Why Do MotoGP Riders Risk Injury On An MX Bike? The Riders Explain

When news came in that Valentino Rossi had broken his leg riding an Enduro bike while training, the eternal discussion kicked off among fans about why MotoGP riders are allowed anywhere near an off road bike outside the track. The question is doubly relevant, as this is the second Italian race for which Valentino Rossi has managed to injure himself riding a dirt bike.

The simple answer, of course, is that people whose job it is to race motorcycles need to practice riding motorcycles to do their jobs. And riding a bike off road is a lot safer than riding a bike on the road (crashing at 70 km/h on dirt doesn't hurt as much as crashing at 200 km/h on asphalt).

Fans, however, are impervious to such arguments. So instead of journalists explaining why MotoGP riders ride dirt bikes, here are a bunch of quotes from MotoGP riders, explaining in their own words why they ride off road.

Location: Mugello 2017

Valentino Rossi:

"I always ride motocross, also after 2010, because I like. I enjoy a lot and I think it's the best training, physically and mentally. "

Marc Márquez:

"Of course you understand all the parts, but you know, Valentino, me, other riders, at home on the sofa? You don't improve. You must train, you must do some things. Looks like Valentino didn't crash on a jump, but I don't know. But even when you ride with a bicycle, you can crash. When you ride, there can be many things in life. But on the sofa, sure it will be easy and good, but then you can't improve. So if something is going to happen, it will happen but I will keep riding motocross."

Bradley Smith:

"It is not on the same spectrum but I think everyone has been injured in every sort of sport going. Guys have been injured mountain-biking, dirt-track, motocross and on the track itself. Nicky [Hayden]’s situation happened like it did: what are you going to do? It is the team’s decision: if they want to wrap the riders in cotton wool then go ahead and do it but it is not my job or your to point fingers and say what motorcycle racers should do. You will not go to a manager of a football team and say “you are not doing the training the right way”. At the end of the day I always trust professionals to make a professional decision as much as possible. Someone like Valentino has been around for so many years so if he wants to ride motocross then let him ride. It is down to him to learn whether it was a mistake or just life in general."

Location: Motegi 2015

Cal Crutchlow:

(Question, on injuries to Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Márquez, who were hurt riding a road bike and a mountain bike respectively): How much of a benefit is training on a minimoto, motocross? Do they need to be riding at the limit training?

"It doesn't mean they are riding at the limit, Márquez crashed his bicycle, I don't think he was at the limit. He crashed earlier on in the year on the flat track bike, which everybody does all the time on a flat track bike, it's part of it.

"But honestly, I don't know what people want, because you're always going to get people saying 'Idiot! He crashed a motocross bike!' But how do footballers train? Kicking a ball! How do tennis players train? Hitting a tennis ball! How do runners train? They run! How do motorcyclist train? Well, you're not allowed to ride a motorbike.

It's stupid, so when you do ride a motorbike, sometimes unfortunately, these things happen. But like I said, people say, oh, the manufacturers might put a stop to it or the manufacturers say 'no, you shouldn't do it.' But they give us the motocross bikes, so they don't mind us doing it. They know that riding a motorcycle is riding a motorcycle, it's unique. I don't a lot, to be honest, I bet I've ridden six times all year on a motorbike outside of a race track. But that's just me, I'm completely different, I'm the complete extreme to they other guys."

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But Valentino Rossi could buy both of the local roadrace tracks that I ride without breaking a sweat.  So if training is the goal, Rossi owns a ton of past seasons MotoGP bikeslet alone any superbike that money could build, that he could take to a track (that he could buy) and ride every.  Single.  Day.

"Oh, I'll be out of riding shape if I don't ride on the dirt, so I'd never win a championship."  If you assume Rossi averages 3rd place over the (what, four?) races he's going to miss, plus possible lost places from his previous motocross injury this season, that's, say, 50 points he'll have pissed away to dirt bike injuries in one season.  Would he have been 50 points slower had he stuck to asphalt for his training?...  This championship looks as if it will be won by less than 50 points.

...but in reality loose surface riding is extremely beneficial to your bike control skills. It hones your reflexes far more finely than the occasional moment on a sportbike. It also lets you explore beyond the limit of grip in a setting where mistakes aren't punished by, at least, a damaged bike which needs repairing by a team of mechanics and trudge back to pitlane. Fall off on a dirt bike? Pick it up and keep going.

These guys need to train on a motorbike between races to stay sharp, maintain confidence and hone their instincts. That means lots of laps, sweating buckets, ideally sparring with mates (who'll just about let you win) but importantly its testing the limits, balls out stuff. Track work on a road bike with wheels in line and all very safe and tidy doesn't cut it for these guys. That's the equivalent of sofa surfing for them. (It might also be the key difference between a racer and a factory test rider.) They need to ride testing their limits as much & as often  as possible to keep their edge. That means crashing often & crashes on dirt are much more survivable than tarmac crashes at more than double the speed. But shit happens. (NB Not everyone agrees. Is it Folger or Zarco that have quit the dirt for training as they feel it impairs smoothness?)

