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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A rider cornering during a motocross race in Australia
A rider cornering 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 in wet weather, leading to muddy scenes like this and hence the term Scrambling. Photo from New Zealand
Motocross traditionally took place 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 race. A race generally consists of several component motos or legs 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 lap. 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, comprisingly 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.

Races vary in duration, usually measured in time elapsed plus one or two laps. GP or Pro AMA races tend to be long, e.g. 30 minutes plus 2 laps. At the other end of the spectrum, amateur races by beginners can be as little as 10 minutes (or shorter). 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 chequered flag. Contrasting with motocross, in the "off-road" racing events of Enduro, Hare and Hounds, Hare Scrambles, GP racing, 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 compete under on a natural terrain course, e.g., Baja 1000.

Motocross racing is one of the most visually appealing forms of motorsport, 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 motorsport in general. Classes for children as young as 6 years old exist for competition on 50cc machines.


Motocross first manifested itself as a British off-road event known as Scrambles, which were themselves an evolution of Observed 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 BSA, Norton, Matchless, 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 BSA which had become the largest motorcycle company in the world. BSA riders dominated international competitions throughout the 1950s.

In 1952 the 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, CZ from Czechoslovakia and 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. In 1975, a 125cc world championship was introduced. Motocross also began to grow in popularity in the United States during this period, which fueled an explosive growth in the sport. 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

Motocross start (holeshot)
Motocross start (holeshot)

The world is dominated by two main Motocross series; the FIM's Grand Prixs - the World Championship series and the AMA's American National Championship, also known as the "outdoor series". The AMA Motocross Championship 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. Each event is held on consecutive Sundays. 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 South Africa and Japan, but over its history it has visited numerous countries including America. The format is similar to America with two classes; MX1 and MX2 with two motos per class. The World series is longer, generally incorporating around 16 or more rounds.

The annual Motocross Des Nations (generally left untranslated from French, but occasionally called the 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.


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 MX3. 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;

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

Motocross racers jumping
Motocross racers jumping

One of the least understood aspects of motocross racing by non-participants is the extreme level of physical fitness required of 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 or from two-foot high stutter bumps (called whoops) that jackhammer the motorcycle and the rider. 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.

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. (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)


A Canadian rider performing stunts
A Canadian rider performing stunts

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. [2] More recently Mike Metzger actually did a Backflip over the Caesar's Palace Fountains [3] 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 2005 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


The Pitster Pro, a minibike designed specifically for Pit-Bike racing.
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.


A Supermoto rider on the road
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

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

From 2002, ATV Motocross started to see a dramatic increase in participation across the United States. This was a direct result of the major ATV manufacturers getting involved in the sport. Before we can talk about the current state of ATV motocross, we must understand the past. ATV racing floundered after Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha dropped ATV-racing support in the mid 1980s due to the bad publicity associated with the alleged dangers of operating these vehicles. Throughout the late 1980s and all during the 1990s, aftermarket companies kept the sport alive, but barely. Racers would build expensive, custom ATVs with parts from major aftermarket manufacturers like Laeger's, Walsh Race Craft and Lonestar Racing. The engine that kept racing alive was the Honda TRX250R engine that was manufactured from 1986 to 1989. Again, the aftermarket helped racers get all they could out of the dated engine. Companies like Curtis Sparks Racing Engines, Baldwin Motorsports and Hinson Racing made it so the only stock component of the 250R engine were the left and right engine cases. Suspension upgrades made it possible for ATVs to hit jumps never thought possible. Suspension companies like PEP and Custom Axis, combined with long-travel A-arms and rear suspension links smoothed out rough tracks and harsh landings.

However, in order to be competitive, it was necessary to spend upwards of $20,000 on the race ATV. In the late 90s, rules were changed to allow racers to use dirt bike engines in ATV frames. The era of the four-stroke hybrid race ATV was born when Harold Goodman piloted a custom-built YZ400F to a national Four-Stroke Pro-Am championship. Soon hybrid machines were all over the tracks.

