Motorcycle racing, also known as moto or motorbike racing, covers multiple types of motorsports. This includes motorcycle road and off-road racing on circuits or open courses, track racing, hill climbs, drag racing and land speed record trials.
Classification of motorcycle racing
|Highest governing body||FIM|
|First played||November 29, 1895|
|World Games||Motocross: 1985; Speedway: 1985 and 2017; Indoor trials 2005 (All invitational sports)|
The FIM categorizes motorcycle racing into four main divisions which each come with multiple subsections.
Road racing is a type of motorcycle competition taking place on paved roads. The contests can occur either on an exclusive road loop or a public street course closed off for the event.
Traditional road racing Motorcycle racing
Originally, “road racing” took place on closed public roads. Such courses are now rare in Europe, yet two championships have been established; the International Road Racing Championship clarification needed and the Duke Road Racing Rankings. In order for these events to take place, local legislatures provide permission to close public roads. Notable road races include the Isle of Man TT, Northwest 200 and Ulster Grand Prix which use long circuits. Ireland also has several road racing circuits in use while other countries such as the Netherlands, Finland, Spain, Belgium, Germany, Great Britain (Oliver’s Mount), Czech Republic, Ukraine, New Zealand, Indonesia and Macau additionally hold similar competitions.
Motorcycle Grand Prix
Grand Prix racing is a competitive form of motorcycle road racing, with three distinct categories: MotoGP, the top tier; Moto2; and Moto3. All three classes provide thrilling entertainment as riders vie for the checkered flag in pursuit of glory on the open road.
Moto3: debuted in 2012 with 250cc single-cylinder four-stroke engines, replacing the earlier 125 cc two-stroke bikes. Riders must be no younger than 25 if signing up for the first time or as a wild card, and not exceeding 28 years old in any case.
Moto2: In 2010, Dorna Sports, the commercial rights holder of the competition, introduced Moto2 as a 600 cc four-stroke class. Before then, the intermediate class was 250 cc and two-strokes were utilized. However, during that season both engine types were allowed to compete. Since 2011 though, Honda controlled-engine four-stoke Moto2 machines were the only motors permitted. Then in 2019 Triumph Motorcycles took over from Honda as supplier for Moto2 and developed their engines based on the 2017 Triumph Street Triple RS 765.
MotoGP: This is the highest form of Grand Prix racing, where competitors race on prototype machines with varying displacements and engine types that have undergone several changes over the years. Initially featuring large-displacement four-strokes, it later shifted to 500 cc two strokes. In 2002, 990 cc four-stroke bikes were included too before these engines completely replaced two strokes in 2003. After reaching dangerously high speeds in 2007, 800 cc four stroke engines were mandated until 2012 when they were finally settled as 1000 cc four-strokes – a decision which came at the tail end of the 2008-2009 financial crisis.
Grand Prix motorcycles are not based on production models; rather, they are special prototype machines.
Superbike racing is a type of motorcycle road racing in which modified production machines are used. To qualify, the bikes must have four-stroke engines ranging from 800 cc to 1200 cc for two-cylinder models and 750 cc to 1000 cc for four-cylinder ones. Although its mechanical components are altered, the overall look as seen from the front and both sides should match that of its street counterpart.
Supersport motorcycle road racing is another class of competition that requires specially modified production bikes. The engine must be a four-stroke with either 250–600 cc for quadcylinder cycles and 600–750 cc for twins, as well as abiding by the FIM homologation rules. Regulations in this category are more exacting than Superbikes, leaving very limited room for engine calibration while all other elements remain largely standard.
Endurance racing is a form of motorbike road competition designed to measure both equipment strength and the tenacity of its drivers. Teams comprising different riders attempt to traverse a large expanse in a single event, with the option to switch during the race. Competitors can either try and finish the course as rapidly as possible or travel as far as they can within an allocated period. The mechanical reliability of the bikes is an essential element for success.
