Motocross Vs Supercross – Similar? Not really…

Motocross, Supercross, Arenacross, Enduro, Trials, Hairscrambles, etc!  Dirt biking has so many different disciplines.  Today we will answer the question what is the difference between motocross and supercross?

Motocross and supercross are both dirt bike racing disciplines.  Supercross is typically a shorter course that takes place in a sporting arena in the spring.  Motocross is generally a longer, wider course that takes place outdoors in the summer.  They both have 250cc and 450cc classes, and they are both done on dirt bikes.

Let’s take a little closer look at the differences.

Differences and similarities between motocross and supercross

motocross vs supercross

The two disciplines are closely related.  Both are races that involve riding a dirt bike as fast as possible around the course.  Many of the top riders in supercross are also top riders in motocross.

The similarities of the disciplines is that they both require a great deal of harmony and setup between rider and dirt bike.  They both take place on a dirt track.  Both motocross and supercross have various classes based on engine size (250cc and 450cc), with the 450cc class being considered the premier class. 

But if you watch both disciplines long enough, I would argue that is where the similarities end.

The primary differences lie in how the tracks are set up and constructed, as well as the bike setup required to succeed in the sport.  The supercross series is often considered a prelude to the motocross series because it happens earlier in the year.

At a high level, motocross is outdoors and supercross is indoors (or at least in a stadium).  Motocross has longer distance wise courses, supercross has tighter turns.  Supercross is very fast paced and motocross is more of an endurance test.

Below we look at each individually

Motocross – A Thinkers Game

motocross vs supercross motocross riders

Motocross tracks are manmade outdoor tracks.  They cater to some of the more technical aspects of riding that are not found in supercross.  A motocross track might have many long straightaways that allow the rider to get up to speed and then have to quickly decelerate to take the turn.  Additionally, it may have much longer jumps, and this is just a factor of how fast the riders are going.

Motocross courses are generally pretty long.  We are talking about pro speed 2-3 minute lap times and 1.5+ mile long courses.  There are generally 16-20 obstacle features in this length (by obstacle features, I am talking about jumps, whoops sections, etc).

The skillset on display for motocross is line selection, strategy, and endurance of the rider.  They are truly a test of both man and machine.

To succeed in motocross, a rider has to be both physically fit (these events generally take place in the summer) and have a bike suspension setup and controls setup that caters to the event.  Since speeds will be higher, race sag on the suspension should be set to promote good contact and control.  This generally means a little softer suspension setup which is a tradeoff between cornering ability and overall speed.

Supercross – Glory under the lights

motocross vs supercross supercross riders

The supercross season is held earlier in the year and takes place “indoors.”  Indoors is in quotes because some of the courses have sections that actually go outside the sporting arena and are built on the parking lot.  But for all practical purposes it can be considered the indoor season.

Supercross has a much tigher course than motocross.  The track is narrower, the straightaways are much shorter.  However, that doesn’t make it boring.  Inside this tightly wound track, there are tons of obstacles, from table tops to dragon’s backs to whoop sections.

There is a saying in supercross that goes something like “jumps are for grins, turns are for wins.”  And that is very true.  The riders who are successful in supercross are the ones that have a ton of skill in the turns.  Since the turns are sharp (typically 180s), and there are so many of them, without mastering turning skills it is going to be hard to master supercross.

The skillsets on display for supercross are timing (making sure that you accelerate correctly to clear the jumps the way you want) and cornering.

Bike setup is going to be stiffer than in motocross.  Since the speeds are slower and the turns are sharper, a dirt bike set up for supercross is going to have a race sag set that is harsher.

When you turn on the TV and see an arena full of people and riders making insane jumps with a very short runway, you are watching supercross.  I absolutely love supercross season.

A Word About Arenacross

Arenacross is another discipline that is not talked about as frequently and is considered a stepping stone to supercross.  Arenacross is done at a much lower speed simply because it is a scaled down version of supercross.  The track is super narrow, passing is difficult, and there is not a ton of runway in which to gather speed. 

It is a discipline in itself with its own challenges, however it is so close to supercross that I didn’t feel like there should be a ton of time spent on it.

Which is better Motocross or Supercross?

This is just a matter of personal preference, however I will offer a couple of thoughts here.

If you have someone new to the sport that you want to keep interested, take them to supercross event (or watch it on the TV) and they will be enthralled.  Its loud, jumps are always happening, and there is so much variety that it is impossible to not get wrapped up in the action.  The races are quick, as a spectator you can see the entire course, and there is always something going on.

On the other hand, if you are more into the strategy and subtle skill of dirt bike racing, then motocross might be for you.  While there aren’t typically as many jumps going on, there is a ton of skill on display.  This is not to say supercross riders are unskilled because that is simply not the case. It is just to say that if you are more interested in line selection and things like that, you may enjoy motocross more.

For me, I love supercross.  Maybe it’s my short attention span.  When I am watching a supercross race, I wait to go to the bathroom.  When I am watching motocross, I am happy to leave it on and do other things because there is not as much going on at any given time.  I am sure that I will anger some readers with that point of view, but all I can do is tell you what I think.

Wrap Up

So, I hope you can see that there is a pretty big difference between motocross and supercross.  In supercross the key skillset on display is timing of the jumps and aggressiveness in the corners.  In motocross the skillsets on display are endurance, line selection, and strategy.  Aside from the both being done on dirt bikes and having the same class setup, there really isn’t a ton that is the same.

Recommended Reading

Beginners Guide to Dirt Bikes – You gotta start somewhere!
2020 Supercross Schedule
2019 Motocross Schedule
What the flags in Dirt Bike Racing mean
Motocross Slang and Phrases