Motocross might have got its start when a Frenchman, Pierre Michaux, added a rudimentary steam engine to an early bicycle in the 1860s but today it’s one of the fastest growing sports in the US, full of freestyle tricks such as the Superman, the Back Flip and the Cliffhanger.
Motocross gets its name from the French for a motorcycle, moto plus cross for cross country and it started life as motorcycle scrambling in Surrey in the UK in 1924. Now it’s a truly international event with the Japanese leading the way in machine innovation. But it’s in the US where it has become a billion dollar business with corporate sponsorship and exposure in the X Games, the annual ‘Olympics’ for extreme sports.
So it’s no surprise that most of the toughest dirt bike tracks in the world are located in the USA. Here are a selection of the top 10 most challenging, amazing and just plain gnarliest MX tracks in the world today.
HAWKSTONE PARK, UK
Let’s start by going back to the roots. The Hawkstone Park track has been around since the 1950s when it regularly saw 5 figure crowds watching scrambling events on the circuit. Roy Orbison once tried a lap of Hawkstone and ended up breaking his ankle.
Although its heyday was in the 50s and 60s, the track has been given a new lease of life and currently stages the International event every year in March, a curtain raiser to the ultra-tough motocross season where the world’s best come to test their mettle on this historic track.
So what makes Hawkstone so special? The fearsome Hawkstone Hill, a 1 in 3 gradient that leads riders to a 2m vertical drop off and a descent that tests every ounce of a rider’s skill. Add in the man-made bumps of the whoops section where a crash can be both heavy and spectacular and you have one of Europe’s gnarliest courses.
GLEN HELEN, USA
From an iconic track in the UK to one in the USA. The Glen Helen raceway brings together huge hills and massive jumps under the blazing California sun. Glen Helen has circuits to suit every rider from the PeeWee track for the juniors to the superfast international Grand Prix track.
But what makes Glen Helen the truly special track it is? Mount St. Helens, a 200 foot climb with a super steep descent. Throw in a series of jarring braking bumps for good measure and you have one of the world’s must-ride MX tracks.
This track has twice hosted the Motocross of Nations and it’s not difficult to see why. Swarming up the hillside, this course has more twists and turns than an agitated Anaconda and a grandstand that can seat up to 40,000 spectators. The Ernee circuit (in French) has been around since 1972 and regularly hosts French national championships and FIM World Motocross events.
The reason? Those switchbacks that just don’t quit - if thrilling twists and torturous turns are your thing, coupled with some really impressive drop offs, then this is a track you’ll be itching to ride. Just make sure your cornering skills are up the job because this track will push them to the very limit.
Back across the Pond and over to the East Coast for another of America’s greatest MX tracks. Unadilla only hosts one event a year - the national - but the home of horsepower has been in use since 1969, making it the oldest continually used facility in the United States.
This track features not one but two gnarly features. The Sky Shot is the 100 foot tabletop where riders treat fans to some outrageous whips. But it’s the Gravity Cavity that really separates the men from the boys. Riders fly in and out of this deep valley rift, sometimes launching 100 feet to flat to save precious seconds. Watching professional MX racers navigate the Gravity Cavity is one of the epic sights in MX racing.
GORNA ROSITZA, BULGARIA
Not for nothing was this awesome track voted the best in the world twice in a row. This is an incredibly challenging track, composed of trademark red dirt with deeply rutted corners that can be real bike killers if your machine isn’t in great shape.
This is the setting for the GP of Bulgaria and it’s famed for its combination of long uphills and heart-in-mouth descents that make the very best of the track’s hillside setting. But what makes this track one of the gnarliest in the world of motocross is the twenty eight jumps in every lap. It’s a totally testing circuit for your freestyle skills, but once you’ve ridden it you’ll want to do it again and again - Gorna Rositza is just that good.
You can find courses like this all over the world, but there’s only one track like Southwick. Nestled deep in the trees in New England, the Wick was developed by a group of MX loving dads who set to with chainsaws and bulldozers to create this iconic track in the 1970s.
So what sets the Wick apart? Sand, sand and more sand. Of course there are jumps and turns, but it’s the particular challenge of racing on the soft golden stuff that sets this course apart. You’ll need plenty of petrol, a huge amount of power and thighs like iron to tackle the Wick but it’s worth it. Keep your throttle open and remember that sand absolutely punishes your bike - you’ll need to get it stripped and cleaned ASAP.
LOKET, CZECH REPUBLIC
This is a great track with a definite retro feel, and if you like keeping it old school you’ll find this place utterly addictive. Loket is another track that dates from the 1970s and its hard packed surface is carved deep into a Czech hillside. It’s an unrelenting, unforgiving loop that climbs up and drops down but its deceptive simplicity and lack of distractions make it a joy to ride. Not for nothing do top MX racers count this as one of the gnarliest tracks in the world.
RED BUD, USA
The track that epitomises US motocross, the July 4th races at Red Bud in Michigan are always the best party of the season. It’s maybe no surprise that the US tracks are some of the gnarliest you’ll ride as the sport is so huge in America and the tracks are designed to wring the very best performances out of the riders.
But what makes Red Bud such a special track is Larocco’s Leap - a 120 foot monster of a triple step up that comes at you right out of a corner. Riders need every ounce of their skill and concentration to keep that throttle open and hope they get out of that turn carrying some speed. This one is right in front of the grandstand, so if you lose it here there’s no place to hide. And that’s why Red Bud makes it on our list.
MATTERLEY BASIN, UK
This one has a totally different look and feel to the other tracks on the list. Matterley Basin is one of the new kids on the international MX block, capable of hosting huge crowds of over 80,000. 1,640 metres long on hard packed soil, it nestles in green pastures just outside Winchester and offers wide, uninterrupted vistas over the surrounding countryside.
And you’ll be able to take full advantage of the views as you tackle the series of spectacular jumps for which the course is famed. It’s a totally different style to the US AMA circuits but Matterley Basin should definitely be on your ‘to ride’ list.
SPRING CREEK, USA
There are many fans of the perfect loamy soil of the Spring Creek MX track. This one’s fast - super fast - and it’s easy for even the best riders to end their day early at Spring Creek. As for that soft soil, it cuts up rough pretty quickly making it nice and gnarly, or not depending on your riding style.
What sets this US track apart is the giant whoops - two straightaways ridiculously loaded with some of the largest rollers a motocross rider will ever have to tackle. But if riding the rollercoaster is your thing, then Spring Creek will be unmissable.