Whether you ride a negative offset with “deep-dish” wheels, or choose a wider, bigger tire and opt for a positive offset, you could face some costly repairs if you get the wrong offset and backspacing.
Today, we’re covering the basics like:
How to define wheel width and wheel diameter for your ATV
Before we get too into the weeds on choosing the right wheel offset, there’s a couple of terms to cover right away:
Wheel Width: The total distance from the inside lip to the outside lip. (If the wheel is laying flat, face-down on the ground, you would measure from the ground to the top inside lip of the rim.)
Wheel Diameter: This is the one most people are familiar with. When someone says they’re riding 20” rims, this is what they mean.
This is measured by propping the wheel up so it could roll (but don’t let it!) and measuring ground-to-upper lip height. Now that we’ve covered that, let’s get into the details.
What is wheel offset?
Wheel offset on an ATV is a two-number ratio that tells you how much of your wheel’s overall width sticks out from the mounting hub. It’s measured in inches, and it looks like a fraction.
The most common wheel offsets for ATVs are:
- 5/2: A positive offset (5” of wheel width is closer to the chassis, 2” of the width sticks out from the mounting hub).
- 3/4: A negative offset (3” of the total width is closer to the chassis, and 4” of the total wheel width stick out)
But what does positive and negative offset mean? Why are there two different ways to describe offset? How do you even find which one you prefer? Keep reading, and see why this is so important.
Negative vs. positive ATV wheel offset
These terms are shorthand for explaining the measurements. A positive offset wheel has a larger first number (5/2), and a negative offset wheel has a larger second number (2/5). The easiest way to think about offset is if the first number is bigger, the wheel has a positive offset, and more of the wheel will tuck in. If the second number is bigger, then the wheels will stick out farther.
So, a positive offset puts most of the wheel under the chassis, and a negative offset rim puts most of the wheel farther out to the sides.
Instead of making people do the math, most people will just use the general terms negative and positive. Often, they’ll say something like: “I like the look of a negative offset wheel more.” What they’re saying is they like the hub of the wheel “sucked in” closer to the chassis, with more of the rim sticking out. This is the first positive of a negative offset wheel.
Pros of a negative offset
ATV wheels with a negative offset offer more creative and detailed designs
These are also known as “deep-dish” wheels. There’s just more room to play with to swoop, angle, and style the different spoke patterns. Also, with the wheels sticking out farther, it gives your ATV a more aggressive stance.
Negative offset wheels improve cornering
With a wider track width (usually around 3” wider), there’s an increase in stability. This is great, seeing as the last thing anyone wants is to tip their ATV on a tight corner. It’s important to note, however, that the improvement in stability can lead to a less responsive turning experience. It’s up to the rider ultimately, but many people looking for aftermarket ATV wheels pick a negative offset.
Cons of negative offset
Wider stance=shorter axle life
Though it’s not always the case, riders who use a negative offset are lengthening the length the axle supports by 3” on average. So, like a board held up between two buildings, the farther apart the buildings are, the more the board will sag in the middle.
Faster wear on bearings
OEM stock bearings are designed for OEM stock wheels, which are most commonly found in a 5/2 offset. If you monkey too much with the little numbers like offset on a factory-stock vehicle, parts that aren’t designed for it will wear more.
This one’s pretty straightforward. If your wheels stick out farther, they’re more prone to rub the fenders when you’re taking a tight turn. This can take a toll on your tires and fenders as well.
Pros of a positive offset
Easier to fit wider tires
The less your tires stick out, the wider they can be without interfering with the fenders. As any offroader knows, wider tires work wonders on tough trails. So, if you opt for wide while you’re out slinging mud, a positive offset might be for you. Additionally, your center of gravity will be closer to the chassis.
Cons of a positive offset
Friction with control arms
Positive offset wheels have a similar issue when it comes to rubbing—just on the other side of the tire. With more of your wheel under the chassis, you have to make sure you aren’t making contact with the control arms, suspension, or any important parts.
Positive offset wheels give brake calipers less space
This might not seem like a huge deal, but as brake pads expand with heat and rims bend slightly in high-speed turns, your calipers get dangerously close to wheel components.
What is ATV wheel backspacing?
Backspacing is the distance from the hub mounting surface to the innermost edge of the wheel. The higher the backspacing, the farther out the wheel will be (giving the “deep-dish” look). The lower the backspacing, the more tucked under the chassis the wheels will be.
