Marvin Musquin races at Round 7 of the AMA Motocross Series at WW Ranch in Jacksonville, Florida, USA on 26 September, 2020.
© Garth Milan/Red Bull Content Pool

Supercross vs Motocross

MX and SX are both dirt bike racing disciplines with rabid fans on both sides. Let’s explore what makes motocross move and supercross soar.
By Mike Berard
6 min readPublished on

Motocross; The Original

Let’s get the most obvious difference out of the way: motocross is raced outdoors. It may seem like a small difference but consider all the might and fury that Mother Nature can dish out, and then reconsider what it means to race on an outdoor course. And while the races may not always happen in mud or rain, when they do it separates the pros from the merely hopeful. And it affects every other part of the racing discipline. From line selection, racing strategy, and the physical endurance, motocross pushes racers and their bikes to the limit.

Technical Elements at Play

While both motocross and supercross tracks may be man made, an outdoor track will always be more impacted by the elements. Consider humidity, wind and even the brightness of the sun. What this means is a more diverse racing skillset. While riders in both disciplines need to know how to hit a holeshot, scrub a jump, and corner like a demon, motocross riders do it in a much wider variety of conditions, more often.
Furthermore, motocross tracks may feature long straightaways that allow racers to get up to massive speeds. With long straightaways comes lofty airtime. On the other hand, supercross is crazy technical and it leads to an arguably more exciting race format. Closer quarters. More crashes. High emotion.
Marvin Musquin races at Round 8 of the AMA Motocross Series at Thunder Valley Raceway in Lakewood, Colorado, USA on 03 October, 2020.
AMA Motocross Series

Long and Strong

When you’re talking competitive motocross, the tracks can be downright punishing. Many outsiders think that motocross is “easy” because all you have to do is twist a throttle to make that bike go, but this is an extremely naïve viewpoint. Anyone who’s ridden and wrestled a 215-lb bike around a track will laugh you out of the room, and definitely win an arm wrestle or even a medium distance running race. Simply put, motocross breeds crazy fit athletes. Consider two to three-minute lap times around courses that are 1.5. miles or more. Now add in 15-20 jumps, whoop sections, berms, etc., and you begin to understand how much physicality it takes to crush laps and other racers in motocross. Of course, supercross riders are fit as heck too. In supercross, the races are shorter but the intensity is amped up. With more technical laps comes higher heart rates. Simply put, both motocross and supercross take superior physical fitness. Both are proper sports, even with a motor beneath every rider.

Superbly Sublime Supercross

Ready for the bright lights? Supercross takes place inside stadiums and arenas on short, tight courses. While motocross mostly happens in summer, Supercross is a springtime circuit , and is seen as the premier discipline. It makes more money for the riders and therefore means more attention. Supercross is all about tight turns and tighter jockeying for position.
Event participants compete at Round 16 of the AMA Supercross Series at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA on 17 June, 2020.
AMA Supercross Series
In addition to courses being short and tight, Supercross tracks are also narrower than motocross, with shorter straightaways. Features include tabletop jumps, whoop sections and a Supercross-specific bumpy jump obstacle named the “Dragon's Back.” But it’s the turns that make a Supercross champion. Knowing how and when to accelerate properly out of a turn is the mark of a winner, and with more—and tighter—turns on Supercross tracks, this is the primary skill. That being said, jumping still matters in Supercross, where racers will get as high as 35 feet in the air and soar 70 feet. The jumps just come faster and in tighter configurations. If motocross allows riders to get up to speed and sail long distances, SX is more interested in testing rider’s quick reflexes and under-rapid-fire decision making.
Each class races a main event, consisting of 15 minutes or racing plus one lap for the 250cc class. The 450cc class races 20 minutes plus one lap. But consider they race all day long in many, many heats to try to get into the final 22 racers of the main event.

Difference in Bikes

Marvin Musquin races at Round 6 of the AMA Motocross Series at Millville Motocross in Spring Creek, Minnesota, USA on 19 September, 2020.
AMA Motocross Series
They must have different bikes, right? Wrong. Both disciplines feature both 250cc and 450cc—based on motor size—classes. The big, bad 450cc class is considered the top echelon of the sport. While two strokes were once the only way to go, now it’s strictly a four-stroke racer’s world. That’s where the similarities end though. For motocross racers who need higher speeds in arguably rougher terrain, the suspension needs to be tuned for impeccable contact with the ground, and control in whoop sections. Think softer setup, which will affect cornering ability and speeds on average. Fast and rough. Tough as hell. Supercross bikes—on the other hand—have tight suspension for tight cornering ability. It’s harder on the body but allows for ferocious traction when pinning it out of the turn. Supercross setup equals responsiveness and a lot of pop in the suspension.
Pierce Brown competes at Round 16 of the AMA Supercross Series at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA on 17 June, 2020.
AMA Supercross Series

It’s All About Spectating

Let’s be honest; watching racers go around a track is fun no matter what, but there are fans of one over the other. Supercross’ stadium tracks mean seats and beer and hot dogs and staying out of the weather. It’s more like a monster truck rally, with more potential for crashing or riders getting angry at each other, and a lot of fun fan-based behaviour. There’s also the obvious Supercross advantage of not having to leave your seat to watch the whole event, all day long if you want. In motocross, spectators can really only view one part of each racer’s lap, but the crowds are more chill and the sounds and smells and sights of an outdoor race are what the sport of motorcycle is all about.
Beyond watching local races, there are two popular series. In January, the Supercross series begins. It features a whopping 17 races and rewards racers with a points-based tally over the course of the season to determine the series champion. The final race is always in Las Vegas and has become a celebrated spectacle in motorsports. Riders get a month or so to recharge, tune their bikes to a new format, and practice for the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross series, which starts shortly after Supercross ends. The 12-race series starts in May. Each “moto”—or race—is 30 minutes plus two laps. When the checkered flag is waved at the 30-minute-mark, the winner is whoever crosses the finish line first.