Jeffrey Herlings of The Netherlands and Red Bull KTM Factory Racing competes during the FIM MXGP Motocross World Championship in Intu Xandu, Spain, on May 7, 2023.
© Samo Vidic/Red Bull Content Pool
Motocross

Get up to speed with a bluffer’s guide to motocross

Motocross is a sprawling and confusing collection of demanding championships and disciplines. Here’s a handy guide to save you trying to understand the basics.
By David Rawlings
9 min readUpdated on
To put it in the bluntest terms, motocross is racing off-road motorbikes through dirt. The sport began when riders rode street bikes off-road as quickly as they could. The sport has exploded over the years with plenty of different disciplines, purpose-built machines and safety equipment, and some of the most stunning competitions and tricks ever seen on two wheels.
But do you know your Coffin from your Cliffhanger? Your FIM Motocross World Championship from your AMA Supercross Championship? Our bluffer's guide will tell you all you need to know so you don't have to scramble around for the essentials.

26 min

ABC of... Motocross

Take an action-filled ride around the world's gnarliest tracks for a look at all things motocross.

English +11

01

Where did it all begin?

Jump into the way-back machine to 1906 when the first motorcycle time trials were held. The event was run by the Auto-Cycle Club and saw bikers racing up dirt tracks, trying to beat each other and their own personal times. This evolved into weekly 'hare scrambles', and in 1924 the first official event was held in Camberley, Surrey, UK. The sport soon became known as motocross, a portmanteau of motocyclette, the French word for motorcycle, and cross-country.
Rigid-framed street bikes were eventually swapped for ones with suspension in the early 1930s, with further developments – such as swinging rear fork suspension – following in the early '50s. After this, motocross boomed in the late 1950s, with the introduction of the FIM Motocross World Championship in 1957.
02

Who were the early stars?

Now in its 67th year, it has produced many great riders, including Belgian Joël Robert, who's been hailed as one of the most talented riders of all time, Eric Geboers, who made history in the 1980s by becoming the first man to win world championships in all three classes, and five-time motocross world champion Roger De Coster, known as 'The Man', whose fitness and control was so great that he was always able to win comfortably.
Five-time world motocross champion Roger De Coster in action during a Motocross Grand Prix race.

Roger De Coster is considered by many to be the greatest racer of all time

© Jean-Yves Ruszniewski/TempSport/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

03

What are the major competitions?

The two big motocross championships, taking place on elaborate dirt tracks in the US and the rest of the world, are the AMA (American Motorcyclist Association) Motocross Championship and the predominately European-based FIM (Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme) Motocross World Championship. The former has been taking place since 1972, while the FIM series has been drawing big crowds since 1952, when it began as a European Championship. Both now feature two classes of bikes – 450cc (MXGP) and 250cc (MX2).
Sports that derived from motocross include Supercross, Freestyle, Big Air, Supermoto and Hard Enduro. All differ in terms of track style and terrain – don’t worry we’ll get to that – but each has their own championship series.
Freestyle motocross, also known as FMX, has the FIM Freestyle Motocross World Championship and the X Games, an extreme sports competition that includes FMX, and many, many more.
Robbie Maddison performs during Red Bull FMX Jam Georgia 2023 in Bakuriani, Georgia, on February 26, 2023.

Freestyle is all about the tricks

© Rezi Kenia/Red Bull Content Pool

The Supermoto series is another FIM championship and is relatively new, beginning its world championship in 2002.
Hard Enduro is one of the toughest sports on two wheels, where the riders endure long events over natural terrain in the FIM Hard Enduro World Championship, which boasts events such as the Red Bull Erzbergrodeo and Red Bull Romaniacs.
There are also one-off blockbuster supercross and freestyle events, such as Red Bull Straight Rhythm and Red Bull Imagination complementing the major championship series.

26 min

Red Bull Erzbergrodeo recap

Look back at the action from Red Bull Erzbergrodeo, stop three of the FIM Hard Enduro World Championship 2022.

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04

What's the difference between the disciplines?

