The adrenaline rush is what makes us feel alive. For most, a go around on your favorite roller coaster or even a speedy ride on the open road is enough to get the blood pumping with excitement.
But others need a little more power or competition to get their fix. These motorcycle riders use extreme precision, speed or danger to push their bikes and their bodies to the absolute limit. Take a look at our list of top 6 extreme motorcycle sports to find out what kind of adrenaline junkies are out there.
Enduro racing is easily the most grueling and tiring sport on this list. These riders are usually on long, natural landscape “courses” that have no real defined path for them to maneuver on. They are crawling over rocks in dried river beds, trying to drive through ditches and having to stop to drag or push their bikes using brute strength every hundred yards or so.
Watching Enduro racing is equal parts frustrating and awe-inspiring as you watch these dirt bike riders struggle to push themselves through what feels like a never-ending stream of impossible obstacles that the normal rider would have given up on at the first turn.
The skills needed for Enduro are endurance and strength more than speed. The true champions of Enduro racing seem to never tire and never back down from what’s in front of them as they constantly drag, lift, push and sometimes even throw their off-road bike through obstacles to keep from getting permanently stuck.
The Tennessee Knockout is known as one of the hardest Enduro races out there and it does not look like the most pleasant experience. Many riders have such an unending commitment to finishing that they’d even carry their dirt bike halfway up the mountain if they have to. Then others seem to have lost their will to go on like the rider at 8:12 in this video who just wants to take a long nap instead of going through one more obstacle.
Enduro racing is still relatively small compared to other motor sports, but in our opinion, it is the most physically demanding of its riders.
The X-Trials sport is an extreme version of ‘the floor is lava’ but for motorcycles. This sport of balance and precision consists of bouncing your bike over different obstacles without touching your feet down or wobbling.
The amount of balance these riders have is unheard of, and their dirt bikes are tailored specifically for always being poised on that back wheel by making it much larger than the front. Though X-Trials isn’t as dangerous as other widely acclaimed motorsports it brings a different energy and skillset to the motorcycle family that is almost ballet-like. This alternative skillset is needed to round out a world that is usually only concerned about power and speed.
X-Trials has a more traditional sports layout than Enduro, with the ultimate goal to have the least amount of points against you. Points are added for every foot touch, wobble or fall off the obstacles. The courses themselves are even interesting to look at, artificial wooden logs stacked in difficult formations, giant cubes that appear to have been stacked by a giant toddler, or painted tires precariously stacked on top of each other that sway when the motorcycle lands on them. Not only are the motorcycle stunts themselves fascinating to watch but the obstacles create the feeling of a sculpture gallery to support the artistry of these riders.
When you think ‘death-defying stunts’ you probably think of the iconic red, white and blue wearing Evel Knievel jumping over the Grand Canyon (which he actually didn’t do, his son Robbie Knievel did in 1999). The original extreme motorsport, these stunts have been drawing crowds since the 1960’s and the stakes have only gotten higher with time.
As an example, Knievel’s first public stunt was a jump over 2 lions and a box of rattlesnakes. He ended up botching the landing by clipping the snake box, letting all the snakes loose while the spectators ran down the mountain to get away as handlers tried to wrangler their slithering escapees.
At the height of his career his most extreme jump was over the Caesar’s Palace fountain in Las Vegas in 1967. His jump was 141 feet, which he did make to the safety ramp but botched the landing, causing multiple fractures and a 29-day coma that broke his body but skyrocketed him to fame when ABC aired the footage. He did have other, successful stunts in his career, but he would have many more near fatal crashes as well.
His last stunt was a Jaws inspired jump over the world’s largest saltwater pool filled with ‘man-eating’ sharks of the harmless lemon and blue variety. This jump was supposed to be less risky than his previous jumps, with a shorter distance and sedated sharks in case everything did go wrong. He had been able to stick the landing in most practices but on his last one he cleared the tank but landed awkwardly and crashed hard not only breaking his right forearm and his collarbone but also taking out a cameraman in the process.
This style of extreme sport is more popular for the failures and falls than the successes. Knievel even knew that the extreme wipeouts were a huge part of his fame and it’s part of why he couldn’t continue jumping. For the same reason that fail videos always have millions of views online, spectators as a whole love to watch the morbidly fascinating. Daredevils can only chase that kind of fame for so long before the ultimate price is paid.
Modern daredevil stunts are done today in a wide variety of styles, some are jumps like Knievel’s where others drive through fire or create balancing acts with multiple people on a single bike. The possibilities are endless and the risk is always getting higher as new daredevils enter the scene and try to outdo their predecessors, creating a never ending line of dangerous performances to try and outdo.
