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From CycleChaos
Motocross rider hitting a berm.

Motocross 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 portmanteau derived from the words "Motorcycle" and "Cross Country".


Motocross was first known as a British off-road event called scrambling, which was an evolution of motorcycle trial events popular in the northern UK. The first known scramble took place at Camberley, Surrey in 1924.[1] During the 1930s, the sport grew in popularity, especially in Britain where teams from the Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA), Norton, Matchless, Rudge, and AJS competed in the events. Off-road bikes from that era differed little from those used on the street. The intense competition over rugged terrain led to technical improvements in motorcycles. Rigid frames gave way to suspensions by the early 1930s, and swinging fork rear suspension appeared by the early 1950s, several years before it was incorporated on the majority of production street bikes [2]. The period after the Second World War was dominated by BSA which had become the largest motorcycle company in the world [2]. BSA riders dominated international competitions throughout the 1940s.[2]

A Maico 360 cc with air-cooled engine and twin shock absorbers on the rear suspension

In 1952 the FIM, motorcycling's international governing body, created an individual European Championship using a 500 cc engine displacement formula. In 1957, it was upgraded it to World Championship status [2]. In 1962, a 250 cc world championship was created.[2] It was in the smaller 250 cc category that companies with two-stroke motorcycles came into their own. Companies such as Husqvarna from Sweden, CZ from the former Czechoslovakia and Greeves from England, became popular due to their lightness and agility [2]. 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.

Motocross was introduced to the USA in 1966 when Swedish champion, Torsten Hallman rode an exhibition event against the top American TT riders at the Corriganville Movie Ranch also known as Hopetown in Simi Valley, California. The following year Hallman was joined by other motocross stars including Roger DeCoster, Joël Robert, and Dave Bickers. They dominated the event placing their light weight 2-strokes into the top six finishing positions.[3][4]

By the late 1960s, Japanese motorcycle companies began challenging the European factories for supremacy in the motocross world. Suzuki claimed the first world championship for a Japanese factory when it won the 1970 250 cc crown.[5] 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.[6] In 1975, a 125 cc world championship was introduced.[7] European riders continued to dominate motocross throughout the 1970s but, by the 1980s, American riders had caught up and began winning international competitions.[8]

During the early 1980s, Japanese factories presided over a technology boom in motocross. The typical 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 in California 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.

The sport evolved with sub-disciplines such as stadium events known as supercross and arenacross held in indoor arenas. Freestyle motocross (FMX) events where riders are judged on their jumping and aerial acrobatic skills have gained popularity, as well as supermoto, where motocross machines race 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

The world is dominated by two main Motocross series; the FIM's Grand Prix, the World Championship series, and the AMA's American National Championship.

FIM Motocross World Championship

FIM Motocross World Championship

The Grand Prix (or Motocross World Championship) is predominantly held in Europe with some "flyaway" rounds, recently in Chile, South Africa and Japan, but over its history it has visited numerous countries including; Indonesia, Australia and countries on both American continents. There are three classes: MX1, MX2 and MX3 (analogous to "450cc" and "250cc", and "open", respectively). Race day consists of two moto's with a duration of 35 minutes plus two laps, while the series is longer, generally incorporating over 16 rounds.

AMA Motocross Championship

The AMA Motocross Championship (the "outdoor series") season begins in early May and continues until mid-September, and consists of twelve rounds at twelve major tracks all over the continental United States. There are two classes:[9] the 250 Motocross Class for 0–125 cc 2-stroke or 150–250 cc 4-stroke machines; and the 450 Motocross Class for 150–250 cc 2-stroke or 251–450 cc 4-stroke machines. Each round has two motos of thirty minutes plus two laps.

Motocross des Nations

Motocross des Nations

The annual Motocross des Nations (now called Motocross of Nations) 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, Belgium and Great Britain have had the greatest success.

Physical demands

Motocross sometimes takes place in wet weather, leading to muddy scenes such as this and hence the term "Scrambling". Photo from New Zealand.

