Dirtbike Evolution History Timeline

Dirt Bike Evolution Timeline

by | Feb 12, 2021 | 3 comments

Unfortunately, no individual or company is known for the invention of dirt bikes. However, off-road motorcycling is an evolution of years. This evolution accompanies improved tires, suspensions, bike frames, and better control features accredited to individuals who pursued self-improvement for their bikes. Fortunately, Triumph Engineering designed a bike in 1914 intended for dirt riding.

Below is a proper updated dirt bike evolution timeline.


History: The Invention of the Motorbike

The evolution of dirt bikes is a long and complicated story that perhaps began with the invention of the first velocipede by Karl Drais on April 19, 1817. It is currently known as the monowheel, dicycle, bicycle, quad cycle, or tricycle. The first motorcycles were majorly modified bicycles with linked gasoline engines.


  • On February 28, 1867, Ernest Michaux built the first steam-powered velocipede by fitting a small steam engine to the bike.


  • On October 19, 1885, the German inventors Wilhelm Maybach and Gottlieb Daimler designed and built the Petroleum Reitwagen, the first internal combustion, petrol-fueled motorcycle.


  • On August 23, 1897, the Werner Brothers of France designed a motorized bicycle with a De Dion-Buton engine attached above the front wheel.
  • On November 5, 1901, William. S. Harley designed plans for a small engine with a 7.07 cubic inches displacement and four-inch flywheels. Harley designed it for use in a regular pedal-bicycle frame.
  • In the early 1910s, Siegfried Bettmann used to take motorcycles that were already on the market to change their design and improve their usability for driving on all terrains and conditions. The first dirt bike is assumed to be created around those years when he was working for Triumph around 1914.
  • On January 7, 1912, the first mopeds were produced. Velosolex’s cyclemotors were the initial mopeds to hit the roads.


It is believed that motorcross racing originated in Europe, possibly France, with the earliest motorbikes being raced through wooded trails or to the mountainous road tops, essentially for publicity. The majority of these early races were not speed racing but simply riders who wanted to compete against each other or individually.

Separately, according to Wikipedia contributors, motocross racing evolved from motorcycle trials competitions in Australia in those years.


As the motorcycle production increased, the races increased to include cross-country events and scrambles, which thrilled and entertained spectators. The first motorcross race can be traced to an off-road event held in the United Kingdom on January 23, 1924. The first race, called the Scramble, happened in Camberley, Surrey, and was based on Trial races formerly held in Britain.


  • As of May 22, 1930, there were improvements made on the dirtbikes. After rugged, all-terrain race developers decided to make their dirtbikes more technical and reliable.


  • In 1946, Soichiro Honda came with an idea to produce affordable transportation for users after the Second World War. Honda established itself as the leading producer of motorcycles, particularly dirt bikes since they were the largest motorcycle manufacturers globally. Other manufacturers joined in the motorcycle and dirt bike production over the years.


  • In 1954, Suzuki began the production of their motorcycles. Within two years since 1937, Suzuki has completed several compact prototype cars. Another company known as KTM, founded in 1934, also joined in producing their motorcycles in 1953. Yamaha produced their first bike in 1955 and Kawasaki in 1960.


Yamaha designed and built an extensive number of two and four-stroke scooters, on and off-road motorcycles. The earliest success was the Yamaha XS 650, introduced in 1972. The Yamaha RX-S 100 was introduced in RX models except with an energy induction in 1980.


Although the top companies could not have foreseen the fruitful future of dirtbikes in the racing world, this era marked the beginning of the onslaught of motorsport second to no other. Dirt bike racing inevitably became one of the most common sports worldwide.


After Honda finally designed and built a competitive two-stroke motorcross motor in 1972, the motor reached the United States in 1973 and gained the name Elsinore CR250. The Elsinore CR250 instantly became the fastest production off-road dirt bike in its class. It placed Honda alone at the top regarding motorcross racing.


  • In the 1970’s period, motorcross racing favored the hopes of the motorcycle manufacturers. Off-road terrain motorcycling becomes a recreational activity, and it gains popularity among the public, who are in demand of more bikes and racing events.


Due to this demand, the top Japanese manufacturers eventually produce a full product line of dirt bikes in various sizes for different racing ages and classes. Ultimately, children’s dirt bikes became available for the early-starters. Also, dual-use motorcycles later become available with suspension and dirt tires along with street-legal specifications.


Other manufacturers who join in the design and production of dirt bikes include Gas Gas and Maico.


  • In 1979, an extremely solid bike unexpectedly appeared and caused a rift in the XL sales. The XR250 was an endure-ready motorbike with minimal clutter and weight compared to the street-legal XL. The only peculiar thing about the XR250 was the 23-inch front wheel, an issue that lasted only two years. The XR250 was superb and had immense potential to respond to minor hop-ups. With regular tunings and excellent shocks, the bike began winning endures and scrambles.


The transfer of Bob Hannah from Yamaha to Honda in 1983 saw the improvement of Honda’s quality bike production. In 1987, Honda gathered all its efforts to discover the brilliant 250 racer. It had the best set of cartridge forks ever, including current bike models.


Honda continued to shine in the dirt bike production sector in the ’90s. This period witnessed the continued evolution of the XR600, but the widely recognized XR400 became the dirt bike of choice for racers.


  • In 1996, Honda outdid the other dirt bike manufacturers by designing and building the long-awaited four-stroke motorcross bike, CR450R, which sported smooth power.


The Future of Dirt Bikes

Some upcoming manufacturers are improving on their game by producing the latest-tech dirt bikes. The Ski-Doo 600 E-Tec snowmobile is a two-stroke and eco-friendly example of technology that can be very promising when put into dirt bikes. Among others, Husqvarna is the latest dirt bike manufacturer that will soon rival some established Japanese brands.
Eco friendly options such as the electric dirt bike are on the rise and rapidly evolving, and are more favourable by the younger generations.

Bottom Line

Dirt bikes continue their evolution with constant improvements in their features, for instance, suspension, weight reduction, engine reliability, and general performance. Dirt bikes are used globally for sport and recreational purposes. As a result, motorcross racing has become more popular, owing to the success of dirt bikes. Dirt bike evolution is unlikely to come to an abrupt end due to continual technical enhancements.