Who invented dirt bikes?

We know many inventions and their inventors but have you ever wondered who invented such a thrilling thing called dirt bikes?

Kawasaki Mule 4010
Kawasaki Mule 4010

What was the idea that modified the motorcycle into a dirt bike?

Do you think the credit of dirt bikes should go to the inventor of motorcycles?

Well, we have the answers to all your questions in this article, just keep reading and you will get to know. But before we get into details let’s first look at the history and idea of motorcycles.

The interesting history of motorcycles

The idea of making a motorcycle came in order to automate the then existing mechanical bicycles by fitting an engine. The first engine was a steam engine fitted by Ernest Michaux, son of Pierre Michaux a blacksmith and owner of “Michaux and Company” in Paris, the company was the first, to construct bicycles with pedals called velocipede or a “Michauline”.

In 1868 an American, Sylvester H. Ropar developed a twin-cylinder steam-velocipede, with a coal-fired boiler between the wheels, but unfortunately, he could not contribute more as he died on June 1, 1896 when he was demonstrating one of his machines in Cambridge.

If we move further many small innovations were made by different engineers of different origins but the first commercial design for self-propelled bicycles was a three-wheeled and was built in 1884 by Edward Butler in England.

The invention by Father of motorcycle – Gottlieb Daimler

Now let’s discuss the invention of Gottlieb Daimler who is often referred as “Father of motorcycle”, He along with Wilhelm Maybach developed the first internal combustion, petroleum fueled motorcycle called the Daimler Reitwagen in Bad Canstatt, Germany in 1885. The inventors called it the Reitwagen (“Riding car”). The specialty of the vehicle was that it had zero degrees of steering axis angle and no fork offset.

The first motorcycle  

As we have seen above that so many scientists and engineers had come up with different innovations at different times so it is bit difficult to identify who was first, moreover, it is also a matter of definition. Like many authorities have excluded steam powered, electric motorcycles or diesel-powered two-wheelers from the definition of a ‘motorcycle’, and credit the Daimler Reitwagen as the world’s first motorcycle.

If a two wheeled vehicle with steam propulsion is considered a motorcycle, then the first motorcycles built seem to be the French Michauline which patent application was filled in December 1868.

But the first series production of motorcycle in 1894 was Hildebrand & Wolfmuller, built by Heinrich, Wilhelm and Wolfmuller. And the production of first motorcycle was carried out by Excelsior Motor Company which was originally a bicycle manufacturing company based in Conventry, England.

The idea behind dirt bikes

As we have read above, motorcycles were continuously been innovated by different people, dirt bike was also a result of modification that was done to make bikes more effective on off-roads and rougher terrains, some characteristics of dirt bikes are they have a longer suspension which makes it comfortable for jumps also geared higher to provide more torque in off-road situations like muddy, snowy or sandy tracks, a high ground clearance is provided in these bikes moreover, they have knobby tires for better traction.

Now you might be clear of the need and idea behind dirt bikes, let’s quickly talk about the man who first spotted these needs and hence made the required modifications and gave us a dirt bike.

Who invented the first dirt bike?

The first dirt bike was created by Siegfried Bettmann, but some historians claim Soichiro Honda as the inventor which is not correct as Bettmann had already made modifications in 1914 and at that time Honda was an engineering student. Bettmann used to take motorcycles that were already available in the market and change their designs and used to increase its usability for off the roads.

He was working for Triumph when he modified some motorcycles in order to create a new model. But his adjustments were not that successful in the market as, to make the motorcycle more versatile for off-roading he decided to lower the bike to the ground and also tried some other tricks with suspensions that didn’t work well.

But the question arises how come dirt bikes became so popular? For the answer let’s understand the role of Honda.

The contribution of Honda

In 1948, Honda started producing their complete motorcycles, and it was in these years when of dirt bikes started to take-off and Honda played an important role in making these popular as it was the first company to manufacture dirt bikes on big scale. It brought the vehicle to the mainstream market especially between 1950s and 1960s.

They managed to modernize the models of dirt bikes available at the time and make them accessible to everybody. The addition of the stronger suspension, bigger tires and better tractions, made model quickly become popular. Even if Honda was not the inventor of the dirt bike itself, the improvements brought by Honda did make a huge impact on the popularization of dirt bikes.

What is Motocross?

One of the main uses of dirt bikes is in racing so, motocross is an off-road motorcycle racing in which racers have to race on off-road enclosed circuit and go through different terrains and they have to face obstacles. The sport requires a good mental and physical training its course is what makes the race challenging as it is only that much wide to hold very few racers side by side at a time and taking turns on such tight trails becomes more difficult.

Also, the course length is different for different races but in international competitions they must use tracks of 1 to 3 miles (1.5Km to 5Km) long.

Types of dirt-bikes based on different kinds of races

Motocross bikes: These are the dirt bikes used for motocross and have a small fuel tank to make them light weight and their engines have a single cylinder two-stroke or four-stroke units that can have a size 50cc to 500cc. Moreover, at a professional level these bikes have two classes: MX and MX Lite.

Enduro bikes: It is a modified road legal dirt bike as it has horn, lights, effective silencing and a number plate. Enduro event can last between one day and six days also these races may include roads in their course.

Rallies: These are special type of enduro bikes with larger fuel tanks for very long-distance racing and a larger engine capacity lying between 450cc to 750cc.

Dual-Sport bike: It is a multipurpose bike which may resemble to an enduro bike but it is not intended for competitions hence it may be less rugged and it is equipped with more legal equipment.

Trials bike: It is a special off-roading competition in which balancing skills and precision are tested rather than speed. Hence these bikes have a small engine (125cc to 300cc) and also small fuel tanks giving a limited range.

Track racing: This is a really challenging race as it includes high-speed oval racing, with no brakes, nor rear suspension. The engine is methanol fueled long-stroke four-stroke singles. These have at most two gears.

Snow bikes: If we consider a typical dirt-bike and replace the rear wheel with a single tread system similar to a motor sledge and replace the front wheel with a large ski, but they are much smaller than motor sledge and have a tighter turning radius, which makes it comfortable for compact spaces.

Alright guys I think this much of information is enough where we have covered almost every topic related to dirt-bikes.

I will meet you in the next blog till then keep exploring and keep smiling. Good bye