Motocross in the UK

Motocross is a type of motorcycle racing held on off-road circuits or ‘tracks’. The sport is growing in popularity in the UK, and while it is physically demanding and requires a lot of skill at the high end or professional level, at the same time it can still be enjoyed by all people of all abilities and age groups.

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The History of Motocross

Motocross evolved into a sport in the UK from the early motorcycle trials competitions such as the Auto-Cycle Club’s First Quarterly Trial in 1906 and the Scottish Six Days Trial that began in 1909. Over time, when delicate balancing and strict scoring in these trials was dispensed with in favour of a straight race to the finish, the events became known as ‘scrambles’ , said to have originated from the phrase “a rare old scramble” describing one such early race. As the sport grew in popularity, the competitions then became known internationally as motocross racing by combining the French word for motorcycle (motocyclette) or ‘moto’ for short with the word ‘cross’ from ‘cross country’.

The first known ‘scramble’ race took place at Camberley, Surrey, in 1924. During the 1930s the sport grew in popularity in the UK where teams from the Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA), Norton, Matchless, Rudge, and AJS competed.

The off-road bikes used back then still differed little from those used on the street, but the intense competition over rugged terrain led to many technical improvements. Rigid frames gave way to suspensions by the early 1930s, and swinging fork rear suspension appeared by the early 1950s, several years before it was incorporated on the majority of street bikes. Up until the 40’s and 50’s four-stroke 500cc bikes were the standard, but by the early 60’s engine design improved and two-stroke  engines started to gain in popularity due to their lightness and agility.

From the 60’s and 70’s onwards motocross continued to grow in popularity across Europe and the United States, with the first stadium event held in Los Angeles in 1972. During this time the sport benefited hugely from TV coverage and large numbers of spectators would regularly turn out on a Sunday morning up and down the country to watch man and machine compete.

In the 80’s the sport then lost much of its TV coverage in the UK when it was dropped from the BBC’s ‘Grand Stand’ program. As a result it was watched by fewer people and was no longer seen as a mainstream, which had an effect on its popularity. However, thousands still continued to take part in the sport and continue to do so. Motocross is still the most popular off-road sports in the world!

Motocross Today

motocross-uk-2The “cyber age” and the Internet have given motocross a new lease of life with events getting fresh exposure via the Web attracting new blood to the sport. However, unlike in many other countries, motocross in the UK is facing an ongoing battle trying to keep venues alive as the sport is often condemned for its supposed noise pollution. This has had a negative impact on those venues trying to safely facilitate the sport, and increases the use of green lanes by motorcycles sharing bridle ways and footways. Sadly, in a country where planning heavily restricts these facilities that create noise, however limited, motocross tracks up and down the country face constant difficulties to keep the sport alive.

Motocross is a fantastic sport to both take part in and watch. It brings a huge amount of enjoyment to many people including many young people who get involved at an early age. Please help support your local motocross track by getting involved, spectating or simply finding out more about the sport.

Note: land is desperately needed for this sport to survive. If you own land or know of possible sites that could be suitable please contact me at F-15 MX.

About Author

Martin Wright is a motorcycle trainer, sports promoter, mx youth team manager and owner of F-15 MX motocross tracks.