In the previous article about the history of motorcycle racing in the world (and in India) we got to know that motorcycle racing has been a thing since 1890s. A history spanning more than a century, it was imperative that new innovations were introduced because being humans, we could never be content. This led to the formation of various disciplines within motorcycle racing. The introduction of new disciplines and the refinement of road racing, which is how it all started, is what we’ll try to cover in this article.

We say that it all started with road racing because that is what the town-to-town races held in 1890s were. Racing motorcycles on a paved roads. And it has evolved into what we see today as MotoGP, WSBK etc. But probably after a while, some people might have wanted something new. Or maybe it was experiment that might have led to the formation of the various formats of motorcycle racing that we see today.

Someone adventurous might have taken their motorcycle off-road and it must have been a lot of fun since this discipline might be the one with most variations. Supercross, supermoto, cross country (Enduro), rallying, flat tracking to name a few. Or maybe someone just wanted to be the fastest even if it meant riding is a straight line on a paved road (or not). That might have given rise to what we know today as drag racing. A game of power and whatever it is needed to contain that power to be the quickest in reaching the end of the quarter mile. Most of these disciplines are well established today and we are going to touch a few to show you a glimpse of what the formats are and what they entail.

Road racing

Closed Street Circuits

As the name itself suggests, very explicitly I might add, this type of motorcycle racing pertains to racing the motorcycles on the road i.e. a paved surface. In the beginning, there were no purpose-built tracks for racing like we have today. So the races used to take place on temporarily closed (sometimes not i.e. street racing) public roads. Nowadays, we have racing tracks dedicated to racing all around the world and therefore, not a lot of street circuits remain but there are still quite a few. But, some new ones are being added as MotoGP might be all set to have its first street race in Indonesia, starting from 2021.

But when one looks at road racing historically, it will always be looked at as a motorcycle race, held on closed public roads. And one of the most prominent of road races and one that almost everyone knows about, is the Isle of Man TT. It is an annual motorcycle race held on the Isle of Man. Started in 1907, the race is often referred to as the most dangerous racing event in the world!

Between 1907 and 2018, there have been more than 250 fatalities overall. In the 1970 race, there were 6 fatalities! And yet, the Isle of Man TT is one of the most popular racing events in the world. Even though there are quite a few other countries that have their road races, Ireland is the host to two of the other most popular ones, the North West 200 and the Ulster Grand Prix.

The riders compete all-year-round in these 3 races and other lower-profile events to compete for the Duke Road Racing Championship. Duke Road Racing Rankings was established in 2002 for the sole purpose of acknowledging the performances of riders involved in these road racing events.


Now, as we have established before, independent motorcycle racing events are being held since 1890s. Some big ones were often referred to as Grand Prix. But after the formation of Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) in 1949, the FIM Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix came into the picture. For ease of understanding, we’ll just refer to it as MotoGP. In MotoGP constructors create purpose-built racing machines in contrast to modified production motorcycles used in some other races such as the WSBK or Isle of Man TT.

Currently, with the addition of MotoE in 2019, we have 4 classes in the premier class of motorcycle racing; MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3 and MotoE. While the first three use 4-stroke Internal Combustion engines, MotoE motorcycles use electric motors. In 2019, we have 19 Grand Prix races held all across the world. In the MotoGP class, the motorcycles are restricted to a maximum cubic capacity of 1000cc (4-cylinder). Moto2 class is the 600cc 4-stroke class for which Honda supplied their 600cc inline-4 cylinders for all the motorcycles. In 2019, Triumph’s 765cc inline-triple engine replaced the Honda’s as the official Moto2 engine. The Moto3 class uses 250cc, single-cylinder 4-stroke engines and the MotoE class is uses a spec Energica Ego Corsa motorcycle. In 2019, MotoE championship will be contested in 6 rounds (over 5 Grand Prix weekends).


The next sub-category of road racing comes in the form of Superbike racing. As mentioned earlier, this category employs the modified versions of production (roadgoing) motorcycles. There are set rules for displacement to keep the competition fair i.e. Superbike racing motorcycles must have 4-stroke engines between 800cc and 1200cc for 2-cylinder engines and 750cc and 1000cc for 4-cylinder engines. The motorcycles are bound to maintain the same profile as their roadgoing counterparts. The manufacturers must also homologate the model and manufacture the required number of roadgoing motorcycles.

The most prominent championship in the Superbike racing class is WSBK or Superbike World Championship. Other than that, there are some national superbike championships as well and the British Superbike Championship and AMA Superbike Championship (now the MotoAmerica Superbike Championship) are a couple of examples. In addition to Superbikes, there’s also the Supersport racing which requires the motorcycles to be between 400cc to 600cc for 4-cylinder engines and 600-750cc for 2-cylinder engines. Similar to superbike racing, supersport racing also has Supersport World Championship as the most prominent and some national events such as the British Supersport Championship in the calendar.


Another discipline in road racing is Endurance Racing. As the name suggests, endurance racing is meant to test the endurance of the riders. And in addition to that, it also gauges the durability of the machine. In these kind of races, teams of multiple riders cover a large distance in one go. Teams can switch riders during the race which was not the case in some older races (we’ll discuss them further). There are usually two types of endurance races; one in which the teams try to cover the distance in laps as quickly as possible and the second where the teams try to cover as much distance as possible within a given amount of time.

One of the most notable endurance races was the Bol d'Or, which is a 24-hour race which is held annually in France. It was first run in 1922. At that time, only one rider was allowed per team and there were no breaks other than for refueling. Nowadays, each bike is shared by 3 riders. 24 hours of Le Mans is another popular endurance race being run annually since 1978.

Suzuka 8 hours is another notable one which is held at the Suzuka Circuit in Japan. It runs for 8 hours consecutively and the teams are composed of two or more riders who alternate during pitstops. These 3 races, in addition to a few others on the calendar form the FIM Endurance World Championship. The other races are Sepang 8 Hours, 8 Hours of Oschersleben and 8 Hours of Slovakia Ring.

Sidecar racing

In addition to the above motorcycle races, we have another rather weird one. But as it stands, the FIM Sidecar World Championship is the only remaining original FIM road racing championship class that started in 1949! In the early years, the championship was contested on motorcycles that had a sidecar attached to them. But nowadays, the design of the machines used for this format of racing are purpose built and resemble open wheel race cars. But despite the design, they are powered by motorcycle engines.

Predictably, is sidecar racing, there are two people involved, and according to the FIM regulations, the world Rider applies to both the driver and the passenger. The driver is positioned kneeling in front of the engine with hands near the front wheel, while the passenger moves about the platform at the rear transferring their weight from left to right according to the corner and forward or back to gain traction for the front or rear. The passenger also helps the driver when it comes to drifting, and is also usually the first person to notice any engine problems since he is next to the engine while the driver is in front of it.