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A rider using a berm to corner during a motocross race in Australia

Motocross (often shortened to MX or MotoX) is a form of motorcycle sport] or all-terrain vehicle racing held on enclosed off-road circuits. Motocross is derived from the French, and traces its origins to British Scrambling competitions. The name "motocross" is a contraction derived from the words "Motorcycle" and "Cross Country".



Motocross traditionally took place (and still does) in wet weather, leading to muddy scenes like this and hence the term "Scrambling". Photo from New Zealand.

A motocross competition is generally called a 'Moto.' A race generally consists of several component races or heats and sometimes will require/include an element of qualification. Motocross is distinct from other forms of motorsport in having a mass start, where all the riders line up alongside each other, starting simultaneously and racing the race distance, with the first rider across the finish line the winner.

Motos vary in duration, usually measured in time elapsed plus one or two laps, or alternatively a fixed number of laps. Top level racing tends to have long races (e.g. 30 minutes plus 2 laps) while at the other end of the spectrum, amateur races can be as short as 10 minutes. When the designated time duration of the race is complete, a finish line flagger signals via a board or flag to the racers that there is one or two laps left, and the race is finished by a checkered flag.

Motocross tracks are often quite large (around 1 to 2 miles) and incorporate natural terrain features with varying amounts of man made jumps and other features. It is not unheard of for a Motocross track to be made up entirely of hills and turns with no jumps at all. In contrast Supercross is an entirely man made track, comprising almost exclusively of a wide array of jumps and typically held in an indoor stadium. Due to the size of outdoor tracks, motocross races typically include 40 racers, in contrast to Supercross where it is only practical to have about 25 riders.

Contrasting with motocross, in the "off-road" racing events of Enduro, Hare and Hounds, Hare Scrambles etc (events which are similar to motocross, but place a greater emphasis upon reading natural terrain and obstacles over a long period of time at much greater speeds than traditional motocross) there is a set amount of laps or long distance loops to complete or just a maximum time limit to complete under on a natural terrain course, e.g., Baja 1000.

Motocross racing is one of the most visually appealing forms of motorsports, with riders performing seemingly death-defying leaps, turns visibly at the edge of traction (as indicated by a sliding, spinning rear tire "roosting" dirt at all behind it), and the effort of riders clearly visible as they move their bodies around their motorcycles to balance the bikes for maximum speed. Motocross can be an entry sport for motorsports in general. Classes for children as young as 4 years old exist for competition on 50cc machines.


A 1968 360cc Maico, note the air cooled engine and twin shock absorbers on the rear suspension

Motocross was first known as a British off-road event called Scrambles, which were themselves an evolution of Trials events popular in northern Britain. The first known Scramble took place at Camberley, Surrey in 1924 [1]. European motorcyclists adopted the event and gave it a slight makeover, shortening the tracks and adding laps and a few man-made obstacles like jumps. During the 1930s, the sport grew in popularity, especially in Britain where teams from Birmingham Small Arms Company BSA, Norton (motorcycle) Norton, Matchless, (motorcycles) Rudge, and AJS competed in the events. Off-road bikes from that era differed little from those used on the street. Intense competition over rugged terrain led to technical improvements in motorcycles. Rigid frames gave way to suspensions by the early 1930s, and swinging arm suspension appeared by the early 1950s, several years before it was incorporated on production street machines. The period after the Second World War was dominated by Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA) which had become the largest motorcycle company in the world. BSA riders dominated international competitions throughout the 1950s.

In 1952 the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM, motorcycling’s international governing body, created an individual European Championship using a 500cc engine displacement formula. In 1957, it was upgraded it to World Championship status. In 1962, a 250cc world championship was created. It was in the smaller 250cc category that companies with two-stroke motorcycles came into their own. Companies such as Husqvarna from Sweden, Česká Zbrojovka Strakonice (CZ) from Czechoslovakia and (motorcycles)(Greeves) from Britain, became popular due to their lightness and agility. By the 1960s, advancements in two-stroke engine technology meant that the heavier, four-stroke machines were relegated to niche competitions. Riders from Belgium and Sweden began to dominate the sport during this period.