Sidecar racing is a motorbike competition that utilizes sidecars. Traditionally, the vehicles used resembled solo bikes with a platform added; however, modern racers are purposefully designed to be low and long. Sidecarcross is also a common variant of the sport, which resembles MX bikes with an elevated platform. The success of these machines around corners heavily relies on the rider and passenger collaborating in particular, how the passenger shifts his/her body weight across the sidecar.
Formula Sidecar, which follows a standard set of rules and regulations; Supermono Sidecar, with limited modifications allowed; and European Super Sidecars, where riders may make extensive changes to the machinery.
Sidecarcross (sidecar motocross)
F1/F2 road racing
Historic (classic) road racing
Motocross (or MX) is a form of off-road racing, in which a number of motorcycles race around a closed circuit. The courses are usually constructed on surfaces such as dirt, sand, mud and grass, and often include both natural and artificial elevation changes. Motocross bikes have advanced suspension systems that allow for impressive jumps on the track. This kind of racing is often characterised by mass starts where riders start alongside each other, with the first to cross the finish line declared the winner. In some cases, an additional award may be given to the competitor who makes it into the first corner first (known as holeshot).
Motocross offers a huge range of classes to everyone, from the 50cc 2-stroke youth machines to 250cc two-stroke and 450cc four-strokes. Based on age, ability, sidecars, quads/ATVs and machine age (with classic being pre-1965/67 and Twinshock referring to bikes with two shock absorbers), there is something for motorcyclists of any age or ability level.
Supercross, or SX, is an indoor version of motocross that is particularly technical and involves rhythmic riding. Unlike Motocross, it takes place in stadiums and arenas instead of the great outdoors. The impressive jumps are a key reason why this sport has become so popular with spectators in North America; it’s been known to fill large baseball, soccer, and football stadiums. Unfortunately, its popularity hasn’t quite spread to Europe yet – there the focus remains on Motocross.
Supercross (or SX) shares many similarities with motocross, as it is an indoor version of the sport. The terrain tends to be more technical and emphasize a rhythmical approach for riders. Supercross events often take place in stadiums or arenas, closed or open, and are distinguished by their abundance of jumps. North America has taken this sport to great heights by having large crowds filling major sports venues such as stadiums for baseball, soccer, and football. As a result, Motocross has earned the title of being the “outdoors”. In Europe, however, Supercross is not as popular as it is in other countries since there is greater emphasis placed on Motocross.
Supermoto racing features a unique blend of road-racing and motocross. The motorbikes used are principally motocross models with tires geared towards road-racing. Contestants compete on a hybrid course featuring elements from both dirt and asphalt courses, which can be either at closed circuits or even cityscapes.
The riding style on the tarmac section differs significantly from other forms of tarmac racing, with riders opting for a different line into corners, using their back wheel to slide around the corner and extending their leg rather than reaching down with a bent knee as often seen in road racing.
Enduro and cross-country
Enduro is a type of off-road motorcycling focusing on endurance. In classic “Time Card Enduros”, participants ride over a 10+ mile path comprising primarily of off-road trails, usually in forests. This lap is broken down into sections with target times to be exactly met; being either early or late incurs penalties, so the goal is to be precise. To mix things up, some stages are quite restricting while others allow for a reprieve. Additionally, there are special tests to gauge rank over various surfaces and these include speed segments where the quickest time wins. Most events last 3-4 hours while longer ones are not unheard of. In major races like national or world championships, the motorcycles stay locked up overnight while repair restrictions must be observed during racing.
The World Enduro Championship (WEC) runs events throughout Europe and sometimes ventures to North America. The pinnacle of the Enduro calendar is the International Six Days Enduro, formerly known as the International Six Days Trial, where countries enter teams of riders for the “World Cup” and club teams. This event combines amateur and professional levels of sport over a large geographic area.
Furthermore, there has been the development of additional types of sport; for example, Short Course Enduros, which is essentially a condensed form of Time Card Enduros, plus Hare scrambles and Hare and Hounds.
Hard Enduro is an extreme variant of Enduro racing, incorporating the greatest challenge from each of its sub-disciplines – Hard Enduro, Classic Enduro, Cross-Country and Beach Racing. The FIM Hard Enduro World Championship serves as a testament to this ever demanding and exciting race type.
