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MotoGP vs Motocross: The Main Differences

MotoGP and motocross are two of the most extreme forms of motorcycle racing. While one takes place on the track and one on the dirt, it’s easy to assume there are a lot of differences between MotoGP and motocross.

The main differences between MotoGP and motocross are in the bikes the riders use, the tracks on which they race, and the formats of the races themselves. However, there are some similarities between the disciplines, and this makes motocross a popular training activity for many MotoGP riders.

Below, we’ll go into more detail on each of the main differences between MotoGP and motocross. But we’ll also touch on the similarities between the two styles of motorcycle racing, and we’ll tell you why so many MotoGP riders use motocross as a way of training. 

What Is MotoGP?

MotoGP is the pinnacle of motorcycle Grand Prix racing, and it is sanctioned by the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM), and having operating since 1949, it is the oldest established motorsport world championship. However, Grand Prix motorcycle racing has its roots in the early 1900s, long before the world championship was established.

MotoGP is the top of the Grand Prix motorcycle racing ladder, with two feeder series below it in Moto2 and Moto3 (there is also an electric championship in MotoE). While Grand Prix motorcycle racing has been going on for more than 70 years, MotoGP took its current form back in 2002. Before that, it was known as the 500cc championship, and the bikes are now 1000cc machines.

The bikes used are custom-built prototype motorcycles that you would not see on the road. These bikes are all produced by various manufacturers, and more than 20 riders compete during races to rack up points in the hopes of being crowned the MotoGP World Champion.

What Is Motocross?

Motocross is a motorcycle racing sport that involves riders traversing rough terrain, usually on a predefined course. Courses are normally between 1 and 3 miles long, and they can vary greatly in the kinds of obstacles the riders must face.

Motocross is one of the most physically demanding sports in the world, and riders must maneuver their bikes across ramps, jumps, and dips on the track all while competing against more than a dozen other riders at a time. While MotoGP uses purpose-built prototype motorcycles, motocross uses dirt bikes from various manufacturers.

MotoGP vs Motocross Bikes

MotoGP Bikes

The bikes used in MotoGP and motocross are extremely different. You wouldn’t see either of them on the road, but MotoGP bikes do better resemble the kind of motorcycle you may have ridden yourself on the street. However, under the relatively normal-looking outer shell lies some of the most complex technology inside any motorcycle.

The Engines

The bikes are built to very particular specifications, from minimum weights of 157 kg to specific brake and suspension setups. The engines are liquid-cooled, 90-degree, four-stroke V4s (or inline-fours), using double overhead camshafts with four valves per cylinder. The capacity is 1000cc, and the engines are capable of putting out a reported 290 hp.

The engines use indirect electronic fuel injection, and the throttle is operated by a double ride-by-wire system. The engines alone in a MotoGP bike can cost anywhere from $200,000-$700,000.

This powerful engine can take the bike from 0 to 60 in just 2.5 seconds, and they can reach a top speed above 220 mph on a long enough straight. They use a seamless transmission that works with a quick shifter to allow the rider to make rapid gear changes, even while taking the bike through a corner at a lean angle above 40 degrees.

Suspension, Tires & Brakes

MotoGP bikes have custom suspension systems provided by Öhlins, with an inverted front fork and a rear shock absorber that is fully adjustable for preload and damping. The bikes also feature ride height devices that allow riders to lower the bike’s center of gravity at the start of a race for maximum acceleration.

The tires on MotoGP bikes are both 17 inches in diameter, with the rear tire being 118 mm wide and the front tire being 120 mm. Both tires are radial tires, and they’re all supplied by Michelin.

Brembo supplies the brakes, and they come in the form of two 340 mm carbon discs at the front and a single stainless steel rear disc. The front discs have two 4-piston calipers, and the rear disc has a 2-piston caliper. The bikes run on various fuels, supplied by different manufacturers depending on the team. However, all the bikes have a fuel capacity of 22 liters (5.8 US gallons). 

