of their off-road riding and rugged terrain exposure. The primary options include:

  • Manual Transmission
  • Semi-Automatic Transmission
  • Automatic Transmission
  • Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT)
  • Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT)

We spent time researching various transmission options and have listed each below. There is no correct answer for the best option, but it depends on riding experience, ATV style, and terrain. Keep reading to learn more and find the best ATVs with each transmission type.

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ATV Transmission Options Explained

ATVs are versatile vehicles that can be used for various activities such as off-roading, farming, and hunting. Each vehicle needs a solid transmission to provide enough stability, riding support, comfort, and durability.

Transmission is one of the critical components of an ATV that determines its performance and functionality. They also come in different types, each offering unique benefits and drawbacks. We will discuss the most common ATV transmission options and explain each in detail below.

Manual Transmission

A manual transmission is the most traditional ATV transmission option. This is the obvious choice if you prefer precision, proper power distribution, and better engine range.

With a manual transmission, the rider must shift gears manually using a lever or a foot pedal. This type of transmission requires a certain level of skill and experience, and it can be more challenging to use compared to other options.

However, it is also a reliable transmission type, requiring very little maintenance. But it’s more complicated to maneuver and not ideal for beginner riders with little manual vehicle experience.

Because manual shifts need more precision than automatic ones do, long-term reliability may be slightly lower with this type of drivetrain compared with automatic models due to potential user misuse or abuse.


  • Significantly more vehicle control
  • Best engine range
  • Excellent precision in and out of turns


  • More difficult to drive
  • Requires experience and manual driving knowledge
  • Not ideal for utility usage

Semi-Automatic Transmission

The semi-automatic transmission is less common in many ATVs. However, it has some similar performance features to a manual, but instead of a traditional shifter, there is an operation of a clutch.

In a semi-automatic ATV transmission, the rider can shift gears manually, but the clutch is operated automatically. This means the rider does not have to use a clutch lever to engage or disengage the clutch but can instead focus on shifting gears using the gearshift lever.

With a semi-automatic ATV transmission, the rider still controls the gear ratios. However, the clutch is managed by a system that automatically engages and disengages it based on the rider's inputs.

This transmission type is designed to make it easier for riders to operate the ATV, especially when navigating challenging terrain, while still giving them the control they need to manage their speed and power.


  • Ease of use
  • Improved vehicle control
  • Excellent versatility
  • Ideal for less experienced riders who have no history of using a clutch


  • Slightly complex compared to an automatic
  • Reduced feel

Automatic Transmission

An automatic transmission is a newer and more advanced type of ATV transmission. The rider does not have to shift gears manually with this transmission type.

Instead, the ATV's computer system shifts gear automatically based on the speed and acceleration of the vehicle. This type of transmission is much easier to use, and it is ideal for novice riders.

It uses a complex system of gears, hydraulic actuators, and electronic controls to automatically select the appropriate gear ratio based on the rider's throttle inputs and the ATV's speed.

When the rider accelerates, the automatic transmission will automatically upshift to a higher gear ratio, providing more power to the wheels. When the rider slows, the transmission will downshift to a lower gear ratio to provide more engine braking.


  • Easiest transmission type to use
  • Excellent safety features
  • Most consistent performance
  • Reduced maintenance requirements


  • Higher cost

Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT)

A continuously variable transmission (CVT) provides more efficient gear ratios. With a CVT, the ATV can change gears smoothly and seamlessly, allowing riders to experience optimal performance and efficiency.

This transmission is ideal for ATV riders who value smooth and consistent acceleration, as it eliminates the need for shifting gears. However, CVT transmissions are more complex and require more maintenance than other options.

ATVs using this transmission option can typically operate with more balance, power, and overall efficiency. The change in speed, RPMs, and load works well because of the fast adjusting gear ratios.


  • Better fuel economy
  • Higher torque ratio
  • Much smoother riding performance


  • More expensive to maintain and repair

Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT)

A dual-clutch transmission is a hybrid of a manual and an automatic transmission.

With a dual-clutch transmission, the rider can shift gears manually or let the ATV's computer system shift gears automatically.

This transmission type offers the best of both worlds and gives the rider greater control and versatility than an automatic transmission. The dual-clutch transmission is also smoother and more efficient than a manual transmission.

However, it is also more complex and requires more maintenance than a manual or automatic transmission. It uses two clutches and no clutch pedal, so it can be confusing for beginners to get used to.


  • Sold fuel efficiency
  • Above-average speed control
  • No shift shock concerns
  • Flexibility


  • Not as many models to choose from
  • Higher cost to repair than usual

Best ATVs By Transmission Type

Below we have listed what we consider the best ATV options for each transmission type. If you are solid on a specific transmission, this will help you find the best ATV in that class.

