John Penton, Racing Legend.
The Penton motorcycle came about because John Penton who was racing dirt bikes at the time wanted a more agile and lighter bike. John Penton was born on August 19, 1925 and grew up on the family farm in Amherst, Ohio. At an early age he was riding a dilapidated old Harley Davidson which had been sitting in the corner of the family barn. Just as he was getting into riding motorcycles World War II broke out and John served as a Merchant Marine. Upon returning home the first thing he wanted to do was buy a motorcycle. Not able to buy his dream bike he settled on an old Harley and his brother Bill bought one at the Army surplus. The two headed out to Michigan to ride in the Jack Pine Enduro which was a grueling 500 miles in the year of 1948. The bikes that were popular at the time like Harley’s and Indians were not the best motorcycles to be riding through the woods of Michigan or any other place where agility was needed. After getting passed by a BSA he ventured into ownership of a dealership and came back the following year to race the Jack Pine, finishing second.
That year 1950 John Penton and his brothers opened a motorcycle dealership in Amherst. They first carried BSA’s and would later get into BMW motorcycles. With the changing times and the Japanese market exploding this may have spawned the idea of doing it themselves, come up with their own dirt bikes but tragedy would intervene, John closed up shop and started racing around the country in 1967 and things would start to change. After winning the Jack Pine that year on a Husqvarna the Swedish maker invited him to become a distributor. That same year John was part of the US Six Day team and while in Europe he toured the Husqvarna factory. John had been trying to come up with a way to manufacture an even lighter off-road motorcycle and presented his thought to Husqvarna. The reception that he received was not promising but kept moving forward with his idea. John Penton then decided on another visit to the KTM factory in Austria. His proposal was met with skepticism but with the incentive of Penton putting up some of his own money changed the situation. This was the start of motorcycle racing six Penton 100cc prototypes being delivered. John did not stop at producing motorcycles but was the founder of Hi-Point boots which improved what the riders were wearing back in the 60’s and 70’s.
John Penton was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998. His son Jack Penton continued the Penton racing legacy.
Son, Jack Penton
Jack Penton was born on July 16, 1954 in Amherst, Ohio and the son of famed motorcycle racer John Penton. Jack’s first motorcycle was a 50cc Honda Super Cub which had been mounted on a sign till he and his sister persuaded Dad to take it down. Jack would continue the legacy of being a great racer and following a tough act like his father was not easy. Along with Jack his two older brothers were also good riders but Jack would be the one to shine.
In 1970 Jack Penton scored second in the overall AMA Enduro National Championship and the reason for second was he could not carry a driver’s license so some of his points did not count. His father John was impressed by his young sons drive to be the best that he though Jack was ready to represent Penton in world class competition. That year Jack found himself competing in the ISDT in Spain and earned a Bronze Medal and pretty good for a high school freshman. The following year in 1971 he became the youngest rider to compete in the Isle of Man and the youngest to win a Gold Medal at the ISDT.
During his 12 year international racing career Jack earned six Gold, three Silvers and one Bronze. He was just as impressive stateside winning eduros and motocross races. Before he was done he had earned 27 national titles and even did well in California where traditionally eastern riders never fared well. As a rider I I do remember this and have always admired Jack Penton.
Jack Penton hung up his racing boots in 1980 stating he was tired of washing motorcycles after races. Having established himself as a true champion he was inducted into the Hall of Fame one year after his father in 1999. Jack Penton is considered one of the greatest off-road riders of all time and I for one would definitely agree.
The Penton off-road motorcycle was introduced in 1969 by John Penton. The first motorcycles were modified small bore European bikes made by Austrian based KTM, with a Sachs engine. The Penton had improved suspension and streamlined details for a light weight motorcycle. The Penton motorcycle were ridden by Hall of Famers Carl Cranke and Billy Uhl who both competed in the ISDT/ISDE.
125cc Six Day
250cc Hare Scrambler
400cc Mint actually 352cc motor
Also had the Mudlark which was a trials motorcycle made by Wassell, the Café MX, the Hiro 125, Woodsman and the K-R (Kenny Roberts) short track racer.
KTM took complete control in 1978.
For me Penton motorcycles have always had a special spot in my heart and my racing career. My second dirt bike that I rode was a 1969 125cc Penton and was one of my favorites. I had always wanted another particularly the 175cc Jackpiner. I remember the stories of Jack Penton and how he had done in the Jack Pine Enduro in Michigan which is considered one of the ultimate Enduro races. The love affair with these motorcycles still continues with enthusiast that keep these bikes alive and are considered to be a must have when it comes to vintage dirt bikes.
Check out my blog entry, Old Dirt Bikes.
Other Motorcycle Hubs
Vintage Motorcycles: ISDT Reunion Ride with John Penton and other riders.
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