Motocross and Supercross demand a unique set of skills from participating riders. Both disciplines require agility, precise control, and quick decision-making, making them as challenging as they are exhilarating. Furthermore, the ever-changing track conditions in Motocross and the technical aspects of Supercross add to their unpredictable and exciting nature, drawing riders and followers the world over.
What’s the difference between Motocross and Supercross? The main dissimilarities between Motocross and Supercross lie in their racing environment and rider skill set. Motocross events are usually outdoors and encompass youth meets and professional open-class tournaments, whereas Supercross is typically held indoors and is more focused on pro racers.
One of the questions often raised concerning these two disciplines revolves around whether Supercross or Motocross is more challenging. Even to the trained eye, discerning the answer from the surface-level characteristics of each sport proves nearly impossible. Each discipline has its fair share of challenges and merits that can only be aptly assessed once a rider has had first-hand experience with both.
Motocross vs. Supercross: An Overview
Motocross traces its roots to motorcycle trial competitions in the UK, evolving into the first-known scramble race in 1924. The sport gained traction in the 1930s, notably in Britain, with company teams like BSA, Rudge, and Norton leading the way. In 1948, the first motocross race in a stadium set the stage for Supercross.
The FIM’s 1952 European Championship (later becoming a World Championship) featured a 500cc formula. The 1960s marked the dominance of 2-stroke engines, while Motocross reached the US in 1966, bolstered by Japanese manufacturers challenging European dominance. The 1970s to 1990s brought American success and Japanese technological advancements in engine cooling and suspension to the fore of Motocross.
Conversely, Supercross originated as a stadium-focused variant of Motocross, debuting in 1972 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The AMA SX Championship commenced the same year, showcasing purpose-built, stadium-centric motocross events. In the 1980s, Supercross became a distinct discipline with separate championships. In 2022, the World Supercross Championship became independent from the AMA series.
Some attributes that make Supercross distinct are its racing environment and riding season. Known for shorter straights and tighter turns, SX tracks differ from traditional motocross layouts and are often hosted in professional stadiums. Also, the supercross season unfolds during winter, and spring, held across various US cities.
Racing Season and Championships
The motocross season typically spans from late winter to early fall, with events distributed across various locations globally. Key events include international races and national championships in different countries. Below are some of the most illustrious of these competitions:
FIM Motocross World Championship
The FIM Grand Prix Motocross World Championship is predominantly held in Europe but also spans North America, South America, Asia, Australia, and Africa.
As the paramount Motocross series globally, it features three professional classes:
- MXGP (450cc)
- MX2 (250cc)
- Women’s MX
Events comprise two races (a.k.a. motos) lasting 30 minutes plus two laps. Eligibility requires a minimum age of 16 for MX2 and 18 for MXGP.
AMA Motocross Championship
In the US, riders typically start competing professionally in the AMA Motocross Championship at around age 16. This premier professional motocross series runs from mid-May to late August, spanning eleven rounds at major tracks nationwide.
Classes include 250cc and 450cc Motocross, along with a Women’s 250cc. Races consist of two 30-minute motos plus two laps each.
Motocross des Nations or Monster Energy® FIM Motocross of Nations
The annual Motocross des Nations is held at the end of the year when the National and World Championship series have ended. The competition features three-rider teams representing their nations, each competing in distinct classes (MX1, MX2, and “Open”).
The event comprises three motos with two classes per moto, with the season duration confined to the event itself. Host locations vary annually.
Australian Motocross Championship
The Australian Motocross Championship unfolds across the continent, attracting elite riders. The season typically spans several rounds, featuring diverse tracks.
Its point system operates on a race-by-race basis. Riders accumulate points based on their finishing positions in each race, and the championship is awarded to the participant with the most points at the end of the season.
British Motocross Championship
The primary off-road competition in the UK, the British Motocross Championship, features MX1 and MX2 classes. MX1 accommodates 250cc to 450cc (four-stroke) bikes, while MX2 is for 175cc to 250cc four-stroke motorcycles. In 2007, a youth class, MXY2, was added. A “Veterans” series, introduced in 2009, expanded from two to three rounds (held over six races) due to high demand.
The supercross season, on the other hand, typically kicks off in winter and extends through spring, and features major races across different US cities. The focal point in this discipline is the AMA Supercross Championship, with events taking place in constructed stadium tracks.
Conversely, the FIM World Supercross Championship is prominent globally. Like Motocross, points from race results contribute to an overall championship tally.
Monster Energy® Supercross (FIM World Championship)
Regarded as the top professional supercross series globally, the Monster Energy® Supercross (FIM World Championship) has a season spanning from winter to spring, showcasing major races across various cities.
