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Feb 23, 2010

Top Ten Toughest Sports, Where's Dirt Biking/Motocross?

Want to know what the toughest sport is? Is it even possible to quantify somehow the conditioning, natural ability, training etc. necessary to compete in one particular discipline as compared to another? ESPN recently conducted a study, or a "degree of difficulty project" that attempted to do this. They took a list of a total of 60 different sports and had a panel of experts rate them on a set of pre-determined criteria. Each category would be worth ten points, with a total of ten categories for a total perfect score of 100. The results ranged from Boxing at 72.375 points at the #1 spot, all the way down to Fishing at 14.5 total points. So where did dirt biking come in? Apparently it doesn't fit in at all! Unbelievably, it was left out of the study. More unbelievable than that is that after receiving numerous complaints, the editor replied in a following article "Oh, and a note to all those motocross fans who organized themselves to flood my email with comments about what an idiot I am for leaving your sport off the list: I did not choose the sports for the list. But even if I had, I would never, under any circumstances, have included motocross. You're relying on a motor, for God's sake". It would be understandable if it had simply been overlooked, but to come back with a reply like this when AUTO RACING was included is kind of mind blowing. Keep in mind that I'm not claiming to be in great shape myself since I am nowhere near where I need to be to ride at a high level, however, had dirt biking been included in the study, I believe it would have been in the top ten! Here's why.

First, let's look at the criteria they used.

Apparently the general consensus was that even Fishing contained at least some of each element since there were none that received a zero avg. score in any category. Obvious to me, is that off road dirt biking contains a great deal of each element. When comparing Dirt Biking/Motocross to Auto Racing(ranked #32), it would be an easy argument that it would require a similar amount of NERVE, especially considering that on a dirt bike there is no protection such as a roll cage, car body etc. Considering that motorcycles travel at similar speeds as cars, can jump similar distance as a ski jumper, and as high as an Olympic diver, we can take some averages and assume it would receive a similar score, say a 9. Already we can see that it has to rate higher than #32 since it requires more or at least the same of all other 9 elements than Auto Racing.

What about STRENGTH? This is one area where the major misunderstanding about the sport starts. Thinking that you can just sit back and ride the bike like you would a car is not at all accurate. I recently watched Bodie Miller Ski in the Olympics. After just a relatively short run he was visibly winded, and after straining to reach a gate, he couldn't successfully finish one of his runs. How can this be when gravity is doing all the work? Just staying in a crouched position down a hill is difficult, now add in bumps, jumps, turns and speed and you can see why it requires strength. Now add a 230 pound dirt bike to the mix, a pulling, gyrating, 50+ horsepower machine that wants nothing more than to get away from you! It uses every muscle, legs, arms, torso constantly shifting weight, guiding the bike with legs and torso, holding on as the bike lurches forward, then pulling on the binders and keeping yourself from going over the bars. Many times it becomes necessary to aide the bike up a hill or onto a ledge, Yes, it does require strength! Skiing received a 5.75 on the strength scale, let's be conservative and give Dirt Biking a 6.

DURABILITY?, please. Dirt bike riders endure constant pounding in countless elements. Virtually every race you have riders going down, often in a heap, picking them and the bike back up and getting back into action. Ryan Dungey bounced back from this(pictured right) without even losing a place! One racer finished his section of baja with a broken leg! There's no replacements in dirt biking, if you get hurt you either race hurt or lose. BASKETBALL got a 7.75 in Durability! Dirt Biking deserves at least an 8!

Now let's look at ENDURANCE. Dirt bike racing can range from short sprints like Supercross to 1,000 mile or more multi-day races. Most are somewhere in between attempting to have some elements of sprint and endurance. Much like running, for example, if you are doing a sprint you are all out for 100 yards, 400 yards etc. the same holds true for dirt biking. The longer the race, the more you need to pace yourself and maintain that reserve. It takes different training techniques to excel in each discipline. Auto Racing got a 5.88, those who race baja know that dirt biking 1,000 miles is nearly impossible for one man. There are many trophy truck drivers, more strenuous than racing an indy car, that have done this. Dirt biking should at least be a 6 here. Doing the baja 1,000 should get a 9+! We'll go with the lower # here and call it an even 6.

