Side by Side Beginner Questions – The What Where & How of UTVs

As we try to expand our understanding of Side by Sides, my wife and I have created another guide here to cover some of the more beginner questions. In our 1st Basic UTV Visual Guide article, we hopefully made UTVs easier to understand and talk about so if you haven’t already please go have a look at that article here. Now that you know what a side by side is, let talk about what can you do with one.


What are UTVs used for?

There are a variety of different ways to use a UTV/Side by Side and here are some examples for both work & play:

  • camping
  • exploring
  • hunting
  • racing
  • carrying loads
  • transporting people
  • construction
  • snow removal
  • lawn maintenance
  • military
  • law enforcement
  • fire and rescue
  • parks management
  • public works

Where are UTVs designed to be operated?

UTVs or side by sides are designed to be used in off-road environments such as:

  • Trail Riding

There are lots of places to take your Side by Side on off-road trails and pathways to explore the countryside whether it be private or public lands. Trails can be as easy as a country dirt road or involve crossing streams surrounded by mud. They can be full of huge rocks that require a spotter (someone outside of the vehicle giving you direction) or some smaller 50 inch and under trails can take you into some dense forest type areas that are almost impossible to reach with a larger vehicle and that can make for some exciting exploration.

  • Hill Climbing

One of the most fun parts of having an off-road toy is putting yourself against a large and challenging hill climb. Unlike a race where you are putting your skills and your ride up against other people, hill climbing is just you versus the mountain. It’s exhilarating watching as others try and try to hit certain lines or paths up the hill and have to try over and over. When it’s your turn it can be adrenaline rushing. Whether it be sand, dirt, or rock the mountain will put your rig and your driving abilities to the test.

  • Farm

Whether you are transporting supplies or plowing fields, side by sides are great utility options. There are many accessories that you can pull behind a UTV to get the job done on a farm. One of which is a trailer. A trailer is a very multipurpose tool and behind a UTV it can go in some smaller areas that a full-sized tractor may not fit. Other accessories include mowing, seed spreaders, harrowing, and raking attachments. You can even get attachments for safely herding livestock.

  • Job Site

I’ve personally moved more bags of concrete on my shoulder than I can even recall. I built decks, patio covers, and pergolas for five years and I would have absolutely loved to have had a UTV at our disposal. Especially for moving large amounts of concrete bags around some of our bigger job sites. I’ve also been on some larger commercial projects where moving people from a work trailer to the site was a logistical consideration. Some tools are just ridiculously heavy and having a UTV can really help in a lot of different scenarios in the construction industry.

  • Race Track

UTV racing covers more than just the traditional race track you might think of as an ATV rider. UTVs have their own class at the some of the biggest racing events of the year including the Baja 1000 and the Best In The Desert Series. These two races, in particular, are long desert races that push you and your vehicle for hours on end. Side by Sides get some major upgrades to the speed, handling, and safety of the vehicle to perform with the rest of the pack at these big races. Other race venues can include maneuvering and jumping various obstacles at a traditional track setting or even cornering through tight woodland trail type racing.

  • Sand Dunes

For years, my family and I have been going to the sand dunes in Northern Colorado to play. Sand dunes can be a fun mix of wide open play areas, challenging hill climbs, jumps, trail riding, and an all-around fun camping experience. Weather conditions can create and/or change the shape of the terrain and produce an assortment of different places to play. There are bowls to climb and jump out of and giant hills to challenge the ability of your machine and your driving skills. A shower never felt as good as it does at the end of a long weekend at the dunes. The sand goes in places you didn’t know you had.

No matter where you take your UTV, be sure to use the buddy system, be courteous and slow down for oncoming traffic, and always use required safety equipment like eye protection, head protection, whips (flag) for over the hill visibility, and just some old fashioned common sense.


Are side by sides allowed on trails?

Yes, Side by Sides are allowed on trails but there are certain restrictions depending on the width of the UTV. There are two major sizes of UTVs which are 50 inches wide and 60+ inches wide. Trails that have a 50-inch width restriction are designed more for a four-wheeler sized vehicle or smaller and trails greater than the 50″ restriction are geared more towards larger off-road vehicles.

I live in Colorado and we have a wonderful tool called the Colorado Trail Explorer and as you can see from the image below you can choose between ATV trails or OHV/off-highway vehicle (>50″) trails.

Be sure to check out the restrictions where you are going to ride as some trails define their rules based on if the vehicle seats passengers side to side versus front to back or even the weight of the vehicle, not just the width of the vehicle.

Don’t worry, there are plenty of UTV trails out there for everyone to discover.


How to drive a UTV

If you are just getting started with your Side by Side learning journey and are wondering how similar they are to driving a car… they are just not the same driving experience.

