Congratulations to the entire TrailBlazers Class of 2019! Penton story courtesy of Joe Colombero:
JOHN PENTON ELECTED TO TRAILBLAZERS HALL OF FAME
Penton is a name that speaks of quality and integrity in the history of off-road motorcycling. There are the legendary Penton motorcycles themselves, for more than a decade they were some of the finest off-road machines in the world. There is the Penton family, with multiple Hall-of-Famers, off-road champions and Six Days gold medalists. Then there is the man himself, John Penton, 93, the patriarch who started it all with a dream, fierce determination, and an unmatched love of motorcycling.
John Penton was born on August 19, 1925. He grew up on the family farm in Amherst, Ohio, and learned to ride on an old 1914 Harley-Davidson found stored in the barn. It was just the beginning of his love affair with motorcycling.
During World War II John served in the Merchant Marine and U.S. Navy. After the war, he purchased a used 61-cubic-inch Harley-Davidson Knucklehead and his brother, Bill, bought an Army surplus 45-inch Harley. In 1948, the two set off for Michigan to ride in the grueling Jack Pine Enduro.
John rode well and was impressed by the event-winner, Aub Lebard, riding a BSA. The British BSA was a featherweight compared to the big roadster-based American machines. The vision of the lighter and more-nimble machine performing at the Jack Pine got John dreaming about light-weight off-road motorcycles.
In 1949, John returned to the Jack Pine, this time on a BSA. He finished second by a single point. From that point on, John’s mission was to build and race competitive off-road motorcycles. John and his brothers Ted and Ike put their mechanical skills to good use modifying various machinery of the day into potent off-road racers.
In 1950, John and his brothers opened a motorcycle dealership in Amherst, Ohio. They carried BSA, BMW and NSU brands, as well as the new bikes from Japan starting in the early 1960’s.
John became known as a Championship caliber Enduro rider winning Nationals in New Jersey, Georgia, Florida, and Ohio, along with the famous Jack Pine Enduro and the Canadian National, Corduroy Enduro.
In 1959 John set a new record for crossing the US on a motorcycle. Leaving from New York City, he set off for California on a BMW R69S outfitted with an oversized gas tank. 52 hours and 11 minutes later, Penton rolled into Los Angeles to set a New York to L.A. trans-continental record. His record was heavily advertised by BMW.
In 1960, John chose to modify a R27 BMW single for off-road. He won the Jack Pine Enduro in 1962 on the little Beemer. The BMW factory in Germany was impressed and offered to sponsor John at the ISDT in Germany. Riding for the USA, joining the Ekins brothers and Steve McQueen, against the world’s best off-road riders was a turning point in his life. John was excited to see the level of performance that the Europeans where getting out of lightweight, small displacement two stroke motorcycles.
In 1966 Edison Dye and Penton partnered, and Penton became the Eastern US distributor for Husqvarna motorcycles. John began racing their 250 and 360 two-stroke bikes with great success, winning another Jack Pine National Enduro in 1967.
John soon met the owner of KTM in Austria and pitched his idea for a light-weight, ready-to-race, 125cc off-roader. KTM had a reputation for making mopeds and small displacement street motorcycles, but they also had a small ISDT racing team riding hand-crafted 50cc and 75cc competition machines. Penton offered to put up $6,000 of his own money if KTM would build a prototype 125cc purpose built off-road bike and 10 pre-production bikes. KTM agreed and in early March 1968 Penton took delivery of those first 10 Penton 125cc motorcycles. Within a week six of those machines where winning class championships at Enduro National races in Georgia and Florida.
Demand for the Penton bikes grew very rapidly as well as the dealer network and more than 400 new Penton motorcycles were sold in the first year. In the ten years between 1968 and 1977 more than 25,000 Penton motorcycles where sold in America and a generation of riders from beginners to top pros like future MX World Champion Danny LaPorte, who owned and raced a Penton.
In 1978 the Penton brand name was retired as KTM began distribution of their badge in America. Today KTM’s have won countless championships and are sold around the world, true to John Penton’s original burning desire they are “Ready to Race.”
John also wanted to improve on the boot that most off-road riders wore. Penton approached Italian boot maker Alpinestars about a purpose-built off-road motorcycle boot. The result was Hi-Point boots. Throughout the 1970s and ‘80s, Hi-Point boots were considered a must-have by motocross and off-road riders and dominated sales in America.
John Penton was inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame in 1998. Sons Tom, Jeff and Jack and nephew Dane Leimbach would develop into world class off-road competitors with Jack and Tom following John into the AMA Hall of Fame in 1999 and 2000.
John Penton’s unique methods of developing and promoting off-road motorcycles revolutionized the industry and helped inspire the off-road motorcycling revolution of the 1970s. His passion and support for a generation of American off-road riders, lives on through the successful KTM and Husqvarna brands.
The Trailblazers proudly welcomes John Penton to our Hall of Fame. He will be formally inducted at the 75th annual banquet on April, 6, 2019 at the Carson Center in Carson, California. Tickets to the banquet go on sale on January 15th on the Trailblazers website: www.trailblazersmc.com.