By Gerard Rossman
Dirt bike racing is among the most popular types of powersports. Viewers of the widely popular Supercross racing series total well over 3 million nationally between streaming and broadcast, according to 2022 Nielsen research and independent services that license content.
Beyond competition, dirt bikes and dual sport motorcycles are some of the most popular outdoor recreation vehicles.
Since the off-road motorcycle phenomenon began in late 19th century, the motorcycle continue to evolve with the ages. Here are some fun facts about the history and the culture of dirt bike riding:
Types of Dirt Bikes
There are five types of commonly agreed upon dirt bike classes: Trail-riders are made for casual riding over rough terrain. Motocross bikes are made for competition racing and tricks on closed tracks. Dual-purpose bikes function on both rough terrain and on streets. Enduro bikes are made for long endurance-testing races. And Adventure bikes, which are designed for long-haul expeditions into far flung trails and backcountry rides. Additionally a rising class of desert bikes, modified for especially sandy and dry conditions, are growing in popularity.
The predecessor to the dirt bike was invented in 1885 by Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach (founders of what would someday become the Mercedes Corporation and Maybach Engines respectively) in their German workshop, where they developed the modern combustion engine. The first motorcycle was essentially a motorized bicycle. Since then, a wave of developers came on the scene to create new frame designs, better gripping tires, and far more powerful engines; thus an industry was born.
Beginning of Competition
The first motocross competitions, referred to as hare scrambles were held in Britain in the 1920s. Bikes in these competitions were beginning to diverge in design from common street bikes and motorcycles, since they required a sturdier chassis for frequent wipe outs. In absence of tracks, races were typically held on sprawling farmland or open fields with a good line of sight to the racers.
Establishment of Motocross
The first officially sanctioned dirt bike competition, the 500cc Displacement Formula European Motocross Championship, was held in 1952 and was administered by the FIM (or the International Motorcycle Federation as it is otherwise known). It eventually became a world championship sport in 1957 leading to widespread interest in a sport that came to be known as motocross.
The FIM established even more competitions around the world and continues to host some of the most prestigious racing spectacles to this day.
Dirt Bikes in Modern Media
Heading into the 21st century, dirt bike racing and stunt competitions became widely publicized, especially on U.S. television. While stadium motocross was invented in Europe, it hit its stride in America. Stunt riders and racers such as Chad Reed, Travis Pastrana, Jeremy McGrath, Ricky Carmichael and others brought the coolness of dirt bike racing to a new generation of riders and curated a billion dollar industry with major hosts including Monster Energy and the American Motorcycling Association continuing to bring the sport into the mainstream.
Cover: Two Kawasaki 450SRs take flight over a track in the early morning. | Source: Kawasaki Motors Corp, U.S.A.
Gerard Rossman is a journalist with Adrenaline Powersports Mag