In motorsport, Dirt Bike Racing is an assortment of competitive sports where riders push their two-wheeled machines across various terrains and obstacles. A variety of dirt bike races with different setups, courses and rules are organised across the world. Some of these races take place indoors, while others are held outdoors. Also, while some courses for dirt bike racing are natural, others are man-made. All subcategories of dirt bike racing are very clearly defined, they still have some overlap in terms of the terrain they are held on, the type of motorcycles used and sometimes, even the rules. This often leads to confusion among motorsport enthusiasts as to what exactly each one of these dirt bike motorsport events entail. Motocross, Supercross, Enduro, Trials and Cross-Country rallying are all subcategories of dirt bike racing that are held across the world. Sometimes the differences between these sports are very minor, and it’s only natural for people to mistake one motorsport for another. There are similarities between all these dirt bike events and there are plenty of differences too. Let’s look at each one of these motorsports and understand how they are different.
So, What Exactly Is A Dirt Bike
Before we get into the types of dirt races, let’s look at the machines used in these races. The motorcycles used in these competitions are very different as compared to the conventional ones. They are highly modified to go faster through rough terrains. These are mainly off-roaders boasting high ground clearance, rugged suspension, and tyres. These motorcycles are often not meant for comfort as for the most part, the rider is riding the pegs. Dirt bikes are also light in weight as they need to be tossed around on high bumps. These are purpose-built motorcycles to take on any kind of terrain, be it mud, sand, gravel, rock, grass, or even big boulders. Depending on the type of race they are being used in, these bikes can be modified further.
Motocross is the most common type of dirt racing. It is closest to regular racing, but conducted on a dirt track. Usually, this type of race is carried out in a closed circuit and will comprise different terrains including dirt, mud, grass, etc. The track will also include obstacles and elevations allowing the riders to get their machines airborne for a brief moment. Besides obstacles, the track will also have technical turns. Up to 40 riders can participate in each race. The racers start at the same time and the race lasts for a set number of laps. The objective of the race is to cross the finish line first after the checkered flag is waved. During championship events, these races are conducted in several heats. A heat is nothing but a qualifying round where a set number of riders qualify for the final race and then compete amongst each other. The winner of the final race is declared the champion.
Supercross and Motocross have a lot of similarities between them in terms of the terrain and the motorcycles used. What sets them apart is that Supercross races are conducted in an enclosed stadium and the track is completely man-made. Another difference is that Supercross will have more obstacles or bumps than in a Motocross race. Some of the obstacles are - Whoop sections, where the riders are required to tackle multiple bumps at a time by just scraping the tops of these bumps. There is the Rhythm section where the riders need to navigate a series of irregular obstacles consisting of large and small bumps. Finally, there is the Triple Jump section where the riders need to tackle three consecutive bumps or if they have enough speed, clear all three bumps in one single long jump. These races too have a number of laps, in most cases 20, and the rider who crosses the finish line first is declared the winner. In the case of championships, the rider who accumulates the most number of points in the points tally over a series of races is declared the champion.
As the name suggests, these races test the endurance of the man and machine. Unlike Motocross and Supercross where speed and handling skill is the rider's best friend, Enduro races require the riders to be extremely fit, both physically and mentally. These races are often very long, are not held in an enclosed circuit and are mostly undertaken on natural terrain. These are mostly single lap races that can stretch up to 150 to 250 kilometres and are completed across 3-5 days. Not only are these tracks longer, but they are also full of different obstacles like rocks, logs, streams, sand, etc. Riders also must often ride up or down the hills, through forests while also having to deal with rough surfaces and bumps along the way. The motorcycles for enduro racing are also a bit different. They have larger fuel capacity as they need to travel longer distances at a stretch and have a different suspension system. Enduro races are divided into different stages, where each stage can be 15-20 kilometre long with multiple stages being conducted in a single day. The objective is to complete each stage in the least amount of time. Additionally, penalties are applied if the rider fails to complete a stage in a set time frame. The teams are also allowed to carry out maintenance and repairs on the motorcycles within a stipulated time testing the speed of the crew as well. The first person to complete all stages in the least amount of time is declared the winner.
Cross Country or XC racing is even longer than Enduro racing, can be held over several days, and may sometimes last for weeks. The terrain is not as difficult as Enduro racing, however, it might stretch across hundreds or even thousands of kilometres. A Cross Country race may span several states within a nation, and sometimes may cover multiple countries. The XC track is a mix of off-road surface and asphalt wherein off-road surfaces comprise most of the terrain. The riders need to be physically and mentally fit as they need to endure not only different terrains but also different weather conditions. They need to tackle gravel, rocky terrain, mud, forests and at times have to ride through desert.
XC races are divided into timed stages per day and riders have to complete each stage within the stipulated time. Like enduro races, the teams are permitted to work on the motorcycles to carry out maintenance and repairs. The motorcycles too are modified a bit to carry even more fuel, have a more comfortable seating, and cushier suspension as the rider needs to be astride the bike for longer durations at a stretch. The first rider to finish the race in the shortest time is declared the winner. The famous "Dakar Rally" which is almost 8,500 kilometres long and takes about two weeks to complete is one of the best examples of a cross country rally.
This is arguably the most unconventional of all the races being discussed here. Trials are not a measure of speed but a test of the rider’s handling skills. In fact, these races are often not timed. A typical Trials course comprises difficult obstacles made up of a collection of boulders, fallen trees, rocks, etc. The riders need to tackle these obstacles without touching their feet to the ground or dismounting the motorcycle. Every time they touch their feet to the ground or dismount, they are given penalty points. The objective of trials is to score minimal penalty points at the end of the course. The rider with the least points is declared the winner. The motorcycles used for trials mostly have smaller engines and are tuned to deliver more torque lower down the rev range as the riders need sudden bursts of torque to tackle obstacles. These bikes do not have seats as riders are required to be riding the pegs during the entire course. The suspension is also set differently, allowing the riders to keep the bike hopping to balance it and avoid touching their feet to the ground.