By the late 1960s, Japanese motorcycle companies began challenging the European factories for supremacy of the motocross world. Suzuki claimed the first world championship for a Japanese factory when it won the 1970 250cc crown. Motocross also began to grow in popularity in the United States during this period, which fueled an explosive growth in the sport. The first stadium motocross event was held in 1972 at the Los Angeles Coliseum. In 1975, a 125cc world championship was introduced. European riders continued to dominate motocross throughout the 1970s but, by the 1980s, American riders had caught up and began winning international competitions.

During the early 1980s, Japanese factories presided over a technology boom in motocross. The typically two-stroke air cooled, twin shock rear suspension machines gave way to machines that were water cooled and fitted with monoshock rear suspension. By the 1990s, increasingly stringent environmental laws forced manufacturers to develop environmentally friendly four-stroke technology. At the turn of the century, all the major manufacturers have begun competing with four-stroke machines. European firms also experienced a resurgence with Husqvarna, Husaberg and KTM winning world championships with four-stroke machinery.

Recently, the sport has evolved with sub-disciplines such as stadium events known as Supercross and Arenacross held in indoor arenas. Freestyle (or FMX) events where riders are judged on their jumping and aerial acrobatic skills have gained popularity, as well as Supermoto (Motocross machines racing on both tarmac and off road). Vintage motocross events have also become popular with riders competing on bikes usually pre-dating the 1975 model year.

Major Competitions

Multiple (AMA) US Motocross champion Ricky Carmichael at High Point national.

The world is dominated by two main Motocross series; the FIM's Grand Prixs - the World Championship series and the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA's) American National Championship.

The AMA Motocross Championship (the "outdoor series") season begins in early May and continues until mid-September, and consists of 12 rounds at 12 major tracks all over the continental United States. There are two classes; "Motocross" and "Motocross Lites". Each round has two motos of 30 minute-plus-two-laps, per class, held approximately two hours apart.

The Grand Prixs (or Motocross World Championship) is predominantly held in Europe with some "flyaway" rounds, recently in Brazil and Mexico, but over its history it has visited numerous countries including America. The format is similar to America with three classes; MX1, MX2 and MX3 with two motos per class. The World series is longer, generally incorporating around 16 or more rounds. The belgian won the most championships in MX1, MX2 and MX3.

The annual Motocross Des Nations (generally left untranslated from French, but occasionally called the Motocross of Nations or MXON) is usually held at the end of the year when National and World Championship series have ended. The format involves teams of three riders representing their nations. Each rider competes in a different class (MX1, MX2 and "Open"). There are three motos with two classes competing per moto. The location of the event changes from year to year. The United States, Great Britain and Belgium have had the greatest success.


Motocross start (holeshot)

Solo machines have engines ranging from 50cc to 550cc. In the early years of motocross, the 500cc class was considered the premier division. However, as technology progressed, the open class bikes became more powerful and fewer riders were able to ride them at their limits. The 250cc bikes also became faster with newer technology and were more manageable thus, they eventually superseded the 500cc bikes and became the premier class.

The most common distinction between motocross machines is whether they have two-stroke or four-stroke engines. Originally all bikes were four-stroke (in the Pre-65 era), but as the two-stroke engine improved they became more popular with their domination of the sport in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. The two-stroke engine produced more power than a four-stroke engine of the same capacity (cc), however fuel had to be mixed with oil. Four-stroke continued to be raced in specialist classes throughout this period, partially in the 500cc class. During the early 1980s another wave of technological advancement saw the typically two-stroke air cooled, twin shock rear suspension machines replaced by machines that were water cooled and fitted with monoshock rear suspension. This created even more powerful machines within the existing displacement categories (125,250 and 500cc).