POWER. Hefting a 230+ pound dirt bike is hard. Even lifting it up from a crash takes some effort, now imagine you are not on flat ground lifting up, or lifting the bike up a ledge, or over a log, rock, hill etc. that it will not climb. If the bike hits a rut, or dip, or sidehill that causes the bike to want to go where you don't want it to go, the momentum it gains is a lot to overcome in order to keep the bike on course and requires a burst of power. GOLF got a 6.13 here!, Tennis a 7.13! Dirt Biking gets a 7.

What about HAND-EYE COORDINATION? Many times the guy with the holeshot wins the race. When the gates drop is a mess getting the first turn, not to mention getting through in a position to place in the race. Throttle control is crucial quickly deciding how much to give and when can mean being successful or not. Reacting to a bump in the track, an opponent on the track, suddenly loosing or gaining traction. Riders actually do adjustments to their bike while in the air! Quick shifts are a constant chore to get the best power to the ground under different conditions, as well as feathering the clutch in and out of turns etc. Hitting a deep silt bed and keeping yourself from going over the bars, it all requires excellent hand-eye coordination. Auto Racing got an 8, Dirt Bike Racing/Motocross deserves an 8 too.

SPEED. Alpine skiing got a 7.38. Dirt biking requires the rider to move quickly all the time, shifting weight much like a skier would need to do to keep balanced, moving to the front or back of the bike, leaning, turning, carving, correcting flight in the air, so dirt biking gets a 7.

Next is AGILITY. Let's compare this to alpine skiing again that got a 6.13. Changing directions quickly is a big part of compensating when a rear tire slips out from under you. Quickly shifting your body weight is crucial. Dirt Biking scores a 6.

FLEXIBILITY. Unless your in to freestyle motocross, this wouldn't seem very important to me except to avoid injury, but if kayaking and canoeing gets a 3.88 and horse racing a 3.75, dirt biking deserves at least the same. Dirt Biking gets a 3.88 here.

Last is ANALYTICAL APTITUDE. Knowing when and how to make a critical pass, whether to go inside or out on a turn, triple the jump or double it, hit the throttle or pull the brake. Auto Racing got a 7.5, Horse Racing a 6.5, Dirt Biking get's the average of the 2, a 6.

What's the final score? Adding up all the scores gives Dirt Biking/off road motorcycle racing a 66.88. That's a 5th place finish! Recreational dirt bike riding is a lot like any other sport we choose to do recreationaly. We aren't up to the level of the pros, but we pretend to be sometimes. Choosing the intensity, difficulty, and dedication to put into it determines the "toughness" as compared to what is experienced at the top levels of these sports. Of course with any sport a leisure investment of yourself will produce leisure results. In other words, it is possible to sit on a bike and ride down the road and it's probably not that tough(compare this to about any other sport)..,but that's not what winning in this sport is all about. It's about pushing the limits, using every capacity we have to go faster, further, higher, longer than the guy next to you. The way you chose to ride when you recreate is up to you.

Here's the CORRECTED top ten with Dirt Biking/Motocross in place at #5. Think I'm wrong? Maybe, but it does belong in here somewhere. These arguments place it in the top ten where I believe it should be, #5, #10 etc. makes little difference. Don't agree? Tell us why! Think your sport belongs in the top ten? To see the entire top 60 as rated by ESPN click here, see where your sport ranked!


  1. Dirt bike racing can range from short sprints like Supercross to 1,000 mile or more multi-day races. Most are somewhere in between attempting to have some elements of sprint and endurance.

  2. Great Insight, Thanx for sharing such a useful information.

  3. walking in the mall, i give a 77.699788 for points

  4. This is really a very insightful post! especially for me who is not exposed to this type of sport. I think Dirt bike racing is really a fun sport and it really can pump up your adrenaline.

