John Penton and the Off-Road Motorcycle Revolution
By Ed Youngblood
191 pages $19.95
Whitehorse Press, Copyright 2000
by Sev Pearman
This is an amazing little book. In under 200 pages, author Youngblood paints a picture of the history of off-road riding, American racing complacency, and one man’s struggle to change convention.
John Penton wanted to win the grueling International Six-Days Trial, and wanted to win it bad. The ISDT was and is perhaps the hardest event in all of motorcycling, combining the physical punishment of motocross with the multi-day fatigue and exhaustion of an Iron-Butt type event. Trouble was, it was post war America, and we didn’t care about the rest of the world.
Mr. Penton caught the attention of the BMW factory with his record trans-US run of 52 hours, 11 minutes, one second. He then went on to defy convention by entering, and winning, AMA enduros on BMW singles, throughout the 60’s. With his successes, he was invited by BMW to compete in the 1962 ISDT.
This set the stage for the creation of the Penton motorcycle. Mr. Penton was convinced that lighter was better; that the focus should not be simply power, but power-to-weight. This was at a time when conventional wisdom was entering enduros on ‘stripped’ Harley FL’s.
Mr. Youngblood uses extensive interviews and illustrations to document Penton’s efforts. He tells how his bikes were at first met with skepticism, but when riders started finishing (without breaking down) and winning local Ohio events, people took notice.
Penton bikes were to become the ISDT mount. In the 1973 event, 45 of the 300 riders entered from around the world were riding Pentons.
Where did the Penton company go? Mr. Youngblood successfully threads this story into the world economy, political events at home and abroad, and the rise of the Japanese companies. No matter how dedicated, world events and timing turned against John Penton.
Written in cooperation with the Penton Owners Group, the text is well illustrated and supported with detailed appendices. This is anything but a gloating puff piece written by a toady. John Penton is a well-researched and informative mini-slice of our moto-history. Mandatory reading.