The late 1990s saw an environmental crackdown on two-stroke engines particularly in the large American market. This spurred the development of environmentally friendlier four-stroke engines. While producing less power for the same displacement, four-strokes typically burn the fuel in a cleaner fashion. A major drawback of this is that four-strokes produce a deeper sound compared to two-stroke, which has led to a sharp rise in sound complaints across the world. To make the four-stroke competitive the world sanctioning body amended the displacement categories so that a 125cc two-stroke would compete against a 250cc four-stroke, and a 250cc two-stroke would compete against a 450cc four-stroke. By this point, the 500cc class had been dying out due to their immense power allowed fewer riders with enough talent to ride them at their limits. Yamaha introduced the first "modern" four-stroke with the YZ400F, which was soon succeeded by the YZ426F and then by the "standard" 450cc machine. Other manufacturers soon followed suit, downplaying their 250cc two-stroke bikes. As development progressed the power output of these bikes superseded their two-stroke equivalents, further sealing their fate. The four-stroke revolution continued with a wave of 250cc four-stroke machines to compete against the 125cc two-strokes. Once again manufacturers have been quick to promote these machines against their 125cc two-stroke equivalents. In the summer of 2006 Honda launched the CRF150 to compete in the 85cc class. This required sanctioning bodies to make further rule changes, which are very contentious with fans of two strokes.

Riders are often (but not always) classed according to their machine's engine size. Common classification includes;

European Class Name US Class Name Engine Capacity</br>(Two Stroke) Engine Capacity</br>(Four Stroke) Notes
MX1 Motocross/Supercross </br>(formerly "250") 250cc 450cc
MX3 Discontinued </br>(formerly "Open Class") 250cc+ 450cc+ typically 500cc two strokes, or "Open" class
MX2 Motocross Lites/Supercross Lites </br>(formerly "125") 125cc 250cc
85BW Supermini 85cc 150cc "BW"= Bigger Wheels
85SW Mini 85cc 150cc "SW" = Smaller Wheels
65 Mini 65cc 110cc
Autos Pee-wee 50cc 50cc

Youth racing included the MX2 class through to Autos, Adults ride MX2 through MX1 to MX3.

Motocross machines have extensive suspension to enable riders to tackle large jumps and ride at speed over the rough terrain. The advent of improved suspension transformed motocross from its scrambling origins with natural track to the current form today, with multiple jumps that would have previously been impossible.

To bring the weight down to an acceptable level (usually 200 to 250 lbs for full-size machines), items such as speedometers, lights, kickstands, electric starters, etc. are omitted. Lightweight materials such as aluminium and magnesium are commonly used as original equipment from the factory or sold in the after-market.

Because of the physical nature of motocross, riders spend much of their time standing to absorb shock with their knees. The long, flat seat is designed to allow riders to shift their weight quickly to provide more traction in corners, rather than for comfort.

Unusually for racing machines, motocross bikes can be purchased in a ready-to-race or nearly ready-to-race condition at moderate prices from major motorcycle manufacturers. Many riders, however, modify their machines further, both for outright performance and to have the bike's behaviour more in tune with their own preferences or just for enjoyment.

For details of Quads/ATVs and Sidecars see their respective sections.

See also Motorcycle - especially the "Construction", "Dirt bike/Trail bike" and "Farm bike" sections.

Physical Demands

One of the least understood aspects of motocross racing by non-participants is the extreme level of physical fitness required for the competitors. Those unfamiliar with the sport often assume that the rider is doing nothing more strenuous than steering a motorized vehicle around a field, no more demanding than driving the family car around the block. Motocross is very physically demanding on the arms, shoulder, and quads. Observing in detail a rider's actions while at speed on the track reveals why. He or she must maintain ultra-precise control of a machine traversing terrain that most people would have difficulty walking across while maintaining as high of a rate of speed as possible. The rider is astride a machine weighing at least two hundred pounds and, at the most elite professional level, has an engine that produces at least fifty horsepower. A rider's arms and legs are in constant motion during a race, fighting for control of the motorcycle and absorbing the energy produced by high-speed landings from heights that often exceed twenty feet. The g-forces produced test the absolute limits of a rider's strength and endurance. Finally, a typical professional moto (heat race) lasts at least thirty minutes. That represents half of an hour in which the faster the rider goes, the more violently and frequently he or she is put to the test. And there are no pauses, breaks or pit stops. At least not if a rider expects to win. Wrecks, crashes, and spills are also extremely strenuous and very common to all racers.