Yamaha Raptor 700R - Manual Transmission

The Yamaha Raptor 700R is a speed demon ATV with precise handling. It’s built with a five-speed manual transmission, making it ideal for experienced riders who prefer reaching top speeds on straight-away roads.

This sport ATV design includes a single-speed reverse, electric start, and multi-plate wet clutch. It’s truly one of a kind, and Yamaha is a notoriously reliable brand regarding manual transmission performance.

This ATV also has a 686cc liquid-cooled engine and a maximum straightaway speed of 75 MPH. It’s one of the fastest and most agile ATVs on the market, and a manual transmission is one of the features that makes it possible.

Honda TRX250X - Semi-Automatic Transmission

The Honda TRX250X is the best semi-automatic transmission ATV. This allows for easy gear changes without using a clutch, making it a great choice for riders of all skill levels, including those just starting out.

The ATV's reverse gear makes it easy to maneuver in tight spaces and allows for quick escapes from sticky situations. Its combination of power, stability, and ease of use make it a top choice for riders of all skill levels.

It boasts a powerful liquid-cooled single-cylinder engine that delivers smooth, consistent power. This makes it ideal for various activities, from leisurely trail riding to tackling tough off-road conditions.

Yamaha Grizzly EPS XT-R - Automatic Transmission

The Yamaha Grizzly EPS XT-R has a fully automatic transmission. This eliminates the need for manual shifting, making it a great choice for riders of all skill levels, including those just starting out.

The ATV's four-wheel drive system also provides excellent traction and stability, making it easier to tackle tough off-road conditions. It’s one of the most durable and easy-to-ride ATVs with plenty of power.

The liquid-cooled 708cc engine delivers smooth, consistent power and acceleration. This makes it ideal for various activities, from leisurely trail riding to tackling tough off-road conditions.

Can-Am Outlander 450/570 - Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT)

The Can-Am Outlander 450/570 is a top-of-the-line all-terrain vehicle that offers a smooth and powerful ride. One of the standout features is its Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) system, which provides riders exceptional control and versatility on any terrain.

Unlike traditional ATVs with a fixed gear system, the CVT allows the engine to run at the most efficient RPM for any given speed, providing optimal power and fuel efficiency.

This makes it easier for riders to control the ATV, especially in challenging terrain, where smooth and constant power delivery is critical. These features make riding a joy, even in the most challenging conditions.

Honda FourTrax Rancher - Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT)

Honda uses a durable, high-performance DCT design with ATVs like the FourTrax Rancher. This machine has strong internals, above-average handling, compression-braking, and many more attractive features.

This is an excellent ATV with other key features like an Independent Rear Suspension, Electric Power Steering, and Electric Shifting. These all work well with the DCT design, allowing for amazing vehicle performance.

The Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) provides riders with a smooth, seamless shifting experience without manually operating a clutch. It uses two clutches to alternate gear engagement, allowing optimal off-road control and utility usage.

What’s The Difference Between a CVT & Automatic Transmission?

Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) and automatic transmissions are both types of transmissions that are commonly used in All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs). However, they function differently and have some distinct differences.

The primary difference between a CVT and an automatic transmission is how they change gears. An automatic transmission uses a set of gears with fixed gear ratios to change gears. It uses hydraulic pressure to engage and disengage gears, providing smooth and efficient shifting.

In contrast, a CVT has infinite gears, and the gear ratio moves as needed. It has a belt and pulley system to change the gear ratio continuously. This is what allows the CVT to provide an infinite number of gear ratios, so the vehicle has a smooth and consistent acceleration.

In terms of maintenance, automatic transmissions typically require less maintenance than CVT transmissions. This is because CVT transmissions have more moving parts and are more complex than automatic transmissions.

However, both types of transmissions require regular maintenance and service to keep them functioning properly. The automatic transmission will also last longer, on average.

Key Takeaways

  • ATV transmissions come in different types. The manual transmission is the most traditional and reliable option, while the automatic transmission is the easiest to use.
  • The dual-clutch transmission offers the best of both worlds, and the CVT provides smooth and consistent acceleration. Ultimately, the type of ATV transmission you choose will depend on your preferences, riding style, and experience level.
  • The best overall ATV transmission is the Continuously Variable Transmission. It has also become the most popular because it eliminates the need for a manual clutch and gear shift, making it as easy to operate as an automatic transmission.




41 years old. I'm a freelance writer that specializes in informational blog posts. All my articles are detail oriented and well researched. I'm a huge Arizona Cardinals fan!

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