The Manufacturers

The bikes have a minimum weight of 157 kg, or just under 350 lbs, and they are made by any of the following manufacturers:

  • Yamaha
  • Honda
  • Ducati
  • Suzuki
  • Aprilia
  • KTM

Motocross Bikes

Motocross bikes on the other hand come in a massive range of shapes and sizes to lots of different specifications, depending on the competition, the manufacturer, and the rider. While the average dirt bike weighs about 92 kg, or 200 lbs, in reality the weights differ greatly depending on the internals of the bike.

Motocross Or Supercross?

Motocross itself also comes in various flavors, with one of the biggest in America being Supercross. The big difference between motocross and Supercross is that while Supercross races are held indoors, motocross races outside. This means motocross riders have to put up with the weather while Supercross riders don’t. 

For the purpose of this article, we’re only going to be talking about motocross, rather than Supercross, as there are even more differences to discuss than just the tracks, and that would warrant its own article! For the purpose of this section, we’ll also just be discussing motocross bikes in general, and not necessarily the FIM motocross specs (more on that series shortly). 

The Overall Construction

The first big difference between MotoGP bikes and motocross bikes, apart from the way they look, is in the suspension system and overall construction of the bike. While motocross bikes need to travel at speeds of up to 200 miles an hour or more, they don’t have to deal with bumps and jumps like motocross bikes do.

For this reason, motocross bikes are built with far more play in the suspension system to allow the bike to land from tens of feet in the air without falling apart. The front shocks will be relatively huge when compared with those on a MotoGP bike, and this is essential for navigating both the man-made jumps, and the small inconsistencies that are inevitable on a motocross track.

The frame of a motocross bike will also be far more exposed than that of a MotoGP bike. While MotoGP bikes will have various fairings and other components on them to reduce aerodynamic drag in a bid to boost top speed, motocross bikes are more “barebones.” However, they’re still incredibly sturdy, and they need to be for the beating they take during a race.

The Internals

Motocross bikes are started using a kick starter. This is a lever that comes out of the engine that the rider has to push down in order to get the bike going. MotoGP bikes on the other hand do not have kick starters, and in fact they don’t have any starters at all. Instead, to save weight, MotoGP bikes are started using a rolling starter that spins the rear wheel of the bike to start the engine.

MotoGP bikes usually have two exhausts, and while motocross bikes may also have two, MotoGP exhausts are all standardized by a company called Akrapovič. These exhausts are quite complex and expensive, and they’re responsible for expelling the mass of exhaust gases that comes out of their huge 1000cc engines. Motocross exhausts can come in various shapes and sizes and may use mufflers.

The Tires

The tires are another area where motocross bikes vary massively from MotoGP bikes. While MotoGP tires can come in various compounds depending on the race, they are standardized across all of the riders and all of the bikes in every race. There are also only supplied by Michelin. However, motocross tires come in lots of different shapes and sizes depending on the bike and the competition.

MotoGP tires are called slicks as they do not have any treads on them, unlike the ones you’d find on your average road motorcycle. This is because MotoGP races are normally held in dry conditions, and while they do have treaded wet tires for damp conditions, racing slicks are the primary tire of choice. 

A motocross bike, on the other hand, has tires with knobs on them that make them brilliant for off-road riding. While MotoGP riders don’t need to expel water or mud from below the tires (in most cases), motocross riders are constantly dealing with rough, wet and loose terrain, and these types of tires are essential for providing them with enough grip to get round corners and build up enough speed.

Plastics vs Carbon Fiber

While the average dirt bike that you would see used in a motocross race is covered in nice colorful bits of plastic, a MotoGP bike’s bodywork is made primarily of carbon fiber. Not only is this very expensive, but it’s also extremely strong and lightweight, which are both key for performance in a sport like MotoGP.

The Biggest Difference

Speaking of expensive things, perhaps the biggest difference between MotoGP bikes and motocross bikes is and how much they cost to build. While motocross bikes will vary in price from the low four figures to the high five figures, the overall cost of a MotoGP bike could be several million dollars

Remember, these are prototype machines built for the racetrack, and you would never be able to pick one up from a dealership! That’s another big difference between MotoGP and motocross bikes: you could buy a motocross bike and start racing immediately, but to get your hands on a MotoGP bike you need to become a MotoGP rider!