...but they're more likely to cause injury.  Crashing on tarmac usually involves a lot of sliding, especially now that highsides are far less common.  Crashing on the dirt usually involves bouncing off some sort of protrusion, or hitting the ground at a steep angle, or getting a foot caught between bike and something, or whatever.

I'm not suggesting that they shouldn't ride motocross but I think it's a mistake to say that it's safer (overall) except that I suspect when these guys are riding motocross they're not pushing it 10/10th like they do in motogp. They could be a little more judicious of the sort of dirt riding though.  Maybe more dirt track and natural terrain motocross rather than doing double jumps, and less seriously rutted tracks.

Personally I think everyone should ride some dirt before or while learning to ride on the road.  I always suggest to new riders that their first bike should be a dirt bike.  Lighter, wider easy to handle bars, doesn't matter when you drop it (which will probably be simply manoeuvering it) and you can get onto the dirt and learn what a bike feels like when traction isn't 100%.  Unless their butt is a little too close to the ground.

I started on tarmac then dallied with enduro racing and footups for fun for a good while. When I got back on tarmac awhile later things that previously scared me a lot (drift, skid,sliding etc) were no longer relevant. I certainly believe that dirt riding increases confidence level on tarmac if nothing else. Thing is, why would you as Rossi risk it to the extent of costing yoourself a world title, 10th, mind you? A dirt circuit whether long range enduro or short range mx does not tolerate mistakes like tarmac GP circuits do. I empathise with Rossi's current situation but did he not learn anything from his MX shoulder injury back then which in turn was generally laid at the doorstep of Prezi's bike rather than MX accident constraints when he jumped ship from Yamaha to Ducati Crikey. Ducati built an Alloy beam frame bike for him on a shoestring budget, L-4 16 guru Prezziosi got hung out to dry. I recall reading Rossi's progress with the shoulder ad nauseum on this site back then. He just don't bounce as good as he used to.  

Hmmm - VR has forgotten 10 times more than I know about motorcycle racing so I won't comment on his decisions. What could be interesting is that it may be a glimpse of the future for Dorna - spectator numbers with no VR racing. In the meantime :


Considering Rossi just raced his 300th GP and has been doing motocross training the whole time, and has 9 world titles to his name I think on balance you'd have to say the pros outweigh the cons!

Given that Rossi suffered a nasty rib injury earlier this season during a dirt bike 'training' session, you would have thought that he'd have learnt a lesson. Sadly not. It's a serious injury and comes at a critical point in the season. Whilst I can understand the need for this sort of training during the long off-season, it baffles me why riders put themselves in such jeopardy during the course of the year when races are coming thick 'n fast.

I've listen to all the 'for and against' arguments on such training, and am left questioning the wisedom of this practice. Rossi' season is now in ruins. All of his hard work has been for nothing. He ignored his earlier crash warning and now this is the result. Another year has passed him by.  

Peak fitness was supposed to be the outcome of such training. Instead, he'll spend the rest of the season trying to get back to somewhere near 90%. An almost completely pointless exercise.

Very bummed that Vale won't be in the mix out there after a 10th title. His drive to race and drive to heal are inseparable. He will be back out there, and (again) will return with intensified focus and intent.

On the merits/risks of dirt riding:
Not all off road riding is of equal value for training.
Nor is all of it of equal risk of injury when you aren't puttering around moderately.

Where was Rossi specifically? Doing what? Enduro riding and a large rock caught his foot? Same for motocross jumps...not exactly flat track is it?

Rossi's ranch is training. And super fun obviously. Flat track too. It is hard to argue that these guys shouldn't be exercising the "sideways principle." Supermoto is solid training, although it has been a source of injury (Biaggi). A.Espargaro hurt himself karting of all things.

The merits/benefit of training on track w a non-MotoGP road race bike w/o the tires used in the series is dubious. You would be exercising bad habits w little transfer trying to take something from it to GP.

But I don't see equivalency with motocross, off track enduro etc and flat track/Rossi's ranch in terms of both training benefit and risk. No one really gets to tell these guys what to do. But like you I care a bunch. The school of hard knocks has lessons I would prefer one learn indirectly.

Heal quickly and pester the pointy end promptly Vale!

Motocross is as much for fitness as anything else, and any comments regarding appropriateness for "training" need to take that into account.

As anyone who has ridden both sports bikes and dirt bikes which is more of a physical workout and which is more accessible and you'll get your answers as to why even top level GP riders user motocross to keep race fit between events.

Plus there's the bike control aspect, feeling for grip, sliding, etc.  Those who totally write of motocross as being irrelevant to sports bike riding clearly just haven't ridden both to any real degree.

Motocross = Injuries.

It's a mug's game at this level. One that only increases the risk of failure. Ask Rossi.