Why ATVs Have Thumb Throttles [Thumb vs. Twist]

One feature that often confuses new riders to ATVs is the thumb throttle, as opposed to the twist grip found on motorcycles.

The design isn’t a matter of mere chance or looks; there are specific reasons rooted in functionality, safety, and ergonomic considerations.

In this post, I’ll go into the reasons behind the use of thumb throttles on ATVs and how they’re the best option for ATVs.

Why Do ATVs Have Thumb Throttles?

While ATVs are similar to motorcycles, there are some major differences, such as the throttles.

On a motorcycle, you have a throttle that you twist with your right wrist, but on an ATV, you have a throttle you push in with your right thumb. Both are throttles that make the ATV engine RPMs increase and move the vehicle.

Below are the reasons why ATVs have a thumb throttle over a twist throttle.

  1. Safer.
  2. Better control.
  3. Ergonomics.
  4. More durable.
  5. Better for beginners.

I’ll go over each advantage of a thumb throttle to give you a better understanding.

1. Safer

When it comes to ATVs, a thumb throttle is far safer than a twist throttle.

On an ATV, you don’t lean as much into turns, and you run into more objects like tree limbs that will smack your hands. With a twist throttle, you’re at a greater risk of accidentally giving it gas in a panic situation or when a limb hits your right hand.

Having the throttle at the thumb prevents accidental acceleration. If a branch or limb hits your hand, the thumb throttle’s natural direction reduces power, whereas a twist throttle increases acceleration when pushed back.

2. Better Control

ATVs go in all kinds of terrains, from the back woods, the mud, or the dunes, every situation is different.

Having a thumb throttle offers the driver better control no matter the situation.

The thumb throttle allows you to have all your grip on the handlebars without twisting your wrist too much.

Twist throttle on a motorcycle makes sense as you don’t move the handlebars as much, most of the turning is done with leaning. While on an ATV, you move the handlebars fully as that is the only way to steer.

3. Ergonomics

Where a twist throttle works well is with constant speeds, like you see on a motorcycle driving down a road.

An ATV, on the other hand, will be changing its speed more often and ride at much lower speeds. You will also be going over more unpredictable terrain and can see kickback that would cause issues if you have a twist throttle.

You tend to sit higher on an ATV and have a wider stance, having a thumb throttle helps with comfort for this riding style.

4. More Durable

A thumb throttle is a simpler design compared to a twist throttle.

It’s also tucked under the handlebars and gives it better protection from all the things you’ll hit on the trails.

5. Better For Beginners

I tend to find new riders take to the thumb throttles a lot better than twist throttles.

A thumb throttle resembles more of a car’s gas pedal and responds very similar. With a simpler design that is familiar, new riders take to it very well.

How Thumb Throttles Work?

The way a thumb throttle works is very similar to how other throttles work, the more you move it, the more gas you give to the engine.

What is different about a thumb throttle is that you push it forward to give it gas, while a twist throttle, you pull it back to give it gas.

Pushing the throttle forward is a huge safety feature because if something hits your hand backwards, or you start to fall off backwards, the natural movement is backwards which kills the throttle on thumb throttles.

Can You Covert ATV Thumb Throttle To Twist?

It is possible to convert a thumb throttle to a twist throttle, but it’s best you don’t.

I know some really like a twist throttle either because they’re used to it with motorcycles or dirt bikes, but it’s not worth it for ATVs.

You will hate having a twist throttle on your ATV and run the risk of further safety and comfort issues. Even if you have years of experience with your motorcycle, it’s very different on an ATV.

Can You Convert To Foot Throttle?

Anything is possible, but you should not convert an ATV thumb throttle to a foot throttle.

You already have a rear brake at your right foot, and if you have a manual ATV, the shifter is on the left foot. There is no room and the way you sit on the ATV would make a foot throttle very dangerous.

And yes, I’ve been asked this question before, it’s best you keep the thumb throttle on your ATV.

Sore Thumb Problems?

On long rides, your thumb can get sore from the thumb throttle, but there are things you do keep the fatigue down.

I have a whole post that goes over what to do about a sore thumb while riding an ATV.

Do Side By Sides Have Thumb Throttles?

A side by side or UTV is very similar to an ATV, but side by sides do not have a thumb throttle.

Side by sides have a foot throttle, similar to your car or truck. You drive it sitting in a seat with foot pedals for gas and brake.

Thumb Throttle Is Better For ATVs

The design of the thumb throttle on ATVs isn’t just a dumb decision. It’s a carefully thought-out feature that increases safety, control, durability, ergonomics, and accessibility for beginners.

As talked about, the unique demands of ATV riding make the thumb throttle a better option over the twist style.

Whether you’re an experienced rider or just dipping your toes into the ATV world, understanding these nuances ensures a safer and more enjoyable off-road adventure.