As with so many of the world’s inventions with staying power, the first dirt bike ever made was the result of technological evolution rather than precise plan. Before anything could honestly be declared the first dirt bike the world had ever seen, many inventive minds had a hand in the design and development of the bike. The history of the dirt bike begins with the history of the motorcycle, which was called a safety bicycle when it started making appearances on the streets of Europe in the 1860s. The human-powered bicycle had evolved into the steam-powered motorized safety bicycle and then into today’s motorcycle with its petroleum-fed internal combustion engine. Here are some of the people who had a hand in that technological evolutionary process.
Gottlieb Daimler (March 17, 1834 - March 6, 1900) was a German engineer and industrialist who become one of the first pioneers of the automotive industry. Daimler and his lifelong business partner, Wilhelm Maybach, created a carburetor which mixed air and gasoline to the point of combustion, thereby producing enough energy to power small engines. Their Reitwagen, or riding car, was a wooden two-wheeled frame affixed with one of their small internal-combustion engines. On its maiden voyage in November 1885, Maybach rode it for two miles and achieved a speed topping 7 miles per hour.
Wilhelm Maybach (February 9, 1846 - December 29, 1929), Daimler’s business partner, became known in France as the “King of Constructors” at a time when France was known as the world center for automobile production. His ground-breaking journey from Cannstatt to Unterturkheim on the Reitwagen in 1885 may well have been the the first ride on the first dirt bike ever made, given the state of the roads from village to village back then.
German-born Siegfried Bettman (April 18, 1863 - September 23, 1951) moved to England as a young man and got a job working with sewing machines before founding S. Bettmann & Company, which sold a bicycle he called the Triumph. The company name eventually transformed to become the Triumph Motor Company and the building of motorcycles was the primary business.
When Britain declared war on Germany in the early days of World War I, the British War Office contacted Bettmann about building one hundred motor bikes for the British military. The call came on Saturday afternoon; the bikes were built and ready for shipment to France by Sunday evening. This first dirt bike to see combat was so durably built, able to admirably withstand the rugged conditions of war, the British Army soon placed many large orders for the Triumph 550 cc Model H and, by 1918, the Triumph Motor Company had become the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in all of Britain.
Japanese engineer / industrialist Soichiro Honda (November 17, 1906 - August 5, 1991) founded the Honda Motor Company after developing interest in machinery as a child in his family’s bicycle repair business. Honda’s acumen for business matched his gift of invention and, over the years, he developed a billion-dollar motorcycle company that would take the world by storm. Honda may not have produced the first dirt bike ever made on Japanese soil but he perfected the design, development, and marketing of off-road and street-ready motorcycles to such a degree that he became known as the Japanese Henry Ford after People magazine included him in its 1980 list of the “25 Most Intriguing People of the Year.”
Mid-Atlantic Roadracing Club
Motorcycle roadracing links
The Birth of the Dirt Bike
Technology and the Change in Attitude during the 1970s toward American Motorcyclists
Introduction and overview of off-road motorcycle riding
History of Honda Motorcycles
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Lounsberry Hollow’s Virtual Learning Center
Class Project Links: Inventors Resource Links
Your vintage MX headquarters
Nationwide Motorcycle Transportation
Specialists in shipping motorcycles, diet bikes, trikes, sidecars, and ATVs in specially designed enclosed trailers
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American Vintage Dirt Racers Association
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California’s Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation site
Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) - Dirt Bike School
Oregon Parks and Recreation Department: ATVs
Dirt Bike Riding Tips
DirtBike School is available to anyone six years old and older
Max Dirt Bike
Complete all 19 obstacle courses in the fastest time possible.
The Best Dirt Bike Trails in the US
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This German engine designer and industrialist became known as the King of Constructors.
Triumph motorcycles have always had a special character.
Soichiro Honda: Uniquely Driven
An unusual approach to business management and marketing style more aggressive than traditional Japanese protocol meant Honda was ostracized by colleagues who tried to stop his company’s phenomenal growth but Honda remained true to his vision.
Maybach and Daimler focused on producing a light-weight, high-speed engine which ran on gasoline.
Written By: AndrewT