How to calculate ATV wheel offset and backspacing
Here’s the basic math behind it:
- X = The distance from the back lip of the rim to the hub, AKA backspacing
- Y = The distance from the front of the rim to the hub
- Z = The overall wheel width
X + Y = Z
So, if you know the overall width of the wheel, and you know the backspacing (“X”), you know that the difference has to be “Y”. Now, you know the offset, written as Y/X
Let’s say you have a 7” width on your wheel. The distance from the back lip to the hub is 4”. So, you know that this wheel’s “Y” is 3. You would write the offset as 3/4.
Measuring ATV wheel width, backspacing, and offset
It’s a fairly simple process. Just remember: bot lips of the wheel are covered by about ½” of tire, so subtract that from any measurement to the outside lip of the wheel.
All you’ll need is a bare wheel, a tape measure, and some type of level. Here’s a step-by-step guide:
- Lay your bare wheel face-down on a level surface.
- Measure the distance from the ground to the top of your wheel (“Z”, in our equation).
- Lay a straightedge flat over the back lip of the wheel, splitting it evenly.
- Measure the distance from the mounting hub straight up to your straightedge to get the backspacing (X).
- Take the number you found (X), and subtract it from the overall width (Z-X) The result of that subtraction is the distance from the hub to the outside rim (Y).
Offset = Y/X
Although backspacing might sound similar to offset, they don’t mean the exact same thing. There are some combinations of offset and backspacing that enhance your ATV, and some that just don’t work:
- Positive offset, high backspacing: Tucked in look, better opportunities for off-road tires.
- Negative offset, low backspacing: “Deep-dish”, improved stance and cornering.
- Negative offset, high backspacing: Internal rubbing against suspension
- Positive offset, low backspacing: narrow, narrow wheels that don’t get enough traction
Although we all want the coolest aftermarket parts for our ATVs, it’s important to try and keep the OEM’s original goals in mind. If you start tinkering too much with backspacing and offset, the vehicle might not handle or perform as intended.
Choosing the right wheel for your ATV
The upside of aftermarket wheels is huge. With wider tires, you can cut through trails more effectively. With a deep-dish wheel, you’ll turn heads with an aggressive stance and a wider, more stable wheelbase. But—that doesn’t mean you should go for the biggest diameter, deepest offset, or widest wheels without checking first.
To avoid rubbing, chafing, or overall loss of ride quality, check the wheel offset and backspacing of your ATV’s OEM wheels. From there, you can start to find a negative or positive offset wheel with an idea of how much is “too much.”
Positive offset for off-road perfection: HL23 Beadlock Wheel
Designed for serious offroaders, these positive offset wheels allow you to run the right tires for tough conditions. A modern-era beadlock wheel designed for today’s bigger and faster UTV applications.
Start your negative offset journey with The High Lifter H3 4/3
This wheel is a great “middle-of-the-road” pick for offset. They widen your stance, look mean, and have excellent quality. They’re available in two distinctive finishes—gloss black/machined and gloss black. The multiple options of bolt patterns and offsets make this a perfect application on most popular ATV and UTV models.
For the full deep-dish look, High Lifter has you covered with the HL4 Wheel.
With a larger negative offset, these wheels don’t just look great. You can improve your ride, traction, and offroad performance while cruising with these gloss black and machined wheels.
Correcting ATV wheel backspacing issues
You’ve found the perfect wheels with a positive offset, but the backspacing is just too low. You know you’re going to be rubbing tires on internal parts. Good news: there’s a way to correct ATV wheel backspacing while retaining the benefits of positive offset. A set of wheel spacers only 1” wide can be the difference maker between an unusable 3.5” backspacing to a totally functional 4.5” of backspacing.
Wide wheels with big tires: having your cake—and eating it too
If you’ve been paying attention, you know this combo sounds like a recipe for disaster. A big positive offset wheel equipped with pro-level offroad tires like the Out&Back Max Tire can lead to rubbing, faster wear, and shorter lifespans for parts.
But, if you just have to have them, there’s still hope. Adding a lift kit to your ATV gives you extra clearance from any of the suspension components or body components like fenders. Not to mention, they look great, and add versatility to your ride. You can cover more tricky trails and support the tire/wheel combination that you need.
The perfect wheels for your ATV
Part of it is looks, part of it is function. The most important part: quality. Once you’ve found the right wheel style, offset, and backspacing, find quality in trusted brands. High Lifter is a long-time frontrunner for ATV/ATV parts and accessories for a reason—these wheels last. Join the High Lifter family, and upgrade your ride today!