Supercross, Freestyle, Big Air, Supermoto and Hard Enduro can all trace their genesis back to motocross and many riders over the years have completed in multiple disciplines, but they aren't the same...

Supercross

Supercross racing involves off-road motorcycles on an artificial dirt track, which contains steep jumps and obstacles, and is usually held inside a stadium.
Marvin Musquin sends mud flying during the AMA MX season

Supercross is very different to motocross

© Garth Milan/Red Bull Content Pool

Freestyle and Big Air

Freestyle motocross, also known as FMX, is all about performance and is judged by a panel, which looks for the best tricks.
Big Air is a newer version of Freestyle. It's also know as best trick, and it's where each rider gets two jumps from a dirt ramp. Judges once again evaluate each rider's jump and scores it out of 100, only their top score is counted and the highest total wins.

Supermoto

Supermoto is one of the newest disciplines to come from motocross, even though its had a world series for over 20 years now.
Much like Rallycross, supermoto has a bit of everything. The bikes are off-road machines, but tend to use slick tyres – this can change depending on weather and track type.
The tracks used in supermoto take in three different sports, they use the jumps and obstacles of motocross, the paved asphalt of road racing and hard-packed dirt usually seen in flat-track racing.

Hard Enduro

Hard Enduro is seen as one of the toughest sports in the world. Although it began in the 1960s, the discipline really started to pave its own way in the '90s (although there's no pavement).
The events involve multiple stages with differing levels of difficulty that usually use the terrain that's already there, such as forests mountains and even a quarry.
Manuel Lettenbichler performs during the eighth stop of the FIM Hard Enduro World Championship - 24MX Hixpania Hard Enduro - in Aguilar de Campoo, Spain on October 9, 2022.

Hard Enduro – called so for a very obvious reason!

© Future 7 Media/Red Bull Content Pool

05

Who are the riders?

Hall of famers such as 10-time world champ Stefan Everts, Joël Robert, Roger De Coster and Ricky Carmichael – who won 12 major AMA titles in 11 years – once ruled motocross, but they've been replaced in the hearts of motocross fans recently by a clutch of contemporary stars.
Tim Gajser is the reigning FIM Motocross world champion and has claimed the title five times in his career. The Slovenian racer has been competing in the series since 2007 and has won it three out of the last five seasons.
Jeffrey Herlings has is the other rider to claim the title in the last five years, winning in 2019 and 2018 (as well as three other titles). The KTM rider was unable to compete in 2022 due to a foot injury, but has returned for the 2023 season.
Jeffrey Herlings of The Netherlands and Red Bull KTM Factory Racing poses for a portrait during the FIM MXGP Motocross World Championship in Mantova, Italy on November 10, 2021.

Jeffrey Herlings

© Samo Vidic/Red Bull Content Pool

Ken Roczen as seen at Round 9 of the AMA Supercross Series at the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN, USA on 11 March, 2023.

Ken Roczen

© Garth Milan/Red Bull Content Pool

The current FIM Supercross world champion is German rider Ken Roczen. Roczen began his career in motocross, where he was crowned the 2011 MX2 champion. He then switched over and in 2022 became the WSX 450cc champion with his Genuine Honda Racing Team.
Manuel 'Mani' Lettenbichler is a German powerhouse who is the current Hard Enduro world Champion. Lettenbichler was recovering from injury and unable to compete in first round of the eight-round championship. He went on to win five of the remaining rounds to claim the title.
Head of the class Manuel Lettenbichler celebrates winning the Xross Serbia.

Manuel Lettenbichler celebrates winning the Xross Serbia

© Predrag Vuckovic / Red Bull Content Pool

06

What are the rules?

