Who Invented the Dirt Bike?

Have you ever been having the time of your life riding your dirt bike and silently thanked the genius who first thought of this awesome hobby? If you’ve ever wondered who invented the dirt bike, this is the article for you!

Some historians say that Soichiro Honda is the inventor of the dirt bike because he popularized them; however, the more accurate answer is that Siegfried Bettmann invented the dirt bike in 1914. Bettmann’s invention is the first true attempt to take motorcycles off of the main roads and onto rougher terrains.

Before Bettmann’s invention, motorized vehicles were reserved strictly for paved roads. Keep reading for more information on how bicycles became motorcycles and how motorcycles became dirt bikes.

The First Motorized Bikes

The first known motorized bike was invented in the 1860s in France. Named the Michaux-Perreaux steam velocipede, this bike attached a Louis-Guillaume Perreaux steam engine to a Pierre Michaux bicycle. The steam velocipede was a single cylinder and was fueled by alcohol. There was a steam gauge above the front wheel, and riders could engage and regulate the steam to the engine with a hand controller. One of the largest downfalls of this motorized bike was that it had no brakes, making it a dangerous ride.

Some historians say that the Michaux-Perreaux steam velocipede was the first motorcycle; however, whether or not it was the first can’t be determined because the exact production date is unknown– all that is known to historians is that this motorbike was invented in the 1860s.

Competing for the title of “First Motorcycle” is the Roper steam velocipede. Named after its creator, the Roper steam velocipede was invented by Sylvester H. Roper in Roxbury, Boston, Massachusetts. As with the Michaux-Perreaux steam velocipede, the exact production date for the Roper steam velocipede is unknown. All historians know is that it was invented between 1867 and 1868.

Also competing for the title of “First Motorcycle” is the Daimler Reitwagen. Also named after its creator, the Daimler Reitwagen was invented by Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach, two German inventors. It was produced nearly 20 years after the Michaux-Perreaux steam velocipede in 1885.

The reason that the Daimler Reitwagen is in the running for “First Motorcycle” is that it is inarguably the most advanced of the three, and it is closest to what we know today as a motorcycle. One of its key features is that it had an internal combustion engine. This motorized bike was powered by gasoline, a power source that had only a few years prior been first utilized for cars.

In the years following these three inventions, similar bikes were created; manufacturers all over the globe recognized the popularity of and desire for motorized bikes.

Dirt Bikes in the Early 1900s

Progressively throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, people developed what became known as the motorcycle. Motorcycles became what dirt bikes were primarily modeled after– what Bettmann attempted to adapt to be used on dirt roads and other rough terrains.

Bettmann’s dirt bike included dropped frames for a lower riding position and semi-automatic lubricator. These qualities were thought to give the bike a wide range of ridable terrains; however, they were not enough. Bettmann’s dirt bike fell short because it was still too similar to what was being ridden on main, paved roads.

Mid-20th-Century Dirt Bikes

After Bettmann, there is very little known about the evolution of dirt bikes until the 1940s-1960s when dirt bikes had a second beginning. Between the 1940s and 1960s, dirt bikes became extremely popularized. Some historians and dirt bikers argue that the popularization of dirt bikes was all due to Soichiro Honda’s influence. Truthfully, though, the brand that’s truly responsible for the “second beginning” of dirt bikes during the mid-20th-century can’t be determined because there was such a great explosion of production during that time that no brand truly outshines the others.

Honda

Soichiro Honda played a very large and important role in popularizing motorcycles in the 1950s. Honda’s goal was to make riding motorcycles a mainstream activity, rather than one that was reserved for “bad boys.”

Honda was wildly successful in the integration of motorcycles into mainstream society. In response, people tested the limits by riding their motorcycles off the road and into the grass, back roads, and other unpaved areas.

Honda responded to the high demand for an off-road vehicle that he faced by redesigning the motorcycle into what we now know as a dirt bike. His redesigned motorcycle featured stronger suspension, larger tires, and better tread patterns. All of Honda’s improvements led to better traction and increased rideability on rough terrain.

Suzuki

Suzuki’s company began in Japan in 1909 but began producing its first mid-20th-century dirt bikes when World War 2 began and there was a need for cheap transportation that was smaller than a car but faster than a bike.

The bike that Suzuki invented was called the Power Free and was not much different from the bikes being invented earlier that century. The Power Free hit the market in 1952. It featured a 36cc two-stroke engine that was strapped to a regular bicycle frame.

About ten years later in 1965, Suzuki produced what was called a “trail bike.” The trail bike featured an 80cc two-stroke engine, tires with heavier traction, a raised sport-type front fender, spring-loaded folding foot pegs, and a skid plate.

Suzuki’s first dirt bike that most closely resembles what we know today as a dirt bike was available for purchase and racing in 1969. The bike was called the TS Series, and was put out on the market with the TM Series, TC Series, TF Series, and DS Series. Each of these dirt bikes had different purposes, but all of them brought Suzuki great success.

KTM

KTM began in Austria in 1934 and was owned by Hans Trunkenpolz. During World War 2, KTM survived by repairing vehicles used in war. Once the war was over, though, KTM began selling motorcycles because cars were too expensive for post-war society.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that KTM bikes began to gain popularity, but once they did, they had incredible success and extremely rapid production rates and growth. Ever since, KTM has been a leading brand for dirt bikes.

Kawasaki

Dirt Bikes didn’t cross the mind of the company Kawasaki for the first 60 years they were in business! Kawasaki was a company that had lived through the world wars as an aircraft manufacturing company.

After the end of World War 2, there was low demand for aircraft engineers. At the same time, there was an increased demand for motorcycles, as it was a growing phenomenon. A crew of aircraft engineers built their first “motorcycle” engine in 1949.

Almost 15 years passed before Kawasaki kicked off its first official (and extremely popular) dirt bike model, the 1963 125cc B8M Dirt Bike. Ever since, Kawasaki has been one of the top producers of dirt bikes and continues to show off the latest and the greatest.

Yamaha

Yamaha is also a company with a rich history, working long before the creation of their first dirtbike. They were busy making musical instruments. They started off in the music industry and later branched off into a wide variety of industries.

One of those industries that Yamaha entered into was that of motorized vehicles. Yamaha was a little late to the game compared to Kawasaki. Yamaha built their first motorbike in the mid-1950s and finally came out with their first off-road, wheels to the gravel, dirt bike.

Even though Yamaha entered the “race” a little late, that hasn’t stopped them. They have produced top-notch bikes now for over fifty years!

Jim Harmer

I'm the co-owner of DBP. I live in Star, Idaho and enjoy dirt biking with my wife and two boys throughout the Idaho mountains.

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