I have been working on a project about ways to help the sport of motocross grow at the grassroots level, When I say grow I mean grow in popularity and participation often people speak about growing the sport and mean growing it by getting more people to watch professional, I am focused more towards participation which I believe will also help grow popularity and help bring more viewers as well.
I am a lifelong Motocross fan and dirt bike enthusiast I have had a passion for dirt bikes for as long as I can remember, I began riding in the late 1980's and Started racing in 1990's
I began to notice participation was declining after the year 2000 and started then thinking about this subject and wondered if it would turn around and start growing again, I honestly thought it would, I though to myself there are big companies and smart insiders out there somewhere working on it and they will come up with new ideas to get the sport growing again, but that didn't happen motocross enthusiasts have watched the sport we love for the past 20 years slowly become smaller and smaller with lots of track closures and seemingly less and less participants every year. I can speak of first hand knowledge since the 1990's as I have paid personal attention and saw a noticeable decrease, but after further research and hearing stories about the times in the past when the sport was the most popular and active, I now know that the 1970's were the real heyday and the 1980's was actually when the sport started to decline, Even though the 1980's was still an active time in the sports history and they had more participants then we do now and bigger turnouts that continued well into the 1990's a Decline seems to have begun as early as 1981.
After lots of research and trying to find reasons why I think I have a pretty good understanding of the reasons now.
My first thought was simply cost, over the years bikes got more and more expensive even doubling and tripling in price, The economy also has had many ups and downs, As someone that has always been naturally drawn to Dirt bikes this is the reason that hit closest to home for me and that's the answer I accepted for many years as being the #1 reason. (Now I'm not so sure, Although it was the reason that I and I'm sure some others didn't participate at times)
There are other reasons as well. Another big one is Injury and fear of Injury, (I did a poll on facebook and injury or fear of injury was chosen as the number one answer by 1
tens of thousands of people.)
So I started looking into things that changed of the years with the bikes and the tracks going all the way back to the early 1970's and it seems that just evolution had a lot to do with it also. As the bikes improved over the years they got faster and lighter and suspension improved allowing for higher speeds and bigger jumps. The bikes improved drastically throughout the 1970's. By the early 1980's The bikes primarily being raced were liquid cooled 2 strokes with 10 plus inches of suspension travel.
A big big change from Dual shock 4 stroke's from the previous decade,
Hindsight is 20/20 but In my opinion it was easier for beginners to join in on much lower performance bikes. And even just the perception of watching guys race bikes such as Honda XR 80's gave a different perception to people, they would watch and think I could do that or that looks fun vs watching the higher performance motocross bikes that we evolved to which quickly became more dangerous and ultimately became to be considered an extreme sport. (As in extremely dangerous)
I believe if we could go back in time to the mid 1970's when 80cc liquid cooled 2 strokes first started being raced, And separate them into two different classes as apposed to them racing each other that would have had a drastic affect on the direction of the sport particularly when it comes to participation,
Had they made rules for a separate air cooled 4 stroke class (think XR80 and the like)
And another class for yz80, CR80 etc. etc. That would have then opened the door for Hundreds of thousands of kids to participate, More easily safely and affordably just as the did in the 1970's AKA the heydays of the sport....
This change could have also been recognized and implemented at any time in between then and now and still could be and should be.
I have many examples of times that small mellow air cooled four stroke dirt bikes started getting popular the late 90's had what's know as a mini craze in the industry, another is A popular race series within the industry called Lang town, A race that used 80cc race bikes that normally would have a liquid cooled 2 stroke motor, but removed that motor and instead replaced it with a air cooled 100cc 4 stroke motor. I truly thought that would revolutionize the sport, but it wasn't well known and was popular only within the industry.
Later in the mid to late 2000's there would be another mini craze with bikes like 110's had there been some great marketing and nationwide advertising along with some New rulers and race classes created it could have had a big effect. but sadly instead it quietly fizzled out.