Motocross racing is an adventure in high adrenaline, and for experienced riders, it’s an emotional roller coaster. Getting started with this exciting and strenuous sport requires more than buying a dirt bike and hitting the track. What do you need to know to begin motocross racing?
To start racing motocross, you could start with a bicycle on dirt trails. Eventually moving up to a dirt bike with safety gear. Then practice in different terrain and weather conditions. Practice, practice, practice, and if you need additional training seek a mentor or MX school.
Motocross racing takes more than you realize, so if you intend to get started, read on for more steps to take.
Motocross is an off-road race for motorcycles, or rather, dirt bikes, around curves, and overjumps and hills. It takes place on gravel, mud, or grass roads, or in even in fields. It is usually an all-day event that tests the participants’ physical stamina as they use all of their muscles to shift and balance on the bike while riding.
History of Motocross Racing
Motocross racing got its start in 1906 when thefirst bikers would race motorcycles of the time along dirt tracks and timing themselves and each other to try to beat their previous times, and the times of each other. As the races evolved, so did the rules and the bikes.
In 1924, the first official race was held in Surrey in the UK, after the previous races became known as “ hare scrambles” that were held weekly. The sport took off, but the bikes were rigid and not at all easy to navigate the turns and bumps. By the 1930s, these rigid bikes were replaced by suspension bikes, and the sport took off from there.
Once the swinging rear fork suspension bikes came out in the late 1950s, motocross racing changed forever, as it changed how the races were structured.
Governing bodies, such as the Federation of International Motorcycling World Championship, were established to monitor the sport and create rules, regulations, and safety procedures for racers and the race itself.
When motorcycles became user-friendly and races became more popular, the sport spread from the UK to Japan, and ultimately to America by the 1960s. Since that time, motocross racing has become a popular sport in every civilized part of the world.
Motocross Divisions and Championship Races
The first motocross races spawned several divisions and championship statuses. TheFIM World Championship Motocross is held on several continents such as North America, Asia, Africa, South America, and Europe, where it all began.
The AMA, or American Motorcyclists Association, Championship is held predominantly in the US. It consists of twelve rounds on several different tracks across the nation.
Modern motocross and supercross teams use the very best equipment and race on the most aggressive tracks imaginable. Teams like the Risk Racing factory team shown above gather the most talented racers to contend for national championsips. These riders are among the most fit and focused athletes as motocross is known to be the 2nd most physically enduring sport in the world.
Freestyle motocross does not involve racing, but rather acrobatic stunts while riding the tracks. The style originated through freeriding dirtbike videos in the 1990's. The "Godfathers" of freestyle include the likes of Brian Deegan, Cary Hart, Twitch, etc. As the events grew they picked up stars like Travis Pastrana and events like the X games judged riders on the best tricks rather than the time it takes to complete the course.
Standard Motocross Procedures
In both the FIM and AMA championship races, there are two 30 minute races, plus a bonus two laps that need to be completed in each class, with the total points calculated to crown a winner at the end of the event. The FIMholds 18 events per season, while the AMA holds 12 events.
Before the races begin, racers are to push their bikes to the starting line, but theycannot start their bikes yet, but the gas can be turned on. The cardholder will hold up a card with the number 2, which means racers can start their bikes. If someone has a problem, they need to wave their hand, and they will get two minutes to fix the problem.
Once everyone is ready, the next card that is held up is 1. At this time, if everyone is prepared, the cardwill be turned sideways, and the race will begin.
Racers winby having the best overall time, which will be posted in a pre-designated areaannounced in the riders’ meeting beforehand. Each racer has 30 minutes to protest results, then the awards are handed out, and the results become official.
Learn How to Ride on Dirt With a Bicycle
If you don’t know the first thing about riding down dirt or gravel trails, how are you going to go at high speeds with a dirt bike on the extreme tracks? For that reason, one option is to practice by riding a bike on dirt or gravel trails at lower speeds. You might also want to ride aPump Track to get a feel for what a motocross track is like.
A pump track is a continuous loop of rolling berms and dirt mounds that allow the rider to ride the track without pedaling. It is meant to maintain a constant speed throughout your ride, and it trains you to get used to the track used in motocross events.
Once you get used to how that feels, then you’re ready to start practicing with a motorcycle at dedicated motocross tracks.