Irish Road Racing
Once a year since 1907 the small Isle of Man off the coast of Ireland is completely taken over by superbikes racing through towns and winding roads going almost 200 mph. The Isle of Man TT is a week-long competition where hundreds of racers go as fast as they can for the top scores. This sleepy island is so immersed into the superbike culture even some of the churches have stained glass windows depicting the race right next to the traditional saints and apostles.
The sport is divided into two types of teams, the privateers that are essentially ‘mom and pop’ groups comprised of individuals trying to work their way up the ladder to the top sponsored teams. Big names like Honda, BMW and Kawasaki spend hundreds of thousands of dollars perfecting their high-speed superbikes to win each and every race they can by sponsoring the best of the best riders.
Throughout the week, there are multiple races both head-to-head or timed on the 37-mile track that all culminate in the Senior TT for the top prize and ultimate acclaim. This race takes over an hour to complete and these racers are going so fast the world is just a blur of greenery and grey road. During the head-to-head race they are speeding literal inches away from each other on winding, unpredictable roads that can even be slick from rain to add an extra obstacle into the mix.
The course is so dangerous at these top speeds that at least one rider every year has a fatal crash. Families of these racers try and stay calm when their loved ones line up on the track, but the probability of death is always looming. One racer in this documentary film states that he wouldn’t want to go out any other way. Before the race begins, he goes around to his family and “says goodbye without saying goodbye” just in case something does go catastrophically wrong.
“They’ve gone out doing what they loved, and they’ve said goodbye to everyone that they’ve needed to. How can you ask for more as a human being?”
If a racer dies, which one always does, the other racers always go on with the race. It’s a way to honor that racer and the sport that they loved. A pastor in the same documentary speaks about how the community honors their deaths and yet continues to go on. He states that the families of the deceased wouldn’t want the racing to stop, because the racer wouldn’t have wanted it to stop. They loved the sport and thrived on it. They would want it to continue no matter the ultimate sacrifice that they have paid.
These racers thrive on the danger, even after a detrimental crash, which at that speed the riders almost always end up with at least a hospital stay, they simply say “I’ll do better next year” and get back on the bike. This style of extreme riding is our most death-defying on this list, so much so that this race was taken off the Motorcycle Grand Prix calendar in 1977 for being too dangerous for the International Motorcycle Racing Authorities to condone. But the racers still flock, and the show always goes on.
Circus and sideshow riding like the “Globe of Death” and vertical wall riding are an easily accessible way for the public to see daredevil racing stunts live. These riders are on either dirt bikes or vintage motorcycles going at top speeds weaving in and out of formation close enough to high five each other as they go. These stunts have the same draw of morbid curiosity that daredevil jumps do and are more popular for the failures than the successes. Luckily these stunts are usually not as death-defying as the giant leaps of daredevil riding, but they can still be extremely dangerous, especially with the fact that if a rider falls in the metal sphere there is nowhere to get out of the way of the other speeding bikes. The Wall of Death at carnivals will sometimes even add in full sized cars into the mix, but luckily if someone falls off their bike they skid into the bottom of the pit which gets them out of the line of fire to minimize being trampled on by other vehicles. A great adrenaline rush to bring the kids to with a minimized risk of watching someone get seriously injured.
X-Games is the most well known of the motorcycle sports and seems to bring in the widest audience with yearly broadcasting on giant networks like ESPN. These extreme dirt bike riders make massive leaps off ramps and then pull their dirt bikes into multiple backflips over their heads while they sometimes keep only a single hand on the bike. The tricks have names like “heart attack flip” or “kiss of death” which are absolutely appropriate names for the death-defying tricks these riders do.
As one of the biggest motorcycle sports these riders race on sponsored teams like Yamaha, Suzuki and even Harley-Davidson has been known to throw it’s hat into the ring making the rewards large and the fame prolific for riders who win medals for each competition.
The X-Games is really where artistry comes into motor sports with creating and executing new tricks and styles to up the ante for each race the riders participate in. The crowd and commentators go wild for heavy front flips and full on jumps over handlebars before landing perfectly on the other side of the jump.
The injuries of this sport can be as small as a dislocated shoulder that can just be popped back in before continuing the run to hospital stays and possibly death. Though unlike daredevil stunts or circus performances the tricks and energy itself is enough to keep an audience enthralled without morbid curiosity being the main draw. X-Games riding is the perfect summation of what people think of when they think motorsports. Young, high energy and fearless. The X-Games absolutely delivers.
These sports have an extra level of danger and skill on top of regular racing. They’re great to watch either on TV or live but please don’t try these at home.