I was watching the MotoGP race from Austin, TX this weekend and was constantly amazed at the skills the competitors have. Even the guys at the back of the field have amazing skills. These guys are able to slide both ends of the bike, stay on the throttle while the chassis ties itself in knots, and put the bikes into gravity-defying lean angles.
At the end of the race, I thought to myself, these guys are the best riders in the world. But a few minutes later I was asking myself if they really were. Not so fast…
Clearly, these guys’ skills are amazing. Millions of people ride bikes. But only about 20 people in the world are able to compete at the MotoGP level. But are MotoGP road racing skills indicative of the best riders in the world?
So I decided to think about what category of riders has the best riders. There are a lot of categories, with some not as well known as others. It turns out it wasn’t an easy task.
So let’s look at some of the more well-known competition categories.
- Road Racing includes competitions like closed circuit MotoGP, World Superbike, as well as TT road racing (i.e. “real” road racing on public roads) and other pure asphalt racing categories. At the top road racing level, these machines are the most powerful motorcycles in all of motorcycle racing.
The people that ride these categories ride at speeds of over 200 miles per hour. Closed circuit races demand perfection in maintaining the racing line and momentum. Defensive riding is also a key skill. You can be fast, but you have to make sure you can stay out front and be able to legally block other competitors at very high speeds. Lean angles exceed 60 degrees with low sides and high side crashes a constant hazard.
TT road racing adds an added element and that is racing on real roads. The risk associated with this type of racing is magnitudes higher than closed circuit racing.
In this type of racing, perhaps precision is the key to winning. Precision in picking a line, preserving momentum and keeping other competitors at bay while maintaining the fastest line.
- There are variants of Rally Raid so this category gets a couple of competitions grouped together. This category consists of long-distance rallies like the Dakar, Africa Eco Race, and Silk Way Rally. These events last 6 – 12 days or more. Just getting to and from the timed stages can require traveling over 100 miles. Similar to the long distance rallies, cross country rallies like Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, Rally of Morocco, and the Rallye des Pharaons that are shorter in duration. Still, cross country rallies feature very difficult terrain against a backdrop of a ticking clock. I’ve included Enduro racing in this category as the skills required as very similar.
Riders competing in this discipline face mixed surfaces, daunting terrain, and long days in the saddle. Competitors must also navigate while and follow a prescribed route at speed. Some competitors also repair and maintain their own machines during the timed stages and post-stage leaving little time to eat/sleep. Winners of these types of events complete the timed stages in the least amount of time.
- Supercross/Motocross – Riders competing in these events also must traverse difficult terrain against a clock. However, Supercross/Motocross riders compete against each other. In that regard, their competitions are similar to road racing. but with the additional element of difficult and changing surfaces with obstacles made to slow them down. Features such as jumps and whoops are purposely inserted to slow down riders and increase the challenge.
Supercross/Motocross riders face “shorter” duration events, but during that time, the intensity of competition is extreme. Combined with the requirement to race against other competitors and stay in front, while covering specifically inserted obstacles, riders have to merge disciplines from multiple types of racing categories.
Flat Track/Speedway Racing
- Flat track racing is a closed circuit competition on an oval circuit. Riders race each other on a clay surface. The winner is the first to reach the finish line after the predetermined number of laps have been completed.
Riders in this discipline are skilled in riding low grip surfaces. Riders must slide their machines through corners while maintaining momentum. The machines are equipped with only a rear brake so riders must plan their racing and passes accordingly.
Riders must also be skilled in getting to and maintaining the lead. Blocking in the form of block passes is common. The racing surface may change over the life of the race and riders must adapt their riding style
Speedway racing is similar with the added element of the motorcycles not having any brakes. However, Speedway circuits are smaller than Flat Track circuits.
- Less known in the US is Trials. Trails competitors must possess and utilize an extremely sharpened sense of balance and control. Trials riders must ride over and around obstacles at lower to zero speed while maintaining balance. Obstacles may require leaps from zero speed, turning while stopped and riding very narrow paths. Riders who put a foot to the ground during their run face penalties that could quickly spoil their result.
Trials do not make the competitors time a factor. But what is key is that the rider maintains balance and does not touch the ground. Trials place a premium on the rider’s ability to maintain balance and control the machine at very low speeds. Key to this is the rider’s ability to modulate the throttle and brakes.
- Supermoto is a mixture of road racing and motocross. Competitors race each other on both pavement and “dirt”. It is a closed circuit competition where multiple competitors race each other with the goal to finish the race first. Supermoto competitions may also have obstacles such as jumps and loose terrain.
Supermoto mixes the road racing competitor versus competitor but adds some components of motocross by adding jumps and requiring riders to race on both asphalt and dirt. This mixed format requires riders to have a high skill level for both disciplines; road racing and motocross.
What do you think?
Each of the aforementioned categories requires riders to be highly skilled to win. But is there a way to determine which category requires the most skilled riders?
So when all is said and done, what category of competition has the most skilled and talented riders? Are there other motorcycling categories that should be included in this list?
What do you think? Leave your conclusions in the comments below.