Many motocross racers still train on BMX bikes on pump tracks to stay in shape and maintain their motocross skills.
Buy the Right Dirt Bike & Practice on Local Tracks
When you feel confident riding over dirt gravel on the pump tracks, it’s now time for you to locate your first dirt bike so you can practice on local tracks. There is an impressive lineup of bikes on the market, including Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawaski, KTM, Husqvara, and Honda. Most modern professional racers swear by the 4-stroke engines with more horsepower, torque, programmable ignition, and more.
While some bikes are going the “ green” route with electric-powered motors, they are heavierand may not perform as well as gas-powered bikes. Give it time though, this could change in the future. However, some will never turn in their fossil fuel burning machines.
With Bikes, Sometimes Size Matters
Dirt bikes come in all sizes for riders asyoung as four years old, so if your child wants to get into motocross, be sure to get the correct size bike. Dirt bikes for kids range in size from 50cc, 2-stroke engines with a wheel size of 10” all the way up to 112cc 2-stroke, or 150cc 4-stroke engine, with a maximum wheel size of 19”.
For 16 years and over, dirt bikes are 85cc-250cc 2-stroke engines or 150cc-450cc 4-stroke engines.
The size varianceis an important part of the different classeswithin the AMA, as each class competes with similar racers with similar size bikes.
New Bikes vs. Used Bikes: Which Is Better?
Dirt bikes bought new can be pricey and out of your budget when you’re just starting in the motocross circuit. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on something you don’t know you’re going to really stick with, you should start with a second-hand bike. However, before you buy a used motorcycle,check for wear and tear. Make sure the motor and suspension are in top shape and work perfectly.
On the other hand, new bikes don’t have the problems that used bikes have, so you’re sure to get one that will not have problems for several years going new.
When you know that you’ll stick with motocross racing for many years, buying a new dirt bike is a good investment. But if you aren’t sure about motocross yet, buy a used bike just to get a feel for the sport before putting a lot of money into a new bike.
Locate Local Tracks to Get Started
When you get your bike, seek local tracks that you can practice on and get your skills to where they need to be for competitions.
After finding thebest local track, you should practice as much as you can to get used to mild tracks before moving to the more extreme tracks. You should start on firmly packed dirt or gravel before moving to softer dirt or sand. Softer tracks get rutted up in the corners. This is more challenging for beginners, but more fun for advanced riders. The wonderful thing is, every track is different and each visit is like a new amusement park of a ride you get to control!
Dress to Crash, Not to Ride
There is no “if” you’ll crash; it’s “when” you’ll crash. So you need todress in safety gear that will protect you in a crash. You need a high-quality helmet, roll-off and tear-off goggles, heavy-duty bootsmade for riding, elbow and knee protection, and more. You want to buy well-made MX gear because when you crash, you want to walk away from it.
Get a Well-Made Helmet
There is nothing more important on your body than your head, and if you crash while wearing a cheap helmet, you could end up with brain damage or even worse--you could die in a crash without a well-made helmet. Motocross guidance organizations like the AMA or FIM have established standardsfor what the helmet needs to have to meet minimum safety standards.
The helmet’s shell should be hard enough to protect your head against collisions with large objects.
The helmet must fit around your head without shifting out of place.
The chin straps should be strong enough to keep the helmet in place in case of an impact.
The entire helmet must fit around your head completely, with no gaps.
Look for modern motocross helmets that feature MIPS systems
Cheaply made helmets that don’t match these requirements or don’t have the safety-tested seals required by AMA or FIM will not qualify when you race.
Boots Made for Motocross Racing Are a Must
Flying rocks hurt, and if you have cheap boots, they may not protect your feet and ankles very well against them. Also, if you crash, sturdy boots help protect your ankles from sprains or breaks. Boots must also guard against impacts when you jump from your bike in a crash. (Read what pros say about ‘bailing’ later in this article)
Boots should also go up to the mid-calf, to provide extra support to your ankles.
Motocross Goggles - Worth the Extra Expense?
Goggles are a must when it comes to motocross racing, as it protects your eyes from mud, dirt, or rocks flying up while racing. Good goggles also have UV protection to protect your eyes from the sun’s rays.
But cheaply made goggles are not worth it because the lenses get scratched easily and have poor optical characteristics, they fog up due to poor ventilation, and can be very uncomfortable to wear. Not only that, but they don’t last very long, so you may as well buy the more expensive goggles.