KEY POINTS

• The main differences between MotoGP and motocross lie in the bikes the riders use

• While MotoGP bikes are million-dollar prototypes, you can find some dirt bikes for a few thousand dollars

• The bikes vary in almost every way, from the engines to the tires, and everything in between

MotoGP vs Motocross Races

MotoGP Races

Starting with MotoGP, the race weekend starts on a Friday with two practice sessions. These two practice sessions, along with the first of two practice sessions that occur on a Saturday, are all timed. The riders’ times set in these three practice sessions dictate which qualifying session they will take part in, either Q1 or Q2.

There is a fourth non-timed practice session between free practice three and the first qualifying session, and then Q1 begins. Both Q1 and Q2 are 15 minute sessions, where the riders try to set as fast a lap as they possibly can. The fastest two riders in Q1 progress to Q2, and the rest of the lap times in Q1 set the riders’ grid sports from positions 13 to the back of the grid.

The Race

In Q2, there are therefore 12 riders battling out for pole position for Sunday’s race. Races are normally about 40 to 45 minutes, although this can change depending on the weather. Races can be anywhere from 100 to 130 km long, or about 60 to 80 miles. There are usually about 20 MotoGP races per season, which runs from March through to November.

Riders get points for finishing in the top 15 places in each race, with first place getting 25 points, second place getting 20 points, and so on down to 15th place getting one point. The rider that gets the most points in a given season is crowned world champion at the end of the year.

The Tracks

MotoGP tracks are normally purpose-built racetracks, and there are events all over the world. They all differ in length, and they each offer up unique challenges for the riders. A lot of the tracks MotoGP riders race on are also used for other motorsports, such as Formula One.

Motocross

In contrast to this, motocross tracks are much shorter, usually about 1 to 3 miles in length. They are also made up of dirt tracks, unlike the tarmac on which MotoGP races take place. We’ve already talked about the differences in tires above, and these differences stem from the different surfaces that the two bikes race on. 

Motocross tracks are to be found all over the world, and there are local, regional, and national motocross tournaments. However, in many motocross tournaments, races are run in heats. There will usually be two heats in a race, and these can take about 40 minutes each

The Race Itself

This means that motocross races can actually take longer than a MotoGP race. This is largely because the bikes are travelling much slower and on much rougher terrain. Tracks are normally wide enough to allow a few riders to race side-by-side, but they consist of inclines, declines, and jumps that make these tracks incomparable to a MotoGP racetrack.

In the USA, a typical outdoor motocross event (i.e. not a Supercross event), that is sanctioned by the American Motorcyclist Association, will have two heats called Motos. These Motos might run for half an hour each plus 2 laps. Depending on the competition, motocross riders will usually be awarded points based on where they finish in a race, with points given out for each heat.

A race might involve 20 riders, with the rider who finishes first taking 25 points, and the rider finishing 20th gets one point. Some motocross events may be held simply by local organizations, but there are FIM-sanctioned events.

FIM Motocross

The FIM motocross championships are to motocross racing what MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3 are to Grand Prix motorcycle racing. These competitions come in the form of the MXGP, MX2 and MX3 classes. The FIM world championship has been running since 1957, and it has taken on various forms and engine displacements since then. 

Bikes used in the MX1/MXGP class can be two-stroke up to 250cc, or four-stroke up to 450cc. In the MX2 class, two-stroke engines can be up to 125cc, and four-stroke engines can be up to 250cc. The MX3 class allows 500cc two-stroke engines and 650cc four-stroke engines. These races, regardless of class, usually feature short practice and qualifying sessions. 

KEY POINTS

• MotoGP race weekends are made up of practice, qualifying and a race

• Motocross races can come in the form of heats, but it depends on the competition

• FIM MXGP racing is the motocross equivalent of MotoGP 

MotoGP vs Motocross Riders & Teams

When it comes to the riders, MotoGP and motocross athletes also look quite different. While MotoGP riders will be equipped with full leathers and fire suits, motocross riders may wear various different kinds of pants and jerseys and even body armor to protect them from the inevitable dirt and debris they will be riding through during a race. 

