It seems like motocross just keeps getting more popular, and with more and more tracks opening up, now is a great time to get into the sport. If riding powerful motocross bikes around challenging dirt tracks, while competing with 40 other riders for first place sounds appealing, then the sport could be for you.
In motocross for beginners we'll look at what motocross racing is, what it entails, and some of the rules; we'll look at what you need, and how much you'll need to spend; and you'll find out what you need to do to get started.
This post is aimed at adults, if you're thinking of getting your kid into motocross then go to THIS POST instead.
What is motocross?
Motocross racing was first seen over a century ago, when trials riders in the UK decided to turn their technical sport into a race for the finish line. These early races were coined scrambles, and the bikes were known as scramblers. Many of us guys in the UK still call our race bikes 'scramblers' to this day.
The sport has evolved a lot since the first known race in 1924, but the basic concept remains the same. Riders will battle it out from start to finish, with the fastest rider taking the win.
How does it work?
Motocross races take place on closed off-road dirt courses which are mostly natural terrain, and each race will consist of two main classes. The first race class is 250 cc, where 250 cc 4-stroke dirt bikes will race against 125 cc 2-stroke dirt bikes. The second class is 450 cc, where 450 cc 4-stroke dirt bikes will race against 250 cc 2-stroke dirt bikes. Some races may also include kids races which are held first, before the track gets ripped to pieces by the big bikes.
A race will begin with up to 40 riders lining up at the start gate. When given the sign, a 30 second board, each rider will wait for the gate to drop. All gates drop at the same time, but if any single rider pulls forward to soon, each gate can get hung up independently of the others, on top of the riders tyre. If this happens, the rider will loose valuable time while freeing the wheel from the gate. For this reason, riders must practice their starts, so that their timing is perfect.
After the gate drops, riders will race into the first corner in a battle for the holeshot. The first rider to enter the corner gets the holeshot, and sometimes a bonus prize is awarded for this. The rider who takes the holeshot also has an advantage, especially on tight courses where overtaking may be difficult.
After the first lap, a green flag will be waved to let riders know that everything went well at the starting line, and the race is a go. Riders will then continue to race multiple laps for 30 minutes, plus two more laps before being waved the checkered flag at the finish line.
Motocross flags, what do they mean?
During the race, riders will also need to keep a watch on the flags that are being shown by the marshals and flaggers. It's important to know and learn these flags to keep yourself, and other riders safe during the race.
A green flag is waved to tell the riders that the track is clear, and that it's under starters orders. As previously mentioned, it will also be waved at the end of the first lap. This is done because many crashes happen on the first corner during the rush for the holeshot, these crashes often involve multiple riders which can block the track. The green flag lets the riders know everything is good, and that the track is clear.
When the yellow flag is shown, riders must not overtake one another, and they must not jump their dirt bike. If the yellow flag is motionless, meaning the flagger is holding it still, riders must slow down as there is an accident ahead. If the flag is being waved, riders must be prepared to stop if instructed to.
The red flag is waved to tell riders that the race has been stopped, usually because of a big accident that is blocking the track. If this flag is shown, riders must stop their dirt bike immediately, and wait for further instruction.
The black can be waved at any single rider, at any time during the race. The rider that it is shown to, or the rider who's number is also being shown should stop racing, and pull off the track as soon as it's safe to do so. This may be because the rider is causing a danger to other riders, or if they have broken any other rules, such as ignoring flags and warnings.
Green or red cross
Either a red or green cross may be waved; this is a medical flag that is used to get medical attention to an incident on the track. Riders must slow down and hold their current positions, and never attempt to pass or jump until given the all clear. Occasionally, a blue flag may be used.
White flag, or yellow with black x
Either of these flags can be used to tell the rider that they are starting the final lap of the race.
How to start motocross
BUYING YOUR DIRT BIKE
The first thing you'll need is a dirt bike and you can use my sizing guide to help you choose what size dirt bike you'll need. As this post is aimed at adults, you'll be looking at a 125 cc 2-stroke, or 250 cc 4-stroke if you've never ridden a dirt bike before.
If you aren't sure what the difference is between 2-stroke and 4-stroke dirt bikes, you can find out everything you need to know HERE.