  5. In about 1978 I the swiss or danes actually did scientific testing using measuring devices for stress and fitness and these are the results

    1) Soccer
    2) Motocross

    Now times may have changed since then but unless there is a newer scientifc study I happy to stick with these ; )

  6. A lot of people don't realise how much strength and balance has to go into motocross and other fast paced or stunt bike sports. You need to be fit and well toned in order to be able to shift your weight quickly etc. It also helps to be healthy in the event of an accident so you can get back into the race line-up sooner.

  7. wresteling should be #2 after boxing

    wresteling is definatly harder than football in every way
    it a lot takes more endurance,speed, agility, flexibility, nerve, and analytical

    1. I agree with you there. There is no way in the world of the living that basketball can even come close to comparing in difficulty with wrestling. Football is tough, but still comes short of what is needed to be a wrestler. These results are bogus.

  8. Motocross should be in the top 5 and supercross should be #1. How dare that editor say the bike does all the work. He clearly has never ridden a dirt bike before!

  9. anything to do with a bike(for me its bmx) is tough as shit....and so is and wrestling is just a bunch of men in tight suits groping eachother yea thats gay

  10. Motocross is the hardest, most fun, and most cruel sport I have ever come to know. It sucks you in, chews you up, and spits you out with nothing to show for it except the smile on your face. I love the sport with all my heart and will try to go pro until the day I die. I also think supercross is a hard and exciting sport.

  11. gymnastics is 90% mental and 10% physical.
    its deserves a 9.00 for nerve for sure.
    and an 8.00 for strengh.
    Have you seen how strong they are????

  12. ok... gymnastics should def. NOT be #9. more in the top 3. i am a level 8 and i go to the gym 5 hours a day. and its HARD. if you think its number 9... think again and try a day in the gym. (: you will be sure to cryyyyy (;

  13. i say wrestling should be above football. in football you have to be strong and be able to survive pain but in wrestling it is almost 75% mental and if you are not fast you will not have any success. and you must have all they other abilites too so wrestling should be 2nd probally and it is definatly not gay like the other guy said

  14. Good article, recent USA Today.

  15. boxing is a martial art in my book wat bout rugby?

  16. Ok, so equestrian sports, #54??!! That is totally INSANE. Try jumping on a horse just 1meter and you'll see what I mean. And durability 2.75?!?! If you ride you are going to be falling off a LOT (trust me, I've ridden for 3 years and a 1/2 now, no joke) and you are falling off a really high LIVING,MOVING, creature. Equestrianism should be at least in the top 5, not only because of the skill you need,(and the other categories ESPN mentions) but because you are actually on a LIVING, UNREDICTABLE animal, which could kil you REALLY easily. Watch some equestrian videos on youtube,(especially of Show Jumping)and you'll see. Still think its easy? Let me see you try.

    1. AnonymousJuly 12, 2012

      i so agree! i have been riding for eight years and have taken lots of falls. These people should try getting on the back of a 1000 pound animal with its own brain and making it get over a solid object that is taller than you at fast speeds around sharp corners while looking good . then see if its easy i don't think so. Luckly in the olympic hardest sport thing it was the number one hardest sport so ya i may look easy but its not.

  17. To anyone on here that thinks their sport is the toughest, that's comparing apples to oranges. You can't do that, every sport has it's difficulties. Some more than others, different parts etc. To anyone that says come try this, there's no way I could ever step into a ring with Ali, or do an olympic gymnast routine, or play hockey in the NHL. Waay over my head.

    But let me say this, the majority of people know those sports are difficult because they've either seen or expierenced them. You get to watch them on tv, or you can go into your local town and watch an event in which athletes compete. And for the most part, to the average fan/onlooker, those sports (most, not all) range of difficulty (meaning the appearance of someone who is decent at a local level, compared to a top professional) isn't a whole lot different.