Each of the 18 events in the FIM Motocross World Championship and 12 events in the AMA Motocross Championship consist of two races of 30 minutes plus two laps in each class. Points from these two brutal races are combined to crown an overall race winner.
AMA Supercross is different. At each of the 17 events, held between January and May, there are two heats, with the top 22 riders qualifying for the Main Event points-paying race. That race runs over 20 minutes plus one lap for the premier class 450cc riders. Riders competing in the 250cc class are divided into East and West Coast divisions, with eight events in each leading up to one all-star final in Las Vegas at the end of the season.
FMX contains two types of freestyle event – Big Air and Freestyle Motocross, the older of the two disciplines. The former involves a panel of judges looking at the style, trick, difficulty and originality to produce a score out of 100. The latter is also scored out of 100 by a panel, who look at the difficulty of tricks and the varied jumps that have been performed by riders in their two routines.
07

FMX tricks

Coffin, Lazyboy, Superman, Cliffhanger, Backflip, Helicopter, Rock Solid and Hart Attack should all be in your FMX vocabulary, but it is the Backflip that keeps evolving as riders try more daring variations of the trick.
Germany's Luc Ackermann became the youngest rider to land a Double Flip shortly before his 20th birthday last year, and Travis Pastrana, who's had 32 operations to piece his body back together following injuries, jumped from one barge to another on London's River Thames, performing a 360-degree Backflip in the process. The last rider who'd attempted a similar feat had crashed and fractured several vertebrae.

2 min

Watch Luc Ackermann's Double Flip

Watch Luc Ackermann master the Double Backflip for the first time and become the youngest ever rider to land the huge FMX trick.

08

What exactly is a motocross bike?

Motocross bikes have developed over the years from street bikes with knobbly tyres, to high-end, super-light specialised machines the professionals use today.
They come in many engine sizes depending on the competition, but very few are 'stock' machines. Especially in the world championships. And although they look very similar in each discipline, they will all have very different aftermarket parts to suit each competition.
Simon Längenfelder's bike during FIM Motocross World Championship 2023 in Argentina in March 2023.

One sweet ride

© Juan Pablo Azevedo/Red Bull Content Pool

Compared to a standard 'off the shelf' dirt bike, a bike purpose-built for motocross will see several changes made to it. These will include narrower gear ratios as the motocross tracks have sharp turns and call for hard acceleration; stiffer suspension to cope with the huge jumps and quick turns at speed; an aftermarket exhaust to offer more power and many other customisable parts which will change for each individual rider.
09

What is the terminology?

Every sport has phrases that can easily confuse a new fan. It can even confuse some people who have been following the sport for some years, so here's few terms for you to get your head around...

Arm pump

Arm Pump is a symptom riders get from gripping the handlebars tightly during a race. This causes the muscles in the arm to restrict blood flow and begin to throb.

Block Pass

This is when a rider overtakes another rider before a corner and then makes them slowdown and lose momentum.

Frontside

The surface of a jump facing the rider. Trust us when we say you don't want to land on this side of the jump.

Holeshot

This is the spot every racer wants in a race. The holeshot describes the action of the first rider to getting to the apex of the first turn in the race. After a dash off the line at the start, the holeshot is important because it gives the athlete the best chance to take, and keep, the lead.
The coveted holeshot

The coveted holeshot

© Jaanus Ree for RedBull.com

Line

The line is the path you want to be on during the race. It's often the quickest and where the track has been packed-down by other riders, making it easier to navigate.

Powerslide

Getting the bike sideways in a turn while accelerating.

Wash out

To lose the front end of the bike. This happens when the front tyre loses traction and causes the rider to fall.
Be sure to download the free Red Bull TV app and catch the MX action on all your devices! Get the app here

Part of this story

Ken Roczen

Ken Roczen is a German motocross racer who's well on his way to becoming a legend in the USA in the AMA Supercoss 450SX series.

GermanyGermany

Luc Ackermann

A rising superstar of freestyle motocross, Luc Ackermann collects world records for fun and scored a big X Games title in 2021.

GermanyGermany

Manuel Lettenbichler

German enduro rider Manuel Lettenbichler is renowned for delivering powerful performances in the world's most prestigious events.

GermanyGermany

Jeffrey Herlings

With five motocross world titles to his name, Dutch rider Jeffrey Herlings is already regarded as one of the all-time greats of the sport.

NetherlandsNetherlands

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