We're all here on our site for the same reason- the love of dirt bike racing. It can be said that the origins of today’s motocross racing began as early as the 1860s. Though it wouldn’t become motocross in the US for a hundred years, the 1860s saw the first steam engine attached to a velocipede. This directly led to the first races in the UK, starting with the timed trials in the early 1900s. From there, motocross has grown significantly over the years and is now a multi-billion dollar industry with millions of fans.
The Early 1900s
The very first races were different than they are today. They often featured a number of companies showcasing their bikes and entering different competitions for publicity. These tracks featured races, hill climbs, and endurance trails that covered hundreds of miles. In some cases, the races would take multiple days to complete and would be in rough terrain that challenged the bikes to see what they were worth. Other races were designed as timed trials, with competitors trying to beat their personal best time around the course. This eventually changed in the early 1900s to trying to beat others to become the fastest on the track.
Testing Rider’s Abilities
An event known as the Scott Trail was designed to test riders for skill and ability. On these trails, judges would view the riders and evaluate their overall performance. Riders needed to go as fast as possible but minimize any mistakes they made on the rugged terrain before they moved onto the next section. The winner was not necessarily the fastest to cross the finish line but the fastest to do it with minimal mistakes. These races were generally very dangerous, as the dirt bikes used were street bikes designed for on-road use, not off-road. This led to changes like adding suspension instead of rigid frames and the invention of the swing fork rear suspension.
A Change to Speed
During this time, the racing was limited to England. In an attempt to design a course for any rider to test their skills, a new two-and-a-half-mile course was created. This ended the observation sections of the course, so there could not be judging based on skill anymore. As a result, being the fastest was the way to win the race. These races were known as scrambles, but they would eventually lead to the motocross races known today. From the 1920s to 1940s, these races continued to be held in England but also expanded internationally. They continued to become more popular, leading to more spectators spending the day enjoying the races.
Bringing Motocross to America
The 1960s saw the start of dirt bike racing in America. Around this time, the races started to be called motocross, a combination of motorcycle and cross-country. The main person behind the races coming to America was Edison Dye, an importer for the Husqvarna bikes. He promoted the races throughout the US as a way to sell more bikes. It did end up doing that but also created a love of motocross in America. Those who enjoyed other motorsports ended up switching over to motocross due to the low starting cross and the increasing number of races being scheduled. More Americans started watching the races, as well, which helped fuel the popularity of motocross throughout the country.
As motocross began to become more popular in the US and abroad, it led to various changes in the technology behind the bikes. The first motocross championship, the AMA Motocross Championship by the American Motorcyclist Association, included 250cc and 500cc racing classes, though 125cc was added a short time later. At this time, the winning bikes generally featured air-cooled two-stroke engines. In the 1980s, the Japanese introduced water-cooled two-stroke engines that featured a shock absorber rear suspension, creating the opportunity to use larger jumps in the races. This led to new speed records throughout the championships.
Changing the Engines
The 1990s saw a change in the engines, with riders opting to use the four-stroke dirt bikes now being manufactured. This causes changes in the requirements for bikes in the AMA races, as well as for many riders to start switching to the four-stroke engines. By 2004, all the major teams were using four-stroke engines, which led to a change in the names of the different classes for racing, starting with the 250cc class being renamed the MC class. During this time, interest in the sport continued to expand. Many people enjoyed taking the day to go to the races, enjoy lunch, and spend time with their families. Increases in popularity helped the motocross industry grow further, leading to more races and more technological improvements.
Into the Future
Today, there are more options than ever before for those who want to get into motocross. Beginners have a wide range of bikes to choose from, and most cities offer various tracks to practice skills and improve. Those who are interested in motocross can participate in a variety of local races before moving on to regional or national as their skills improve. There are more sponsorship deals, large prize money to be won, and a variety of similar races that add to the fun of racing dirt bikes and allow for different skills or achievements. In the coming years, it is expected that motocross will continue to be a popular sport, will continue to see new technological improvements, and will continue to see changes made to help improve the races and keep riders safer.
Motocross racing has a long history, but it’s not done being created. You can read even more about the history of motocross here. Since the 1960s, Americans have enjoyed watching and participating in motocross, and the evolution has continued with improved tracks, newer bikes with technological advancements, and more. It is expected for this to continue in the coming years, as there is plenty of room for improvement and more fun to be had. Those interested in motocross can enjoy a variety of races as a spectator or purchase a beginner bike and start practicing today. With training and practice, anyone can be the next top motocross racer for America. Be sure to add graphics to your bike to stand out among the other racers!