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And Then There Was The Dirtbike

    It might surprise you, but the day after the motorcycle was invented, somebody was probably trying to modify it for use in the dirt. That pretty much stayed the norm until after the second world war ended. Suddenly there was an abundance of surplus motorcycles, of all makes and size on the market, and they were going cheap and selling like cold beer on friday night. As the factories turned from war production to civilian, new models began to appear at dealer ships. Trail riding, trials, and endurance racing already existed in Europe, as did dirt track and desert racing in North America. Then around 1947, a new type of racing was born....sometimes referred to a scrambles, or the better known title of motocross.
    As time went on dirt track became flat track, desert racing became hare and hound, and cross country endurance racing became enduro. All of the various types of off road racing required specialized bikes to be competitive, and while a stripped down Harley may have done the trick in 1946, better things were on the way.
    The Japanese had trail bikes throughout the 1960's, but they were just that, trail bikes. The first real dirt bikes from Japan were the Suzuki RH68, released in limited numbers in 1968, the Yamaha DT-1, also released in 1968, and the Kawasaki F-21M, released in 1969. I'm sure i'm overlooking some other models, but these are the three that stand out as the first real attempt by Japan to market what we recognise as a dirt bike, not only in looks, but performance. What we forget, or rather, what never seems to come up in conversation, are the earlier generation of dirt bikes developed and raced in Europe, which i'm sure the Japanese studied when developing their early models.
    These bikes were manufactured by the likes of Montesa and Bultaco of Spain, Husqvarna of Sweden, Jawa of Czechoslovakia, Cotton of Great Britian, and ESO. Some of these bikes date back to the 1950's through the early 1960's, yet look and performed like what we first saw in the late 60's and early 70's. One machine in the ones pictured below really impressed me from the first time a read about it, the Montesa Impala Scrambler, which dates from 1963. The first time i read about it was in one of my fathers' old popular mechanics magazines from around 1964. Steve McQueen later tested a bunch of different bikes for the magazine, and giving his opinion of them, at a time when two strokes weren't yet mainstream. McQueen made the comment that he thought the Montesa, "had a lot of beans" , when describing the power. As for the pictured bike in the article, i thought it was a misprint because it looked nothing like the other bikes in the test (futuristic), and looked a lot like what was new a decade later.
    Below are some of the earlier dirt bikes that actually looked the part, and no doubt were well studied by Japan.