If you're planning on buying a second hand dirt bike, you'll also want to take a look at my used dirt bike guide. You can get some great used machines, but you'll also find some terrible ones, so the guide is essential.
BUYING YOUR GEAR
Before you can ride your new dirt bike, you'll also need to get some protective gear. A helmet is the first purchase you'll make, and this is worth spending some money on. In general, the more you spend on a helmet, the more brain protection it will offer.
A helmet isn't just a protective shell, and there's a lot more to choosing an awesome helmet than just buying a design you like. This is why I've written a buyers guide to helmets HERE. In the post you'll find information on the latest advances in technology, certification, fitting, and lots more.
The rest of the gear you'll need can be found in my top ten essentials list HERE. You can also check out my recommended gear section for lots more.
Riding motocross for beginners: Learning and practising
If you've never ridden a dirt bike before, you should stay away from motocross tracks until you've got to know your bike, and how it handles. Find a suitable spot, and start off by riding on flat dirt tracks, and work your way up to rougher terrain, small jumps, etc.
As you found out earlier, all motocross races are held on closed off-road tracks. You can learn a lot just by riding in your local woods, but you'll rarely be able to practise essential things like cornering. So as soon as you feel ready, you'll need to start practising on as many different tracks as possible.
All tracks are different, and some are only suited to advanced riders; so start with simple flat courses, and work your way up to more technical motocross tracks.
THINGS TO PRACTICE
I mentioned earlier that getting the holeshot is important, and it can give you an early advantage. For this reason, practising your starts is very important. You can imagine a gate dropping in front of you, but to get really good you will need a practice gate like the one pictured below.
These gates are just like the real thing, and they are electronically controlled by a button that you mount to your dirt bike. The drop time from the point you push the button is always different, so you never know exactly when it will drop, just like the real thing!
Find these gates in my recommended gear section HERE.
Cornering is super important, and if you're fast in the corners you'll always have an advantage. Corners offer a great opportunity for overtaking, so be fast to stop other riders getting past.
If you can't jump your dirt bike, you'll have to slow down before the lip of the jump, this will give other riders the opportunity to pass you. Jumping is another essential skill you'll need to learn, so start small over the ski jumps and table tops, and work your way up to the bigger jumps.
Throttle and gears
Throttle control is important for fast starts, cornering, and jumping, so you'll need to practice this from day one. Too much throttle can cause the bike to wheelie, or to loose traction and spin the rear wheel; this will cost you valuable seconds. Not enough throttle will also slow you down, so you need to find the optimum amount of throttle for all situations; this is known as good throttle control.
Selecting the correct gear is also important, this will prevent loss of traction, and improve your lap times. Using the wrong gear is also known to cause or worsen arm pump, this is the last thing you want during a race.
Practice riding in different weather and track conditions. Riding in the rain will improve your balance, and develop a bunch of new skills as you learn how the dirt bike reacts to these new challenges. Be careful over jumps, as landings will become super slippery, and if you loose traction on the takeoff lip you can easily go over the handlebars.
Work on your fitness
Motocross racing for over 30 minutes is a huge workout, even those with good levels of fitness will be in for a big shock. Strength training is important, but building large amounts of muscle may work against you. So instead of building up your chest and arms, work on your core strength, and your cardiovascular fitness.
Ride a pushbike, hike, jog, and eat a good diet. You can also build up your leg strength, as this will be important for gripping onto the dirt bike to take some of the strain off your arms.
Join a motocross club
When you feel comfortable riding on tracks, and you feel ready to take things to the next level, you can join your local club. You can find motocross clubs by searching online, or by asking other riders at your local track. All clubs will charge a fee, and every club has its own rules that riders must follow.
By joining a club you'll get the chance to ride with lots of other motocross riders, and you're sure to learn lots of new things. You'll also find out about new tracks and locations, and you'll get to enter your first motocross race.
After your first race you'll be well and truly hooked as the motocross bug takes hold, but keep practising as the sport will keep throwing new challenges at you. Racing is a big learning experience, and becoming a great motocross rider takes a lot of commitment.
Thanks for checking out motocross for beginners, you're now ready to give it a shot! Take a look at a few ways to transport your motocross bike to the track by clicking HERE.
Check out some motocross tips HERE.
Or take a look at my dirt bike safety post HERE