The National Athletic Health Institute in Inglewood, California tested several professional motocross racers in September 1979 as part of a comparative study of the cardio-vascular, muscle endurance, and flexibility fitness of athletes from various disciplines. Athletes from track, American football, pro basketball and soccer were tested, among others. As a group, the motocross riders tested to a higher overall fitness level than any group tested. Motocross racers get their heart rate up to around 180 to 190 beats per minute and hold it there for about 35 minutes. These riders do this twice per day (original article appeared in Cycle magazine in early 1980). A subsequent study by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Sports Performance Complex in 2002 reconfirmed the result with more recent motocross racers. The intense physical demand of motocross derives from the fact that the racer of the bike must keep complete control of a 200lb or heavier bike, while also maintaining their top speed throughout the race.[10]

Sports derived from Motocross

A number of other types of motorcycle sport have been derived from Motocross.


A Canadian rider performing a "superman seat-grab"

Freestyle Motocross (FMX), a relatively new variation of supercross, does not involve 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. FMX was introduced to the X Games and mainstream audiences in 1999.


A Supermoto rider on the road

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.

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, but in Europe, the sport started gaining popularity, and in 2003 it was revived in the United States, when the name became "Supermoto".

ATV/Quad Motocross

Professional ATV racer Tim Farr at the 2006 Glen Helen MX national.

Throughout the United States and the United Kingdom there are many quad racing clubs with enduro and quadcross sections. GNCC Racing began around 1980 and includes hare scramble and enduro type races. To date, events are mainly held in the eastern part of the United States. GNCC racing features many types of obstacles such as, hill climbing, creek and log crossings, dirt roads and wooded trails.

ATV National Motocross Championship] was formed around 1985.[11] ATVMX events are hosted at motocross racetracks throughout the United States. ATVMX consists of several groups, including the Pro (AMA Pro) and Amateur (ATVA) series. Championship mud racing (CMR)[12] saw its infancy in 2006 as leaders of the ATV industry recognized a need for uniformity of classes and rules of various local mud bog events. Providing standardized rules created the need for a governing body that both racers and event promoters could turn to and CMR was born. Once unified, a true points series was established and lead to a national championship for what was once nothing more than a hobby for most. In 2007 the finalized board of directors was established and the first races were held in 2008. Currently, the CMR schedule includes eight competition dates spanning from March to November. Points are awarded throughout the season in several different competition classes of ATV and SxS Mud Racing. The 2008 year included Mud Bog and Mudda-Cross competitions, but the 2009 and future seasons will only have Mudda-Cross competitions. Classes range from 0–499 cc to a Super-Modified class which will allow any size ATV in competition.


Supercross riders from the 2006 series in Anaheim

Supercross is a cycle racing sport involving racing specialized high performance off-road motorcycles on artificially-made dirt tracks consisting of steep jumps and obstacles. Professional Supercross contest races are held almost exclusively within professional baseball and football stadiums. Many notable differences exist from regular motocross. Supercross tracks generally have much tighter turns and are more technical than motocross tracks due to the limited space of an indoor arena. The supercross season takes place during the winter and spring months, partially due to more controllable indoor climates involved.


A Zabel engined sidecar outfit.

Sidecar racing, known as Sidecarcross has been around since the 1950s but has declined in popularity recently. This variant is common in Europe, with a few followers in USA, New Zealand and Australia. The premier competition, the Sidecarcross World Championship, is contested on European tracks only and almost exclusevly by Europeans.

Motocross sidecars are purpose built frames that resemble an ordinary motocross-cycle with a flat platform to stand on attached to either side and a handlebar at waist height to hold on to. The side of the "chair" (slang for the platform) usually follows the side of the road the nation in question drives upon, but not always. The passenger balances the bike by being a counterweight, especially in corners and on jumps. It is driven on ordinary crosstracks.