You also have a choice between tear-off lenses or roll-off lenses so you can quickly see once your goggles get too muddy. Tear-off lenses are a thin plastic film in the shape of lenses and can be torn off when dirty. You can stack multiple tear-offs onto your lens, which is usually enough to go all day.
Roll-off lenses are like 35mm film (the rolls of camera film that predate digital cameras) that is stretched across your goggles, and you roll a clear section into view anytime you can’t see due to mud. A roll lasts about 25 complete turns.
Risk Racingmakes the only automated goggle roll-off system that works with nearly any goggle. It is called The Ripper, and with the press of a button, it will wirelessly and automatically clear the riders vision. This beats having to let go of the bars to pull a tear-off or roll-off.
Tough Gloves Protect Your Hands From Blisters
Riding a dirt bike all day can place some massive blisters on your hands due to holding the handlebars too much and the vibrations and friction that come from riding. A good pair of gloves can help reduce the incidence of blisters from forming and if you throw somepalm protectors in there as well then you don’t have to worry about your hands getting beat up. Gloves can also protect you in a crash and will keep your hands more comfortableso you can race all day without stopping.
Choose Heavy-Duty Body Armor
Body armor in motocross racing refers to the chest protector that you see racers wear. Chest protectors protect your chest from the roost, rocks and dirt that fly up from riding. Some are designed to only protect against roost, and some are stronger to protect your chest against harder objects and impacts.
Other body armor include elbow pads, kidney belts, and other protection for your upper body. A full body armor jacket will offer more protection in a crash.
Good Elbow and Knee Pads Are Essential
If you don’t have a body armor jacket, you will need elbow pads to protect your elbows from any crashes or spills. You should also get knee pads should you crash, so you don’t fracture them. At first they might be uncomfortable to wear while racing, but you may have more discomfort if you crash and fall on your knees.
Choose a Kidney Belt for the High Jumps
While kidney belts are not essential for safety, they help keep your insides from going everywhere when you land jump, after jump, after jump. If you’ve never worn one before, you should start wearing one when you first begin motocross to get used to it.
Seek Out a Motocross Racing School
A motocross riding school should teach you how to rideand help you find the right bike for you if you don’t already have one. Some of the beginner classes may have entry levelbikes in their fleet, which should provide you an idea of what type of bikes are available to you, and they will have different tracks that will help you find where you’re most comfortable getting started.
Benefits of a Racing School
Racing schools are often very pricey, but if you’re looking to get started with motocross racing and haven’t been riding since you were able to walk, you may want to consider a racing school.
Bad habits learned before can be corrected with the right teacher or coach.
A trained eye can catch your weaknesses and show you the proper technique.
While a rider can learn a lot about the sport through watching, a teacher can show other methods that a rider wouldn’t know about just from watching someone else ride.
The track is tailored for all rider levels, so you can jump right in whenever or wherever you’re comfortable.
Even a talented rider may not reach their full potential without going to motocross school.
It’s not just for the professional riders--all riders want to have fun and be safe so that a racing school can help for all reasons.
Students can expectto learn how to slow down while they’re learning the correct techniques, then learn how to apply those when speeding up. If you learn nothing else in motocross, at least learn patience and slow down while you’re learning the right riding moves.
Find a Club to Start Competing
Motocross racing clubs hold competitions to get you ready to race professionally. A club will charge membership fees, but it is a gateway to riding and competing in the bigger leagues later. When you regularly ride in a supervised setup, you get the safety of riding in a group. You also get noticed more often, which can help you move up to the world championship tournaments.
There are clubs for junior racers just starting to riders that have been racing for five years or longer.
Keep Practicing Between Races
If you don’t keep up with your riding, you’ll lose the skills you worked so hard to attain. Practicing and conditioning keep you in top shape to compete professionally. Many pros practice during the week, then compete heavily in events during the weekend. Amateur riders find that the different stunts and twists and turns a bit difficult, so practicing daily for at least two hours will keep you in top condition.
Practice will also help keep you in shape physically so you can handle the rigors of all-day racing events.
Remember, There Are Membership Fees to Pay
Memberships to racing clubs cost money to participate, as well as racing events. If you want to have a license and be part of the AMA, be prepared to cough up the money. Motocross is an exciting sport, but it does cost money formembership fees and everything else mentioned in this article.