Its point system allocates points based on race results, contributing to an overall championship tally. The series requires participants to be at least 16 years old to compete professionally.
Monster Energy® AMA Supercross Championship
Monster Energy® AMA Supercross, a stadium-based season for off-road motorcycle racers and the premier SX series in the US, spans 17 rounds on custom-designed tracks, running from January to early May.
Points are earned only in Main Events, with the top finisher getting 26 points and subsequent positions receiving fewer points. Points earned accumulate throughout the season. The rider with the most after round 17 becomes the Monster Energy AMA Supercross World Champion.
FOX Australian Supercross Championship
The leading Supercross championship in Australia, this series traces its humble beginnings to the continent’s “first Supercross-style race events played out at Sydney’s Parramatta Raceway in 1978.”
It has since long evolved from its stadium-motocross days. It is now a prestigious series with the Adelaide Entertainment Centre, Marvel Stadium in Newcastle, Melbourne, and other noteworthy landmarks hosting its events.
ADAC Supercross Cup
The ADAC SX Cup, a leading German supercross series, results from the amalgamation of two renowned events. The two-wheeler winter series starts in Stuttgart and leads to the finale in Dortmund. The latter’s Westfalenhalle can house 10,000 spectators, while the former’s Hanns-Martin-Schleyer Halle boasts a 15,500-seating capacity.
Motocross vs. Supercross: What Is the Difference?
Now that we’ve defined each discipline and covered their origins and major racing events, let’s delve into what sets these two apart.
Please note that the table below only highlights the most apparent differences between these two motorsport subsets (for more comprehensive details, reference rulebooks of MX and SX regulating bodies):
An outdoor sport conducted on natural terrains and open spaces
- Robust suspension for absorbing shocks, durable off-road tires, and a balance between power and torque for navigating different terrains;
- Engines are restricted to a single-cylinder layout;
- Fuel injection is allowed only if standard equipment on the homologated model of the bike;
- Super/turbocharging isn’t permitted.
- 50cc (for young riders; class names: 50cc, 50cc Pee-Wee, 50cc Junior);
- 65cc (intermediate class for young riders; class names: 65cc, 65cc Junior);
- 85cc (intermediate class for older youth riders; class names: 85cc, Supermini);
- 125cc (entry-level class for older youth and novice adult riders; class names: 125cc, Schoolboy);
- 250cc (intermediate class for skilled riders allowing 0-125cc for 2-strokes and 150-250cc for 4-strokes; class names: 250cc, MX2);
- 450cc (premier class for pro riders and skilled amateurs allowing 150-250cc for 2-strokes and 251-450cc for 4-strokes; class names: 450cc, MX1);
- open class (no specific displacement; class names: open class, all-stars)
Motor Rating (Horsepower):
- 50cc (below 10 hp);
- 65cc (below 15 hp);
- 85cc/Supermini (15—30 hp);
- 125cc/Schoolboy (30—40 hp);
- 250cc/MX2 (35—50 hp);
- 450cc/MX1 (ranging from 50—60 hp or more);
- Open Class/All-Stars (varies widely, as there is no specific displacement limit; motor rating can extend beyond those of the 450cc class)
Track Design & Characteristics:
Motocross uses natural terrains with jumps, turns, and obstacles, providing a diverse riding experience.
It is held at outdoor venues, often in open fields, woods, or purpose-built tracks.
Participants in any on-track practice, qualifying, or racing activity must have a current AMA Pro Racing Motocross License.
Generally, Supercross occurs in stadiums with manufactured tracks but can also be held outdoors.
- Specialized suspension systems, coupled with designs that prioritize quick acceleration and agility in confined spaces;
- Engines must adhere to a single-cylinder layout;
- Fuel injection is permissible only if it’s standard on the homologated model;
- Supercharging/turbocharging isn’t allowed.
- 250cc East/West Class (divided into East and West regions and typically features rising talent;
- class names: 250cc East, 250cc West, 250SX);
- 450cc Class (premier class for pro riders and top-level competition;
- class names: 450cc, 450SX, premier class);
- open class (no specific displacement;
- class names: open class, all-star, non-displacement)
Motor Rating (Horsepower):
- 250cc East/West Class, 250SX (35—50 hp);
- 450cc Class, 450SX, Premier Class (ranging from 50—60 hp or more);
- Open Class, All-Star, Non-Displacement (varies widely, as there is no specific displacement limit; power levels can exceed those of the 450cc class)
Track Design & Characteristics:
It involves manufactured tracks in stadiums featuring tight turns, high jumps, and challenging obstacles.
