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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.

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.