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The Story Behind Supermoto

by Justin Dake

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​We all know and love Supermotos, but how did it all begin? What does the word Supermoto actually mean? To find out, we need to travel way back in time… to the 1960s.

Ancient History

vintage yamaha supermoto

A vintage Yamaha XT Supermoto (source).

In the 1960s, primetime TV was the new standard for entertainment. The mainstream sports in the USA were football, baseball, and basketball, and coverage of any other sport was hard to come by. If you wanted to watch something obscure –strong-man competitions, auto racing, motorcycles or even surfing – you had to go see it in person.

Then, ABC came along and started running a 90-minute weekly program called Wide World of Sports. At 5:00 pm every Saturday, Americans were treated to a slew of “strange” sports: the Indy 500, the Monaco Grand Prix, Wimbledon, and the X Games would all make their television debuts on this program in the coming decades.

Wide World of Sports had the power to turn an obscure pastime into a national obsession. British racing promoter Gavin Trippe knew this, so he pushed for ABC to feature his newest idea: a race that pitted road bike and dirt bike riders against one another for the first time. Combining the high speeds of road racing, the hard-packed jumps of motocross, and the wide dirt sweepers of flat track racing, “Superbikers” made its debut on Wide World of Sports in 1979 – and the world loved it.

The tough courses demanded a super-capable machine that was equally at home on dirt and pavement. And thus, a new breed of bike – the Supermoto – was born.


A New Breed of Bike

harley supermoto

The Harley-Davidson XG750R is a mean modern take on a pure vintage racer (source).

The key ingredients for a Supermoto were high ground clearance, long-travel suspension, bigger brakes, 17-inch wheels (down from the 18s and 21s found on dirt bikes), a torquey engine, tall gearing, and an aggressive riding posture. Smaller bikes were loved for their flickability and mechanical simplicity. 

Most early Supermotos were modified Honda CRs, Yamaha YZs, and Suzuki RMs, mostly single-cylinder two-stroke bikes ranging from 125cc up to 450cc. Over the years, names like Kawasaki, Husqvarna, and Indian got involved in building Supermoto bikes, and as time went on these bikes made more and more power from the same displacement. That meant speeds were faster, jumps were bigger… and danger was higher.

Throughout the 80s and 90s, the popularity of Supermoto rose in Europe but fell in the United States. It wasn’t until 2003, when the AMA hosted their first Supermoto Championship, that the sport found itself on the world stage once again. Today competition is fierce, fun, safe, and open to anyone. The AMA Supermoto National League is still on top in the United States, while Supermoto UK is a driving force for the greater Europe. If you’re in the US and want to meet other enthusiasts or take a stab at racing yourself, check out the West Coast, East Coast, Southwest, and Utah hubs of Supermoto activity and find a way to get involved. Supermoto racing has come a long way since Superbikers, but major OEMs have kept that original spirit alive: Harley Davidson’s XG750R, KTM’s Super Enduro, and Ducati’s Hypermotard are some of the craziest road bikes of today, and they all have Supermoto in their DNA.



Supermoto: A Way of Life

supermoto lifestyle

Supermoto is life (source).

The word Supermoto has come to embody not just the bikes, but the entire culture of riding without limits. The concept is the same as it was in 1979: get a go-anywhere bike that’s a beast in the dirt and on the road, and ride the wheels off it.

Modern innovation means bikes are putting more power to the ground than ever before, and factory-built Supermotos now include ABS, traction control, and electronic riding modes that help the rider make the most out of every kind of terrain. The factory SMs are great bikes, but if you’re looking for the original Supermoto experience, what you really want is to ride a dirt bike on the street.

If you’re shopping around for the perfect dirt bike to convert for street use, here are some tips on how to find the right bike. If you already have one, you know the conversion is easy – you mainly need some street-legal parts and some wheels.

Can’t wait to get on your bike again? Sign up for an adventure motorcycle tour and make it memorable! 

Article originally published on Dirtlegal.com

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