Cross-country rallies, also known as Rallye Raid or simply Rallye (alternate spelling: Rally), are much larger than enduros. These events use more powerful bikes than other off-road sports, and take place over multiple days, covering hundreds of miles of mostly open terrain. A prime example is the Dakar Rally – prior to 2009, this event started in Western Europe (often Paris) and ended in Dakar, Senegal after two weeks traveling through the Sahara. From 2009 to 2019 it took place in South America – Argentina, Peru and Chile – while from 2020 onwards it has been held in Saudi Arabia. Additionally, there is a FIM Cross-Country Rallies World Championship which includes many events around the globe, most notably in desert countries such as the Silk Way Rally, Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and Rallye du Maroc. Many of these run alongside car rallies held by the FIA.
Track racing is a form of motorcycle racing that pits teams or individual against one another to see who can come out on top. There are various types, each one taking place on a different type of track surface.
Indoor short track and TT Racing
Indoor races involve either: a slicked concrete surface that has been treated with coke syrup or other materials to improve the grip of tyres, or dirt that has been dampened and hardened, or kept loose for smoother riding (known as a cushion). These tight indoor track layouts require fine throttle control from riders in order to manoeuvre them effectively- similar to Arenacross Arenas but sometimes smaller.
Flat-track events in the U.S. are held on outdoor dirt ovals, varying from one mile to half-mile short-tracks and TTs (which have at least one right turn and a jump). Some short-track competitions have even taken place indoors.
The American Motorcyclist Association’s Grand National Championship includes a discipline known as Dirt Track racing, covering mile, half-mile, short-track and TT races. All of these rely on the riders’ traction – special “Class C” tires similar to street tires are used in place of knobbies. On oval tracks, only left turns are permitted and only a rear brake is allowed; for TT courses there must be at least one right hand turn and both front and rear brakes are allowed. The use of the “Class C” tire is mandatory in all events.
Most flat track racers opt to wear a steel sole strapped onto their left boot. This steel “shoe” helps them to slide more smoothly and securely on their left foot when gravitating the bike towards the left during corners. Yet, it is possible to execute a feet-up slide, which entails relying on throttle control, body lean and steering without actually sliding with the steel shoe.
Hard-packed tracks are generally known as “groove” circuits, and when the surface is not as firm, they are termed “cushions”. Race promoters and track preparation teams use different techniques and components to lay out the racing circuit. This can include mixing clay, decomposed granite, sand, calcium (used for moisture retention) and other materials. An ideal “groove” track should have just enough moisture to provide grip without becoming slippery; gradually a “blue groove” will form as the motorbike tyres leave a thin rubber layer on the favoured path.
A “cushion” track is constructed from materials similar to those used for the groove track. However, it’s mixed in such a way that the surface remains sandy and loose for power-sliding into, through and out of turns. Even though riders must use the same “Class C” tires on both cushion and groove tracks, they may make some adjustments: cutting grooves off the tire for extra traction is allowed, but no additional materials may be added.
Speedway racing is done on an oval track usually made of dirt or shale. Riders use one gear, and no brakes, instead relying on the rear wheel to slow them down while maintaining their forward momentum through the curves. They will slide their motorcycles sideways (powersliding or broadsiding) into the turns to balance speed with thrust.
Grasstrack is a type of outdoor speedway racing, which sees competitors take on tracks up to 400 m in length. Instead of the traditional asphalt surface, these tracks are found on grass, although other surfaces exist. The machinery used is similar to that seen in speedway events; however they have no brakes and two gears accompanied by rear suspension.
Motorcycle racing is similar to Speedway, but on ice instead of a conventional track. The oval tracks for this type of racing span between 260 and 425 metres in length, and metal tire spikes or screws may be employed to enhance grip. The race structure and scoring system mirror that of Speedway events.
Board track racing, popular in the early decades of the 20th century, was a type of competition conducted on oval raceways with wooden plank surfaces. However, by the 1930s it had become obsolete.
Auto Race is a form of track racing from Japan, held on asphalt ovals for the purpose of gambling.