MotoGP riders will wear full face racing helmets, while motocross riders will wear more purpose-built, off-road style helmets with protruding chin guards and an extension at the top called a peak. Riders also wear goggles, rather than having a visor built into their helmet, like you’d see on a MotoGP rider.

The Teams

Both MotoGP and motocross competitions are completed by individual riders for different teams. In MotoGP, there are 17 teams and 6 manufacturers. In the FIM motocross world championship there are 23 full-time teams and 7 manufacturers. There are many more wildcard teams and riders as well

Much like in MotoGP, motocross riders in the FIM world championship earn points depending on where they finish in a race, and this contributes towards their championship score over the course of a season. Manufacturers also earn points towards a separate championship, much like they do in MotoGP.

Is Motocross Harder Than MotoGP?

It’s impossible to say if motocross is harder than MotoGP because both racing series involve very different riding techniques, bikes, and tracks. However, it’s clear that both series require the riders to be athletes, and both motorsports are incredibly challenging.

MotoGP 

MotoGP is one of the most strenuous racing series on the planet, as riders must battle it out for 45 minutes against 20+ of the best riders in the world. They do this while negotiating a 157 kg bike through corners at excessive lean angles, constantly moving around on the bike to manipulate their center of gravity.

Motocross 

However, motocross riders also move around a lot on the bike, and due to the sheer adrenaline of racing and jumping and doing everything a motocross rider is doing during a race, their heart rate is constantly sky-high, and they need to be extremely physically fit. 

While MotoGP riders will experience a bit of extra G-force while under acceleration and hard braking, a motocross rider might feel up to 10 G’s – albeit for a very short time – at the bottom of the jumps. It is for this reason that motocross is often listed among some of the most physically demanding sports on the planet.

KEY POINTS

• Both motocross and MotoGP seasons consist of team and rider championships

• MotoGP is a very physical sport, requiring the riders to be super fit

• The same is true of motocross, making both motorsports some of the most physically demanding 

Do MotoGP Racers Ride Motocross?

Many MotoGP racers do ride motocross, as many find it to be the perfect training exercise in between races and during the off-season. MotoGP riders can’t practice on their own MotoGP bikes in between race weekends, and so motocross serves as an excellent training activity for them.

Many MotoGP riders start out their career riding dirt bikes at a young age. Riding dirt bikes shapes the foundational skills that MotoGP riders will need when it comes to Grand Prix motorcycle racing, even if it is on a completely different road surface. It’s a bit like how F1 drivers start karting at a young age, as that’s where they develop the racecraft and feel for riding on four wheels.

Far More Accessible

But it’s also very expensive to race on private motorcycle tracks, with motocross events (not FIM-sanctioned ones) usually being much cheaper to enter and many riders may even have access to their own private track. A large part of this is due to the fact that MotoGP riders can only ride MotoGP bikes on permitted testing days, which is another parallel to Formula 1 with its ban on private testing.

However, another reason MotoGP riders use motocross to train instead of another motorcycle racing discipline is because it’s far riskier to ride a bike at higher speed on the track that is to ride a motocross bike

Obviously motocross riding is dangerous, and riders like Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi have injured themselves while riding motocross, but the lower average speeds simply mean that it’s much less likely that they’ll be involved in a serious accident.

The Perfect Training Tool

Nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi actually has his own dirt track at his home in Tavullia, Italy. In 2017, Rossi picked up some chest injuries after a motocross accident. However, after this injury, he explained why motocross is so useful for him as a (then) MotoGP rider, saying he thinks it is the best physical and mental training tool riders can use.

Final Thoughts

There are lots of differences between MotoGP and motocross, with the main ones being in the bikes they use and the tracks on which they race. However, the similarities between the racing styles mean that motocross is a popular training activity for many MotoGP riders.