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History of the Sport

Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM)

Founded in 1904, the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) is an organization that provides an international voice for motorcycle enthusiasts. The FIM has headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland and seeks to protect the rights of motorcyclists and enrich the motorcycling community. Events ranging from scenic tours to international motocross and Grand Prix championships are organized and regulated by the FIM. They provide the administrative structure and technical regulations that define the many classes of competition.

Among many its other roles, the FIM functions as an independent judiciary that provides conflict arbitration and enforces racing regulations. All races that are sanctioned by the FIM have rigid procedural and technical mandates that are vigorously enforced. Riders are held to a high standard of sportsmanship and must pass stringent drug tests in order to compete. Racing machines must also pass in depth technical inspections, both pre- and post-race.

The Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) first organized a World Championship for motorcycle racing in 1949. There have traditionally been several races at each event for various classes of motorcycles based on engine size. Classes for 50 cc, 80 cc, 125 cc, 250 cc, 350 cc, and 500 cc single-seaters have existed over time, and 350 cc and 500 cc sidecars. Up through the 1950s and most of the 1960s, four-stroke engines dominated all classes. In the 1960s, two-stroke engines began to take root in the smaller classes. By the 1970s, two-strokes completely eclipsed the four-strokes. The 50 cc class was replaced by an 80 cc class, then the class was dropped entirely in the 1990s. The 350 cc class vanished in the 1980s. Sidecars were dropped from World Championship events in the 1990s, reducing the field to 125s, 250s, and 500s.back to top

Grand Prix classifications

MotoGP, the premier class of GP motorcycle racing, has changed dramatically in recent years. From the mid-1970s until 2002 the top class of GP racing was restricted to four cylinders and 500 cc, regardless of whether the engine was a two-stroke or four-stroke. Consequently, all machines were two-strokes, due to the greater power output for a given engine capacity (produced up to 190 horsepower).

In 2002, rule changes permitted manufacturers to choose between running two-strokes engines (500 cc or less) or four-strokes (990 cc or less). The new four-stroke machinery proved to have too many advantages over their two-stroke rivals (up to 250 horsepower), and, as a result, by 2003 no two-stroke machines remained in the MotoGP field. The 125 cc and 250 cc classes still consist exclusively of two-stroke machines. For the 2007 season the capacity of the MotoGP machines has been reduced to 800cc in an attempt by the FIM to limit top speeds and improve safety. Early tests have shown that the 800cc machines do have a slightly slower top speed, but are capable of higher corner speeds than the larger 990cc machines were. back to top

Two-stroke versus four-stroke

The 500cc bikes of the late 1990s and early 2000s were brutal machines. Light, agile, and extremely hard to ride. These machines were brilliant race bikes and made for very entertaining and competitive racing. The FIM, however, decided that a change was needed to improve the quality of the sport. Two-stroke technology had reached a plateau, and the FIM wanted to ensure that Grand Prix racing did not become stagnant.

To ensure that there was continual technological evolution, the FIM decided to rewrite the regulations for 2002 and allow 990cc four strokes to compete with the 500cc two strokes. The results were spectacular. The 990cc configuration was immediately competitive and the bikes looked and sounded like the sport bikes available to consumers on the showroom floor. By 2003 there were no 500cc two stroke bikes racing in the MotoGP championship.

The decision to alter the regulations for the 500cc class had a very positive effect for motorcyclists. The technologies that are developed for the four stroke race bikes directly apply to road going sport bikes. Current production bikes are easier to ride, have more power, handle better, have better brakes and better tires, and are evolving at an accelerated rate due to advances made in MotoGP racing. back to top


Safety is an obvious issue when you have 15-20 motorcycles capable of over 200mph competing for the same three inches of race track. The FIM bases many of their technical regulations on concerns for rider and spectator safety. In the early days of Grand Prix racing, races were held on closed off streets or racetracks designed for car racing. Protective gear was similarly simple, consisting of leather pants, jacket, gloves, a pair of goggles and an open faced helmet. In those times, crashes were often fatal, and spectators were at risk of being hit by debris or even the occasional cart-wheeling race bike.

Today, the FIM closely inspects each track that wants to hold Grand Prix races and judges if the track meets the necessary guidelines for safety. Developing safe racetracks has been a long struggle for the motorcycle racing community. Race tracks designed for car racing often use reinforced concrete barriers to prevent an out of control vehicle from leaving the racetrack. This strategy protects spectators and allows them to get closer to the racing action, but is not suitable for motorcycle racers. Tracks must have large smooth runoff areas so that a fallen rider can slide to a stop without hitting any kind of barrier. The tracks that are FIM approved for Grand Prix use are all either designed with motorcycles in mind or have been substantially modified to improve safety for riders.

Despite the efforts of the FIM, accidents do happen in Grand Prix racing. In the first race of the 2003 MotoGP season a Japanese rider named Daijiro Kato slammed into a wall and was put into a coma. He died in the hospital two weeks later. The incident happened at Suzuka, an older Japanese track known for being brilliant and beautiful, although somewhat dangerous. The FIM no longer stages Grand Prix races at Suzuka for safety reasons. back to top


Motorcycle crashes are usually one of two types: lowsides and highsides. A lowside is when the motorcycle falls onto the side closest to the ground. Lowsides are mostly caused by the front tire losing grip, usually from cornering too sharply or using too much front brake. A highside is when a motorcycle flips in the opposite direction of the turn. Highsides occur from the back tire losing grip, starting to spin and slide, and then suddenly achieving grip which, in turn, catapults the rider off of the motorcycle into the air. back to top

Protective gear

The protective gear worn by Grand Prix racers is highly specialized and very effective. Falls at 100mph are common and injuries are surprisingly uncommon and usually fairly minor. The suits that riders wear are made from kangaroo hide, a material that has proven to be highly abrasion resistant. The suits have strategically placed padding that helps to dissipate the force of a fall. The boots and gloves that riders wear are commonly reinforced with carbon fiber and designed to maximize freedom of movement while preventing joints from bending in the wrong ways. Above any other form of protection, riders depend on their helmets for survival. Helmets are commonly made from advanced composite materials and are extremely lightweight and strong.

A vivid illustration of the effectiveness of modern protective gear came at Mugello during the 2004 MotoGP season when the rear tire of Kawasaki rider Shinya Nakano exploded at around 200mph. Nakano hit the ground hard and tumbled to a stop far off the track without breaking any bones or suffering a concussion. One week later Nakano was back on track at Catalunya and placed seventh, his highest placement for his team yet that season. back to top

  1. F.I.M.
  2. Official MotoGP Website
  3. Crash.net
  4. MotoGP in Wikipedia
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