Who Invented the Dirt Bike?

by Timothy Sexton
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Longhair, Creative Commons Attribution

Discovering the inventor of things is often not that easy. For instance, Thomas Edison did not invent the movie camera, even though that invention is attributed to him. William Dickson invented the movie camera while working for Edison. Things become much trickier when attempting to find who invented the dirt bike. Suffice to say that several candidates have come forward and the question may never be answered to one's utter and complete satisfaction.

Time Frame

As with many inventions that bear a strong resemblance to something that already exists, the invention of the dirt bike is attributed to evolution by some. Almost from the very invention of the motorcycle itself did some riders begin to modify the bike by putting on tires more adaptable to off-road traction, as well as improving suspension. Unknown riders throughout the early decades decreased the weight of their bikes by removing superfluous items, such as the horn and even the headlamp.

Daimler and Maybach

Some attribute the invention of the dirt bike, or at least the most notable inspiration for what would become the modern day dirt bike to two German inventors named Gottlieb Daimler (yes, that Daimler) and Wilhelm Maybach. In 1885 these two men created a bike powered by gasoline, but it was much closer to a moped than an actual motorcycle. This dirt bike precursors was called a Reitwagen, which is German for "riding car."

Siegfried Bettman

The most common attribution of the invention of the dirt bike goes to Siegfried Bettman. Bettmann was working on motorcycles for Triumph in 1914 when he modified the existing models to create what bears a very strong resemblance to the dirt bikes of today. Bettmann's dirt bike was a dirt motorcycle in a much truer sense than the motorized bicycle that Daimler and Maybach created.


The features of the earliest dirt bikes, including that invented by Bettmann as well as those modified by everyday drivers, were not far removed from the features of road bikes. It would not be until the 1940s that dirt bikes that were not just modified street bikes became the norm. Again, there is little evidence of a definite and specific individual who can be called the inventor. These bikes made especially for driving off-road were the result of an evolution of the vehicle.

Soichiro Honda

Honda is given the nod as the true inventor of the dirt bike as it applies to motocross racing. In the late 1950s and early 1960s Soichiro Honda transformed the motorcycle itself from something that only thugs and bikers were riding at the time into a more mainstream vehicle. Over time, as motorcycles became a daily part of the existence of more and more people, the urge to ride them off the street and toward fishing spots and picnic spots and other areas for social congregation became overwhelming. Although Honda was not the inventor of the dirt bike itself, his design improvements included a making suspension stronger and adding larger tires with improved tread patterns to increase traction like never before.


For others the real inventor of the dirt bike was not a man, but a company and the invention has less to do with modification of existing models than with the way the bike revolutionized the sport of motocross racing. Yamaha introduced its DT-1 bike in the mid-1970s and it changed the sport forever and became the standard by which all future dirt bikes would be judged. The DT-1 was the first dirt bike to almost be capable of being ridden in any kind of terrain. The term dirt bike was forever changed by this bike that allowed bikers to take their motorcycle just about anywhere that could be walked.

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