Drag racing, or sprints, is an event where two riders start at a dragstrip and race down a straight track upon the signal. Quarter mile long and paved, their time and top speed are documented as they compete for first place. Racers may compete in purpose-built venues such as Santa Pod or in temporary spots like runways or drives of country homes. Not just “regular” motorcycles are used here, top fuel motorcycles fuelled with Nitromethane can also be seen.
In 1958, the UK National Sprint Association was established with Donald Campbell as its president until his passing in 1967. Afterwards, George Brown took over the position and continued to hold it until his retirement from sport in 1966 once he had reached the ACU competition licence age-limit of 55 years old. His vehicles included Nero, which was powered by a V twin Vincent engine without a supercharger, and Super Nero which was fitted with one.
Sprinting usually took place on disused airstrips or sea-front promenades, sometimes with a single set of timer equipment, to measure either 1⁄4 mile or 1⁄8 mile. The Ramsey seafront is still used for the Ramsey Sprint during the Isle of Man TT and Manx Grand Prix. In 1966, Santa Pod Raceway was opened in the UK and Europe as the first permanent drag-strip. According to Peter Carrick in his book from 1970,
Sprinting is a race against the clock, and even when other competitors join in, it still remains a challenge against time. On the other hand, drag racing is more of a duel between two racers. Though generally alike, these two types of races have key variations.
Previously, a record was considered strip-only if it had only been completed in one direction. To be officially recognized as world or national record, two qualifying runs must be concluded within an hour, traveling in opposing directions, to factor out the influence of wind velocity. The average of the two results will serve as confirmation of this achievement.
In 1974, Jim Reynolds of Motorcycle News argued that drag racing was just taking off in England, and that its growth rate was unmatched.
In hill climbing, a single rider attempts to ascend a road up a hill as quickly as possible or go the furthest distance before stopping. Closed public roads and private roads are often utilized in tarmac events, while steeper inclines have become popular in off-tarmac hill climbing.
When it comes to Landspeed motorcycle racing, racers are vying to break the record for a timed mile. The definitive contest in this field is the International Motorcycle Speed Trials by BUB on the Bonneville Salt Flats every year (close to Labor Day). Motorcycles are grouped according to their body type and how much designing has been done, as well as their engine size in cubic centimeters and which fuel they use (gasoline or any altered fuels).
Vintage racing involves riders competing with classic bikes that cannot keep up with the latest models. Divisions are based on production dates and engine size, so there is a vintage division for nearly every kind of motorbiking game. Of particular interest are vintage motocross and road races. All kit used must be model-appropriate from the era, however contemporary safety gear and tyres are granted. In general, a motorcycle must be over 25 years old to qualify as vintage – though some events have controversially included 80s bikes.
The American Motorcyclist Association is the main sanctioning body for most US vintage racing. Popular sponsorships come from BikeBandit, WERA Motorcycle Roadracing (which has several classes of both vintage and modern racers) and the United States Classic Racing Association (USCRA). The latter being an especially important organization due to its longevity as one of the oldest vintage racing clubs in America. In the UK, The British Historic Racing Club (BHRC), a part of the Vintage Motorcycle Club, and ERMA Motorcycle Roadracing are two major organizations which provide for machines from Europe and America up to the mid eighties. Additionally, the Classic Motorcycle Racing Club (CRMC) allows for classic pieces from that same era as well as some Japanese models. This club was created about thirty years ago when BHRC were hesitant to include new models in their 25 years rule and handle their first Japanese machines falling into that category.
Racing of the “hooligan” style has been a part of the motorcycling world since the 1970s when fans attending flat track races would participate in “run what you brung” races during intermissions. This led to the Southern California motorcycle culture developing around this idea of racing large V Twins, leading to what is now known as ‘Super Hooligan’. Today, these Super Hooligan races appear as side entertainment at many events – from bike shows like The Handbuilt in Austin and The One Show in Portland, to MotoGP flat tracks such as Circuit of the Americas. In 2017, it became an official racing series consisting of 10 dates stretching from February to October.