It is very physically demanding, especially for the passenger. This is reflected in most in the Swedish term for passenger - "burkslav", roughly translated as trunk/body/barrel-slave. This name comes from the early sidecars where the platform looked like a real road-sidecar and not today's platform.

The major frame builders today are VMC, BSU, AYR, EML and Woodenleg. Ordinary engines can be used, but size matters and two engines purpose built for sidecars exist, Zabel (Germany) and MTH (Austria) are most common. Four-strokes are getting more common, usually KTM (Austria).

Pit bikes and mini-motocross

Two riders go into a corner at a mini-motocross event in West Virginia.

Pit bikes are small motorbikes that participants in powersports event use to ride around the pits, which are the staging areas where team support vehicles are located. More recently, they have been used in races held on either supercross or motocross tracks. Numerous performance and aesthetic upgrades are often applied to pit bikes.

Originally, there was only one way to acquire a pit bike. A rider would buy a child's minibike, usually a Honda CRF 50 or Kawasaki KLX110, and apply all the necessary upgrades and modifications to build a competitive pit bike. Of course, a rider could also buy a used bike. Since 2004, manufacturers have begun designing, manufacturing, importing, and selling already complete pit bikes. These bikes are less expensive, and require less time to complete.

Pit bikes are powered by 4-stroke, horizontal, single cylinder engines ranging anywhere in displacement from 49 cc to 160 cc. A typical pit bike is usually a small dirt bike, but it has become common to be able to buy pit bikes with street-style wheels and tires. Pit bikes with street tires, as opposed to knobby tires, are used in Mini Supermoto Racing.

Pit bikes are frequently heavily customized with decorative add-ons and performance-enhancing parts. Many riders and mechanics bore-out or replace engines in order to increase displacement and therefore power output. Heavy duty suspension systems, are often a necessary addition, since the stock mini-bike suspension was designed for a small child. Wheel, brake, and tire upgrades are sometimes performed to improve handling.

Pit bikes also have their own separate competitions held with classes generally corresponding to wheel size. This is a notable difference from Motocross and Supercross competition, where classes are separated by engine displacement. Pit bike racing is a relatively new niche of motocross, and as such, there is no official governing body similar to the AMA.

Governing bodies

Motorcross is governed world-wide by the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM), with federations in many nations.

  • Australia - Motorcycling Australia (MA)
  • Canada - CMRC / Canadian Motorcycle Association / LDRMC / CMX
  • France - Federation France Moto (FFM)
  • India - Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India (FMSCI)
  • Ireland - Motorcycle Union of Ireland (MCUI) - NB covers the whole island
  • The Netherlands - Koninklijke Nederlandse Motorrijdersvereniging (KNMV), Motorsport Organisatie Nederland (MON)
  • New Zealand - Motorcycling New Zealand (MNZ) and New Zealand Dirt Bike Federation
  • South Africa - Motorsport South Africa (MSA)
  • Sweden - SVEMO
  • United Kingdom - Auto-Cycle Union (ACU), with other separate bodies like the AMCA (Amateur Motorcycle Association), ORPA, BSMA, and YSMA.
  • United States - American Motorcyclist Association (AMA)


A Yamaha 450 cc four-stroke on display at the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit.
10 times world champion, Stefan Everts.


The above are the major five manufactures in most markets, the manufactures below command a smaller market share (currently - 2007).

BMW (Germany)

  • CCM (UK)
  • Cobra (USA)
  • Derbi (Spain)
  • Gas Gas (Spain)
  • Husaberg (Austria, formerly from Sweden, owned by KTM)
  • Husqvarna (Produced in Italy, originally from Sweden, now owned by BMW)
  • Maico (Germany)
  • Mojo Motorcycles (Australia)
  • Polini (Italy)
  • Pitster Pro (United States)
  • TM Racing (Italy)
  • Vertemati (Italy)
  • VOR (Italy)
  • Baja (Japan)
  • Benelli (Italy) In 2008 they made their first modern day dirtbike 450 cc only

Manufacturers that have ceased production

See also


External links