Cheers erupt and all heads turn as the riders speed past the finish line all fanned out like a middle-ages cavalry charge. At the end of the straight line chaos settles in as there’s no way to tell who’s going to exit turn one in first place. The chaos remains all through the completion of the lap as turn after turn each and every corner seems to claim its fair share of the action. It’s fast it’s rabid, it’s full of drama and the crowd loves it. Sometimes it doesn’t even matter who wins because one thing is positive in the world of moto-racing, that it’s always the boldest, the fastest and the luckiest rider who wins the race.
It all started 1949 when the FIM (Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme) organized its first ever world championship for motorcycle racing. Initially there were several racing-classes based on engine size and two classes for sidecars ( 300cc and 500cc). the classes that the moto-GP started up with, included 50cc, 125cc, 250cc, 350cc, and 500cc.
Contrary to popular belief the world motorcycle championship was dominated by four-stroke engines in the early days ( 1950s and 1960s), the first two-strokers appeared in smaller capacity classes by the end of the 1960s. By the 1970’s there wasn’t a single four-stroke engine left in the championship as it became obvious that the two stroke power output for engines of 500cc and smaller was far superior to that of a similar capacity four-stroke.
Spaniards and Italians dominated the 50cc class which became 80cc class and soon after vanished from the schedule of the championship. In the 1980s the 350cc class was abandoned followed by the sidecar classes in the 1990s, thus the world motorcycle championship evolved to its modern lineup of 125cc, 250cc and 500cc classes. The 500 cc class, up until 2002 was restricted to four cylinders and 500cc capacity regardless of whether the engine was a two stroke or a four stroke one. After 2002 the maximum engine capacity for the former 500cc class was raised to 990cc, thus giving the green light for the invasion of the four stroke engines that had a much greater torque at the given engine capacity than the two-strokers. Being allowed the choice of three to six cylinders, put the last nail in the coffin of the two-stroker as it was completely abandoned all teams employing the much more beefy new four stroke engines.
The two stroke’s sun is only set though in the moto-GP class ( formerly 500cc class) as the 125 and 250cc classes still use two strokers exclusively with their cylinder numbers limited to one - in the 125cc class – and two in the 250cc.
Power and weight of the motorbike differs greatly from one class to another, one thing though seems to be a common feature of all top-level racing bikes: their astronomical prices. It is estimated that a top level motorbike costs a rider about 3 to 3.5 million dollars to race.
Some interesting rules-changes came into place as of 2005 in the world motorcycle championship, one concerning the 125cc class where - from 2005 – no rider older than 28 will be allowed to take part in the competition, also only riders younger than 25 will be allowed to take their first ever start in 125cc, and wildcards older than 25 will no longer be admitted to race.
The other interesting rule concerns the moto-GP class, where races will no longer be disrupted due to meteorological conditions. It will be up to the riders to decide when to change tyres and make adjustments during the actual race.
These rules are probably meant to make an already exciting sport even more fluid and free of unnecessary bumps that might lessen its entertainment value. Whatever the reason , the world motorcycle championship is set to keep viewers on the edge of their seats for a very long time to come.