The manufacturers started paying closer attention to the sport ATV market, and in 1999 Honda released the four-stroke TRX400EX. While it wasn't as powerful as the hybrids racing on the tracks, it was a positive step. In 2001, Cannondale entered the ATV market and even fielded an ATV racing team in partnership with Nac's Racing the following year. The Cannondale story was a short one as the company declared bankruptcy shortly after 2002. In 2003 Suzuki released the LT-Z400 that featured a liquid-cooled four-stroke powerplant. That same year, the ATVA instituted a Pro Production class at the motocross nationals in order to showcase "stock" ATVs. The traditional Pro class still allowed two-strokes and hybrids. Many Pro racers raced both classes, but the premier class was still the Pro class. Tim Farr, in a move that raised eyebrows, raced only the Pro Production class. Doug Gust won the Pro Production class while Jeremiah Jones won the Pro class. Jones' championship would be the last Pro-class championship on a two-stroke.

Late in the 2003, Yamaha announced the YFZ450 for the 2004 model year. This ATV represented the first time a major manufacturer built a high-performance sport ATV suited for racing. While it wasn't as wide as many wanted for motocross and didn't have long-travel suspension, it featured a four-stroke engine very similar to the motocross dirt bikes Yamaha was putting out. The ATV also came stock with fully adjustable front suspension, the first time this was available on a stock ATV. After the Yamaha announcement, Honda announced it was going to bring the TRX450R to market in 2004. The tide was turning for the high-performance race ATV market.

The 2004 national ATV Motocross season was one of the most anticipated in 15 years. Suzuki announced it was going to hire Doug Gust as its motocross pilot, Honda was hiring Tim Farr as its factory racer and Yamaha was going to offer support Kory Ellis in limited fashion for the season. This represented the first time since around 1986 that any manufacturer was offering factory support for ATV racing. The moved proved to be a successful one for Suzuki as Doug Gust walked away with the national motocross championship, and in the process winning six overalls in a row.

The 2005 season saw more factory support and Suzuki fielding two racers, Gust and Jeremiah Jones, out of the Yoshimura/Suzuki semi. That year it was Honda winning the championship with support rider John Natalie taking the motocross championship. The 2005 season proved that the factories were willing to support ATV racing as they never had before. With that support on the track also meant support in the dealerships in the way of new, updated machines.

In the summer of 2005, Suzuki announced it was going to produce the 2006 LT-R450. This sport ATV was the most motocross-ready ATV ever produced. It featured electronic fuel injection, a high-performance four-stroke engine and a chassis that could be competitive in stock form. The front end had high-end shocks with 10 inches of travel and a width approaching 50 inches. The swingarm was made of steel, too.

The United States continues to see a rise in popularity in ATV racing at motocross tracks nationwide. This is often attributed to "race-ready" ATVs from the manufacturers.

Governing bodies

The sport is governed world wide by the FIM, with federations in many nations.

  • Canada - CMRC / Canadian Motorcycle Association/LDRMC / CMX
  • France - FFM
  • Ireland - MCUI (covering the whole island)
  • South Africa - MSA
  • Sweden - SVEMO
  • UK - AutoCycle Union, with other separate (unconnected) bodies like the AMCA, ORPA, BSMA, and YSMA.
  • United States - American Motorcyclist Association



  • Honda (Japan)
  • Kawasaki (Japan)
  • KTM (Austria)
  • Suzuki (Japan)
  • Yamaha (Japan)

The above are the major five manufactures in most markets, the manufactures below command a smaller market share (currently - 2006).

  • Aprilia (Italy)
  • Gas Gas (Spain)
  • Husaberg (Austria, formerly from Sweden)
  • Husqvarna (Italy, formerly from Sweden)
  • TM (Italy)
  • Vertemati (Italy)
  • VOR (Italy)

Manufacturers that have ceased production

See also the List of motorcycle manufacturers

Renowned Motocross riders

See also

  • List of Motocross riders
  • Supercross
  • Freestyle Motocross
  • All-terrain vehicle
  • Hawkstone Park Motocross Circuit


  • History of Motocross

External links

  • Official FIM World Motocross Championship
  • American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) - US governing body
  • Auto-Cycle Union (ACU) - British governing body
  • Motosport South Africa (MSA) - South African governing body
  • Fédération Internationale de Motocyclismo (FIM) - World governing body
  • FIM World Motocross Champions
  • Federation Francaise de moto (FFM) - French governing body
  • Site with lists of MX world Champions and other details
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