Indoor venues, usually in large baseball stadiums with controlled environments
- Riders need to obtain an AMA Pro Racing License to compete in professional Supercross events.
- FIM License (for riders competing in international events or events sanctioned by the governing body
Restricted to rear-wheel drive and a 6-speed gearbox, with primary drive remaining the same as the homologated model
Suspension & Tire Types:
Brake types must match production units, with only like-for-like replacements allowed. Carbon fiber/carbon composite wheels and wheel components, aluminum or titanium rear brake discs, studded tires, paddle tires, and tires with lugs measuring over ¾-inch in height are prohibited.
- 50cc (young riders aged 4—6 years);
- 65cc (intermediate class for young riders aged 7—9);
- 85cc (intermediate class for older youth riders aged 10—13, 12—14 for AMA);
- Supermini (youth riders aged 13—16);
- Schoolboy (youth riders aged 12—17);
- Youth meet (between 4—17 years of age);
- Amateur riders (at least 12 years of age);
- 125cc (entry-level class for older youth and novice adult riders);
- 250cc (at least 14 years old, 16 years old for AMA);
- 450cc (at least 18 years old at the date of the event);
- open class (at least 16—18 years of age)
- Completion of the ImPACT Concussion Management Baseline Test;
- At least 60 AMA Pro-Am advancement points in a single class within the last 18 months (AMA Pro Racing);
- Riders who’ve earned at least 1-25 Pro Motocross points (250 or 450 class) or Supercross Lites or SX class in either the current or previous year (Open Pro Sport Class);
- Use of the same motorcycle (same main frame) for all practice sessions, qualifying events, and moto races;
- Bikes used in motocross competition require homologation approval by AMA Pro Racing before use in competition *Note that these parameters are non-exhaustive
Safety measures include protective gear for various terrains and conditions and a full-face homologated helmet.
Riding Skills and Techniques
While sharing fundamental skills and requisites, Motocross and Supercross demand distinct techniques due to their varied track layouts. In Motocross, riders tackle longer straights and natural terrain, requiring endurance, rhythm, and adaptability to changing conditions. Hence, navigating jumps, berms, and rough terrains is crucial.
In contrast, Supercross demands heightened precision, agility, and quick decision-making. Negotiating tighter turns, rhythm sections, and large jumps in confined spaces and compact stadium tracks is an art. Hence, the emphasis on riding skills and techniques shifts to explosive acceleration and deceleration.
Challenges and Risks
Similar to the aspects above, risks and challenges are unique to Motocross and Supercross (again) due to their distinct track designs. In Motocross, expansive, natural tracks introduce elements of unpredictable terrains and longer race durations, heightening the likelihood of fatigue-related errors and injuries. Riders contend with outdoor conditions like mud, dust, and varying weather.
Meanwhile, Supercross unfolds in controlled stadium environments with compact tracks, intensifying the proximity of obstacles and jumps. The confined space increases the likelihood of collisions, demanding precise maneuvering.
Additionally, the shorter, high-paced SX races amplify the mental and physical toll on riders, requiring split-second decisions and precise timing for success, thereby intensifying the overall challenge.
Motocross vs. Supercross vs. Dirt Bikes
Although confusing, Motocross, Supercross, and dirt biking constitute distinct categories within off-road motorcycle racing. As established earlier, Motocross (on natural terrains) entails expansive tracks with diverse obstacles, demanding adeptness in navigating unpredictable conditions and enduring longer durations.
Conversely, Supercross unfolds in controlled stadium settings with tighter tracks, intensifying the race’s vigor. The confined space where these events are held mandates precision and agility.
Meanwhile, dirt biking, encompassing a broad spectrum, caters to off-road motorcycles designed for various terrains. From trail riding to competition, dirt biking includes Motocross and Supercross, making it the overarching category for diverse off-road riding experiences.
Conclusion — Motocross vs. Supercross: What’s the Difference?
While Motocross and Supercross share a passion for off-road racing, they cater to different preferences. Motocross emphasizes the expansive and natural, challenging riders with varied terrains. Supercross, with its compact indoor setting, intensifies the thrill of racing through tight spaces and complex jumps.
The choice between these two ultimately depends on whether you prefer the openness of outdoor tracks or the controlled chaos of stadium races. Whichever you choose, both disciplines are guaranteed to deliver, as each showcases the incredible skills and daring spirit of off-road motorcycle racing.
Kris is an avid off-roader and outdoor enthusiast who loves to brave the elements and take on challenging terrain. He also enjoys sharing his passion and knowledge with others so that they, too, can appreciate the ride.