Since most UTV’s have higher ground clearance and a narrower design, their center of gravity is usually higher than most cars which means that they have a greater risk for tipping and flipping. It’s in your best interest to start off slow on flatter easier terrain and evolve or progress to more challenging terrain as you build up your experience. Going fast on one of these types of vehicles means you have less reaction time to handle obstacles so it is recommended to gradually expose yourself to harsher terrain and speeds over time.

There are courses out there that you can take to get well acquainted with Side by Sides whether it be for offroad play or at the job site. rohva.org offers a free E-Course that provides two hours of interactive and multimedia content. After completing the E-Course you can then signup for an ROV Basic DriverCourse and use their search tool to find an instructor in your area for hands-on training.

If you’re someone who likes to read, the US Department of Agriculture has a 68 page PDF Operator Training Course that was designed for forest service employees and covers quite a bit about UTVs and how to use them in an illustrated guide.

If you need to get your employees certified to use a UTV you can visit hardhattraining.com and for $79 you can purchase a 60-minute online training that is OSHA compliant and delivers printable certificates/wallet cards.


How fast do Side by Sides go?

Sport off-road side by sides have a top speed between 75-95 miles per hour depending on the exact model UTV, any potential built-in limiters, the terrain, and modifications that have been done. The more utility type UTVs are going to have more of a top speed in the 25-45MPH range.


Are side by sides automatic?

The majority of side by sides are considered automatic because the transmission is doing the work for you. But they are not the same automatic transmission that your car has. A large number of Side by Sides have what is called a CVT or continuously variable transmission. This type of belt-driven transmission relies on pulleys and a centrifugal clutch similar to a snowmobile. As you start to give it throttle, the pulleys engage the belt and power is distributed down to the wheels.

Not all UTV’s have an automatic transmission as Yamaha’s newer YXZ1000R UTV models have a five-speed transmission that can be controlled with steering wheel paddle shifters similar to sports cars like the Ferrari.

On the utility side of the UTV world, there is a transmission option called the hydrostatic transmission. This is a variable control system like the CVT but it uses hydraulic oil, plates, and shafts. It has fewer parts that require maintenance and lends itself to more utility accessories that require hydraulics like a utility dump bed that moves up and down for example.


Do you have to register, liscense, and title a Side by Side?

Registration Sticker Example

You will need to register and title your side by side for public use.

Much like a car, you will get a title when you purchase a side by side that can be used to prove ownership. That will be necessary documentation in a loan or insurance situation.

Then depending on your state, you will be required to register, obtain permits, or license your UTV. Here in Colorado, we are required to get an Off-Highway Vehicle Registration which basically amounts to buying a $25 sticker that we attach to our vehicle. (see example image)

If you are just using your side by side on your property or your farm only then you may not need to register it but if you do then you may qualify for a farm use tax exemption.


Do Side by Sides need insurance?

No, not all UTVs need insurance. However, there are some situations where you would be required to carry it. Whether or not you need insurance for your UTV/Side by Side is not a one size fits all kind of answer. It depends on many factors like what state you live in/play in, what you use it for, if you have a loan that requires it, and where you want to ride (public or private land). It can be used to protect your vehicle in a wreck, protect you from getting sued because of a wreck, or even just protect you in the event of a UTV theft.

Keep in mind that some insurance companies will give you a discount if you take an off-road course.

If you’re someone who lives on a chunk of land and are able to use your UTV at home then there would be a good chance you would be covered by your homeowner’s insurance for most scenarios.

If you are using them for work purposes then you will most likely need commercial insurance.

For the states that do require it, much like insuring a car, there is a minimum ‘liability’ requirement which covers property damage, bodily injury, and legal fees.


How long do side by sides last?

How long do UTVs last or How many miles do side by sides last are both questions that are not a one-sentence quick answer. These questions are similar to asking how many miles are on a car or truck and then looking up the average lifespan of that particular make and model of vehicle. That works for most vehicles you drive on the road because of where you are driving it: on the road. That’s the constant and because of that, the average car gets driven in a fairly similar way.

When it comes to off-road vehicles, where you take it and how you drive it are some very large variables as to how long it will last you. A UTV that gets driven around the exact same paths on a farm day in and day out but with some serious attention to detail when it comes to the maintenance is going to far outlive a UTV that gets pushed hard on crazy rough terrain and then just put back in the garage until next time and not maintained at all.

Levi Bath

I'm the co-creator of OffRoad Lifestyles. I live in Loveland, Colorado with my wife and 3 kids. My wife and I have spent a lot of time out on the sand dunes near Walden, CO and we both love offroading and camping.

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