  18. But motocross on that list is. Motocross is one sport that doesn't apply to anything in that last paragraph. To anyone on this site, or wherever else in the world, motocross is a joke. If a kid wants to go to the park and experience the play of basketball, he can to the best of his ability. He will find that it does require skills and physical ability. If little Suzie wants to learn gymnastics, she can go to the front yard and learn the basic cartwheel and bar hanging on the clothes line. She also realizes it's hard. But little Jonny can't just go out and ride a dirtbike by themselves, it just won't happen. Why? One, most parents don't have small motorcycles laying around; that's understandable. Two, it's too difficult. Period. Think about it, how many of you reading this can get on a dirtbike, start it, and just simply ride in a straight line across the front yard. I'd be willing to bet the majority couldn't, if you don't believe me I'm sure you could find it on youtube. That's just describing the basic physical fundamentals of riding a dirtbike. Not even coming close to some of you all who would be scared to death when you actually are put to the test, most basic mental fundamental. I just don't understand how little Pudge on the high school football team that can't see his own manhood because of his beer gut can set their and say what he does is the hardest.

    Alright so you've started the bike, gotten over your fear and begin to ride. You start riding in a circle in the back yard for ten minutes and you say, "this is easy, how is this demanding at all." It isn't, I totally agree. Joy ride. But neither is tossing the pigskin 5 yards to your buddy across the driveway. Or walking on a small balance beam, riding a pony at the local fair, or beginning to learn how to ice skate with a crate at the local rink. The real test becomes when you begin to push yourself.

    You get yourself to a field beside your house, your buddy makes a small loop with some cones from the highway. You ride around hitting third gear, thinking you're billy badass. (Stereotypical guy with no helmet on, a cutoff, steel-toes, wranglers, and a spatch in.) You build a small "ramp", I guess that's what oustsiders would call it. You and your friends hit the whopping 18 inch mound, get a foot of air on your polaris 4x4 farm quad and brag to all the kids at school the next day. Shoutout to the girl on the horse above this who jumped 5 feet of air and is the gnarliest girl out there. Right on BRO. Now you're ready for the big leagues right? How hard could it be to do jumps, turns, and race on a "real" track? Piece of cake.

    1. AnonymousJune 04, 2015

      Ok first of all were talking about motocross not riding in the backyard.

  19. That local high school football game, hockey game, basketball game, baseball, etc. The real "athletes" go and compete in a Friday night event, with the whole town to see. Running, skating for a whole 5 minutes and being replaced by a fellow member of the team. They get 20 minutes of pretty hard cardiovascular testing, with ample water breaks in between. Then all the real athletes go to their buddies house, drink a fifth, and 6 pack, smoke a few, and crash. They have to celebrate the big win over cross town rival right? That's what someone who's really athlete does. Hey, it's tough.

    Okay, back to Scoot who's going to the local fairground dirtbike race. He's ready to go, got his friends from school, his girlfriends, and his boss from the 7-11 down the street. It's his first time on a track, but hey if he can do it in the field, he can take it to the track. He's

    getting ready to go, but is shocked when he get's to the starting gate. How many people is he racing against? He thought it'd be like car racing, a few guys lining up taking off one behind the other. He saw that on TV a few times, it's pretty similar right? Oh &*^#, I have to race 41 of these guys, taking off at the same time? That's so sketchy! Scoot's manhood begins to crawl back inside his stomach. Not feeling as confident, Scoot's dead last, crashes 5 times, doesn't jump anything (but hey, it's just like that so called "ramp" down at the farm he told his friends about), and realizes, dang this actually pretty tough.

    He gets off the bike, and his buddies wonder, "what's wrong with you dude?" He gets pretty dang tired, in the short 4 lap race, at very slow speeds, and a very simple track. No one except him can understand why it's so difficult but himself.

  20. I've always wondered this, do people who actually have seen some sort of motocross race actually think your heart rate is calm and normal? That's just one simplistic way of describing the toughness of it.

