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I recently had the opportunity to attend the world’s first sanctioned, all-electric motorcycle race.  It was the TTXGP event at the 102nd running of the Isle of Man TT.

The TT in itself is amazing– something everyone should see.  It originated in the days when there were no racetracks.  If you wanted to race, you closed roads and raced there.  It is one of the last races of this type with a 37.73-mile course winding around the British island.  There are relatively few slow corners.  Most of a lap is spent at top speed winding through small towns on narrow roads lined with stone walls that are many centuries old.

Run during the two weeks of racing was a special event for zero-emission motorcycles.  All of the entrants ended up being battery-powered and electric-motor-driven.  They consisted of regular streetbikes with electric motors unattractively shoe-horned in, like the race winning Agni, or purpose-built electric racers like the Mission One or the gorgeous Brammo Enertia TTRs.  Presentation ranged from the MotoGP-spec pit and equipment of Brammo and Mission to bikes that literally were built in a barn and looked like it.Race2

The atmosphere in the paddock was refreshing and one of how racing used to be.  Teams helped each other conquer the challenges of the new technology, and they socialized and dined together in the evenings.  Innovation abounded with many different takes on what would make a fast electric motorcycle.  All the bikes looked unique– not like the same bikes with different paint, as is the case with modern races.

But the treat was the performance.  In the technology’s racing debut, these motorcycles faced the world’s most challenging race circuit, and they came out looking good.  Top speeds were consistently over 100 mph with the fastest average-lap speeds about 80.  And spectators commented they looked as fast through the corners as any bikes that ran during the TT weeks.  Critics were quick to point out that these were speeds of bikes from the 1930s, but judging from the increase in performance from these bikes just during the week, they are going to be much faster next year.

Critics also lamented the lack of loud noise from the bikes.  They have a barely-noticeable whine in lieu of the traditional 100 db screaming that challenges motorcycling’s acceptance with the public.

But with this lack of noise I heard something that I have never heard at a motorcycle race– the fans.  As the bikes flew through the small towns fans would scream, cheer and clap– and you could hear it!  With as impressive and responsible as this race was, this cheering will only grow louder.

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On the eve of Round One of the AMA Supercross Championship, we look at the incredible success of Supercross and its strong fan base. But as more riders shift away from the Summer AMA Motocross events to run a Supercross-only season, we have to reflect on the jewel-in-the rough that AMA Motocross is.

The AMA Supercross Championship has become one of the strongest two-wheel racing properties in the world due to the extreme growth in off-road motorcycle sales, the promoting prowess of what was Clear Channel and is now Live Nation Motorsports and the sanctioning of the AMA. It fills the biggest stadiums in the U.S. for 16 winter and spring weekends. It provides the strongest ratings in U.S. motorcycle racing television. It also has the most non-endemic motorcycle racing sponsorship.

One of the big reasons behind this is the great fan experience. Where else can you see exciting motorcycle racing in a comfortable stadium seat with food and bathrooms nearby in a short-but-powerful program? It is a great way to watch motorcycle racing.

Attendance has grown as the industry has too. Fourteen-consecutive years of new-unit motorcycle sales growth and more than a 400% increase in off-road motorcycle sales has stocked the pond for adding new fans to the sport.

And the majority of the fans are motorcyclists—but not all. Many are there for the show, the action, the jumps, the noise or even, unfortunately, the crashes. They go to the monster truck events at the same venue the following week. They spend money at the event, but they may not be buying motorcycles. This is not necessarily good for the motorcycle manufacturers whose Motocross/Supercross racing programs is one of their biggest marketing expenditures.

Motocross on the other hand is not the comfortable, easily-digestible fan experience that Supercross is. It takes place outdoors on a track the travels up and down the hills of the natural terrain. One seat won’t show the fan everything, and the seat is probably just a dirt or grassy hillside. It’s likely hot and dusty, a couple miles of walking are needed to see the entire track and permanent restrooms are a rarity.

So it makes sense that the crowds of the 12 AMA Motocross Championships rounds are smaller—less than half that of Supercross. And growth is there, but not at the levels that Supercross has experienced.

To the motocross fan, though, this all-day outdoor dusty hike is heaven. Where else can you see the best Motocross riders in the world just a few feet away? You can get close enough to the track to see how much clutch they are using to get out of a corner or close enough to get hit by the roost off their back tires.

What this results in is fewer people, but a more concentrated pool of fans for the motorcycle industry. To withstand the more difficult experience of watching a Motocross race, it takes someone who has an incredible passion for the sport. It takes someone who is a rider and understands the conditions and appreciates the experience.

Data shows that the fans of AMA Motocross are more likely to own a motorcycle in their household, and they own an average of one more unit per household. They make up a more concentrated group of motorcycle consumers.

So while the motorcycle-related companies that sponsor Supercross and Motocross may get fewer eyeballs in their Motocross sponsorship exposure, they are getting a more-qualified audience. They may even experience greater efficiencies in reaching these potential customers.

But although the Supercross fan is not as likely to be a hard-core motorcycle enthusiast his or herself, and while the cost for reaching each motorcyclist may be higher in Supercross, all is not lost for the motorcycle business. These non-motorcyclists may become enthusiasts after seeing a Supercross race.

And data proves this to some extent. Supercross fans are 5% more likely to purchase a motorcycle in the next 12 months than Motocross fans. Many of these fans are likely new entrants to the sport. And branding them as they enter the sport will pay dividends to the companies involved in Supercross.

For the true fans, it’s great that we have both disciplines. It means being able to see more racing. To see it in comfort from a stadium seat with the family or to get right next to the track to see exactly how the riders can get through a section effortlessly that was so difficult when ridden by the fan on amateur day.

So get out and see both types of racing this year. One is not better than the other. They are better in their own ways—for the fans, and for those marketing to the enthusiasts that love the sport.