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Predominant Types of Soil Used in Motocross Tracks

Posted On: 07/23/2020

To the casual observer, motocross tracks might look like dirt tracks—tilled earth formed into a circuit. There’s actually more to the soil composition of motocross tracks than meets the eye! Different tracks rely on different types of soils, which impact how bikes perform. For example, a mix of dirt and peat might offer better traction for younger riders, while some tracks use clay and hardpack for jump faces to prevent degradation.

Chances are, you’re not going to perform a soil sample test before hitting your local motocross track. Instead, consider some of the predominant types of soil used in tracks across the country and how they lend themselves to bike performance and track longevity.

  • Clay: Clay is tough on bikes—especially tires. It can also be tough on riders who have a spill. The benefits of clay are its resilience, which means less erosion of the track after heavy wear. The downfalls of clay are many—particularly that it’s rough on tires and can give riders traction issues.
  • Sand: Ever run through sand? Riding a motocross bike through it is kind of the same idea. San bogs bikes down and can cause havoc for your air filter. That said, some riders love sand because it offers predictable handling. If you keep the throttle rolled, it’s easy to get a feel for sandy soil.
  • Peat: Peaty soil is generally comprised of peat mixed in with topsoil or tilled earth. It’s a good standard for motocross tracks, as it offers superior traction with just enough give to support good maneuverability. There’s a lot of variability in how much peat a track might have, so it can take some getting used to.
  • Silt: Silty soil is a wetter, grippier option for motocross tracks. Like peaty soil, silty soil is generally mixed in with regular till to create a certain consistency. Many riders favor silty soil because it offers a certain slickness that helps the wheels play in and out of turns. Silty soil is fairly common on motocross tracks.
  • Loam: Loamy soil is the gold standard, beloved by any motocross rider. It’s the ideal mix of clay, silt and sand, offering sublime traction and grip, while still retaining enough moisture to ensure rider maneuverability. You’ll find loamy soil a-plenty throughout the Midwest—it’s a great crop-growing blend.

The soils above are generally listed from least appealing to most appealing in terms of general ridership. You’ll often find a mix of different soil types on tracks—even soil types beyond the ones listed above. Some tracks lay down sawdust if the soil is too slippery. Other tracks feature saline soil—soil with a high salt content that’s meant to reinvigorate hardpack soils on oft-used tracks. There’s also chalky soil (also called “till”) and straight up mud (oversaturated soil).

Many motocross tracks use different types of soil for different track conditions. Sandy straightaways offer a challenge for building speed, while silty soil on berm turn can improve traction headed into rollers. How the track is set up can determine the ideal soil, just as much as the soil can determine rider performance.

Good soil vs. bad soil

Is there a such thing as good soil vs. bad soil? Most motocross riders would say yes, based on how different soil types affect a bike. For example, heavy riding on clay soil can really hammer your bike and rattle the rider, since clay has no give to it. Likewise, everyone loves loam because of the consistency it offers and the relatively low impact on bikes.

While some soils are more beloved than others, it comes down to rider preference and the type of track. You’re not going to feel too good about sandy whoops or a rhythm section that’s silt-heavy. Conversely, you’re probably going to love an off-camber corner that’s peat-heavy or a jump that’s made of stable hardpack. Good vs. bad soil is a question of application.

Soil’s impact on your bike

While soil choice affects bike performance on the track, experienced motocross riders also know that soil type affects different aspects of your bike long after the race is over. For example, if a track has sawdust put down, that dust can kick up into your bike’s filter, requiring more frequent filter changes. Likewise, hardpack clay (blue groove) will absolutely kill your tires.

Before you hit the track, try to figure out what kind of soil you’re riding on. Knowing how to handle your bike and what to expect from the soil might give you the edge in your next race.