    Scoot goes to the nearest professional event, and actually gets to see the top guys race for the first time. He looks at the track, wow these jumps are much much bigger than anything I've ever seen before. 20 ft. tall, over a 100 feet in length at times!? Not only that, these guys are cutthroat, and super aggressive! Those jumps aren't smooth though, they have ruts all across the takeoff, ranging in multiple feet of depth. These guys are coming up to these jumps, at 60+ mph and trying to have the mental mindset of, "I'm going to go over 20 feet in the air, a 100 feet in length, a few feet away from the next competitor?" But it doesn't stop there, they're trying to see which one of those 12 ruts is the best one to take! Process that, along with the dirt of the competitors bike in front of you being sprayed in your face, and the sun casting shadows that are blinding you. Most people can't decide which traffic lane to go into at 45 down main street, much less that. Scoot is in shock.

    He sees that the track's condition is nothing like the field back at his house either. There are 2 and 3 foot tall bumps everywhere, ruts shin high, and different elevation changes all through the track. Those ruts upwards to over 30 feet in length, are just like huge balance beams. It's also pretty hot outside. His football buddies back home had practice cancelled because it was too hot. Why aren't these guys stopping, they're in much more gear as well! The heat index is over 120 and these guys are going crazy! After a few minutes of watching, Scoot thinks the race should be over after the first few laps, but they keep going. 35 minutes worth of going. But hey, those football guys go 8 seconds and then get a water break from coach, those are the real athletes. That gymnast has the minute and half routine, she thinks she's the toughest thing on earth.

  21. The first race of the day ends, and Scoot is in disbelief. He goes to the finish line, and the podium where the top guys are awaiting some time on the microphone only to be in disgust. The guy who won is throwing up behind stage in his boxers, second and third place are in their skibbies getting buckets of water poured on them, sipping pedialite, disoriented, while they are suggested to get IV's. Not only that, he looks out across the field and sees a Medical Helicopter lifting off, one of a few crashes left a competitor paralyzed on the track. He later finds out that the young professional has passed away. But hey, those basketball guys with the sprained ankles and scratches to the forearms on TV, those are the real athletes.

    That's the real motocross in a nutshell, I'm not going to get into the training regimen, dieting, of the top professionals. I'm not dogging anything else, or degrading anythig. I think MMA and Boxing are some of the gnarliest things in this world. Kudos to all the athletes. Every sport has it's own difficulties. All I'm asking is that you give moto a little more respect that what it has. IMO, it truly deserves to be on National Television constantly, the riders getting paid salaries equivalent to that of NBA players, and more people getting involved to feel the enjoyment I have when I ride a motorcycle. But life isn't always that way, I figured I'd put my two cents in and give anyone reading this a little insight on what it's really about. Thanks.

    Two Videos that may help give some visual aid, just random, good videos: (Professional Race, Huge Crash, and watch the end) ( A small bit of Ricky Carmichael's training program)

  22. I don't know how I came across this site but, I do agree that motocross has to be in the top ten list. Having raced for many years in high school. I actually quit football because we stood around after every play - that's sure tough. Basketball was harder as you were running all of the time. Nonetheless, put anybody on a machine that beats you to death "non-stop" i.e. no huddles, no time outs :-) for up to 40 minutes and see how many fair. The idea that a (motor) is doing all the work is the goofiest thing I've ever heard.
    At least we don't race on "Astro-dirt"! I'll bow out now. B.K.S.

  23. NO!!! figure skating is (one of) the hardest sport, phisically and mentally, whether people like it or not. and motorcross should be given more credit so if u agree, look up top ten hardest sports, click on top ten hardest sports, and see that motorcross came in number 5!!! here are the REAL top ten hardest sports. (these are phisical and mental)
    1. gymnastics
    2. swimming
    3. water polo
    4. horse back riding
    5. motorcross
    6. figure skating
    7. competition cheerleading
    8. golf
    9. pole vaulting
    10. bull riding

    there are tons of soccer players in my grade that think they're the most athletic people in the world. sometimes people (mostly soccer players) come up to me and say "what sport do u do?" and im like "figure skating" and they're like "oh wow that's easy you should try soccer it's way harder than figure skating" and im like "you try it and then tell me it's harder than soccer"

  24. Has anyone even thought of a Harescramble or Hard Enduros?