Don’t Forget to Eat Properly
Everyone tells you what to wear, what to ride, and how to prevent injuries during motocross racing, but not many people tell you what to eat before or after a race. Because the sport is physically demandingon your muscles as you keep balance on the bike and land from being in the air, you need to eat properly to fuel and refuel your muscles.
Like runners or other athletes that use their bodies in sports, rather than vehicles, you are putting yourbody through a lot of activity during a race. Therefore, you need to have good cardiovascular fitness to make it through every race.
Don’t forget to drink plenty of fluids, as you may excrete a lot through sweat on the track and the amount of protective gear you are wearing.
Be sure to eat a balanced diet of good carbohydrates, fats, and proteins to keep your energy even throughout the event.
How Not to Die When Racing Motocross
Top racers were asked how they managed to stay alive while racing and how to prevent injuries during races. Many pro riders were unanimous in that you need to try to stay on your bike because dirt bikes have shock absorbers that can absorb most of your landing impact. Beginners tend to want to jump off the bike when it goes up, but staying on will help keep you from dying prematurely.
While many riders don’t change their tactics as they age, they do minimize mistakes to keep their risks of dying down. They also wearas much protective gear as they can so they don’t get seriously injured.
If you don’t want to die prematurely, you may want to keep in mind the professionals’ tips and minimize mistakes.
How to Prevent Injuries
You cannot prevent injuries 100% of the time, but you can limit how often you get serious or life-threatening injuries during motocross racing. Common injuries found in motocross racing include concussions, ACL tears and ruptures, and shoulder dislocations.
The best way to stay safe is to wear plenty of safety gear, as mentioned previously.
Be sure that you can see the course clearly at all times, so you’re not running into a barrier or another racer.Understand your abilities, and don’t challenge yourself if you’re not ready to do so. Otherwise, you may end up seriously injured.
Prepare yourself before the race to make sure your muscles are warmed up, then again after the race to prevent any lactic acid from building up and creating pulled muscles.
Keep Your Bike Safe From Thieves
A good dirt bike in your driveway or garage is like having a target on you for thieves. Dirt bikes are worth money to thieves looking to sell your motorcycle elsewhere. You may want to complete the following steps tokeep your bike safe:
Install a normal home alarm on your garage door. Any conventional home security system should work fine to scare off potential thieves.
Put in a ground anchor in your garage with a heavy chain to chain your bike to the anchor. If the thief gets past the alarm, they will have a difficult time stealing your bike.
Keep the trailer locked. If you keep your bikes in a trailer full time or even just while you are out and about, your trailer needs to be locked up. Entry doors, ramp door, trailer tongue lock, and anything else you can lockdown.
Keep your bike out of sight of the neighbors or other would-be thieves. If anyone knew you have a dirt bike, they would try everything they can to steal it. :) (Unfortunately, this could be the case depending on where you live.)
Maintain Your Bike Properly
While this point should be obvious to the bike enthusiast, it should still be made. Keep your bike in top working order, so it lasts you through many races. If you don’t have the necessary skills to maintain your bike, you may want to take it to a qualified dirt bike mechanic. Otherwise, the following systems need to be maintained:
Change the oil and filters after every 2-4 races, as the dirt and mud get in there frequently and can clog up the system.
Lubricate and clean your clutch and throttle cables often to keep them free from debris and keep them in good working order.
Keep your chains and sprockets clean, so they move freely while you're racing.
Clean or change your air filter often, especially if you ride in wet conditions, as it keeps your engine running properly.
Top off the coolant before every race, as races are often hard on bikes.
When you maintain your bike after every race, you won’t have as many problems that could cost you a lot more money over time and can save you costly repairs should anything major break down.
Motocross racing is an exciting and adrenaline-filled sport that will keep you in shape, especially because of maintaining balance and moving with the bike for every bump, jump, and turn that you face on the track.
One thing to remember is not to grip the handlebars so tightly or to keep your legs clenched to the bike. If you do, you run the risk of having what is known as “Arm Pump,” a condition that causes your arm to lock up in a strong cramp. If you do get this, the best way to decrease this is to use a hand grip device several times a day, which will reduce the frequency of these cramps.