The National Sport Health Institute in Englewood, California tested several professional motocross racers in the early 1980s as part of a comparative study of the cardio-vascular fitness of athletes from various disciplines. Athletes from track, American football and soccer were tested, among others. The cardiac stress and strength test results compiled there revealed that the motocross subjects had as high a fitness level as any other discipline tested. Motocross racers now get their heartrate up to around 180 to 190 beats per minute and hold it there for about 35 minutes. Another thing to consider is that they do this twice per day.(Original article appeared in DirtBike magazine in 1980. Interview with Brad Lackey, World Motocross Champion and one of the test's participants appeared in Racer X Illustrated in 2004 and is recounted here)


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A Canadian rider performing a "superman seat-grab"

Freestyle motocross (FMX), a relatively new sport, is not racing and instead concentrates on performing acrobatic stunts while jumping motocross bikes. The winner is chosen by a group of judges. The riders are scored on style, level of trick difficulty, best use of the course, and frequently crowd reactions as well.

One stunt performed is the backflip, which was disputedly completed on a 250cc motorcycle by Carey Hart using a specially designed dirt ramp. Soon after this, Mike Metzger completed this stunt using a standard freestyle ramp and dirt landing. More recently Mike Metzger actually did a Backflip over the Caesar's Palace Fountains. Some consider the body varial 360 as the most difficult stunt being performed at this time. This stunt, also called the Carolla, was first performed by Chuck Carothers at the 2004 X Games. Prior to this, the backflip 360, or off-axis backflip, was widely considered the most challenging stunt. Another rider taking freestyle to a new level is Travis Pastrana. In 2006 he did the world's first double backflip, at the 2006 X Games Travis performed the world's first double backflip (in competition). It earned him the gold for best trick, that is now considered the most difficult trick. No other rider has yet done the trick.


The Pitster Pro, a minibike designed specifically for Pit-Bike racing.
The latest craze is adult racing on miniature (50cc-125cc) motorcycles called minibikes or Pit-Bikes. The Pit-Bike concept was originally so that full size motocross riders could easily navigate the Pits, the area designated for parking, and setting up prior to an event. The craze grew from there. People began "hopping up" the bikes and racing them against each other. These inexpensive minibikes designed for small children are often transformed for adult use by adding taller handle bars, improving the suspension, exhaust, plastics. Other "hop ups" include larger, bored 75cc-147cc engines and reinforced frames. No standard definition of what constitutes a pit-bike by any major governing body exits, but the normal requirement is a 14" front wheel, and a 12" rear (or smaller). None of the big 5 manufactures (Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki, and KTM ) currently offer "race ready" pit-bikes, however some other companies are beginning to sell bikes designed solely for this purpose. These include Pitster Pro, the SDG, and the Sikk MX. The minibike craze is predominatley in Southern California, but is starting to rise in popularity in other areas of the US and the world. Pit-bike racing has taken a turn towards mini-moto (Supermoto) also, usually racing on go-kart and tight, small vehicle tracks. Riders usually wear a combination of motocross and streetriding gear/leathers.


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A Supermoto rider on the road

Supermoto got its start in the late 1970s as a fun side project for many road racers. Its first exposure to a wide audience came on the American television program ABC's Wide World of Sports in 1979. UK racing journalist Gavin Trippe envisioned a racing event that would prove who the best motorcycle racer was and from 1980 to 1985, he organized a yearly event called "The Superbikers," which pitted the top road racers and motocross racers against one another on specially modified bikes raced on special tracks on the television show.

After 1985, the sport died and received little exposure. In Europe, the sport started gaining popularity and in 2003 the sport was revived in the United States and called "Supermoto". Supermoto involves taking a motocross bike meant to be raced off-road and converting it to be raced on tracks consisting of both dirt and pavement. The bikes are fitted with special road racing tires and are "grooved" to grip both the pavement and dirt. Some tracks for these race events have jumps, berms, and whoops just like true motocross tracks. For special events, the Supermoto track may incorporate metal ramps for jumps that can be disassembled and taken to other locations. Supermoto races may take place at modified go-kart tracks, road racing tracks, or even street racing tracks. There are also classes for kids such as the 85cc class.

ATV Motocross

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