Photos from the Penton Collection
John Penton has been on the cover of many magazines, the subject of many feature articles, a biography and a movie and it has taken all these and more to convey his story. His talents include innovator, racer, mechanic, motorcycle dealer, champion, father, entrepreneur, and member of the AMA Hall of Fame among others.
Born in 1925, he is considered one of the most influential members in the development of off-road motorcycle racing in America during the 1960s and ‘70s. A national champion rider, Penton went on to develop a legendary brand of off-road motorcycles that bore his name. When he couldn’t find the motorcycle that he wanted and needed to race, he created it. His thought being he was tired of setting up motorcycles to ride and designed one that was race ready. Thousands of riders learned to ride on Pentons which are celebrating their 51st anniversary. In their 10-year production run, more than 25,000 Penton motorcycles were sold in America.
In 1950, Penton and his brothers opened a motorcycle dealership that carried BSAs and soon afterwards BMW and NSU brands with others to follow including the Penton itself.
John was an Enduro racer which means he raced in off road competitions over natural rough terrain (“mud runs”). He began racing in the Jack Pine where the bikes of choice were Harleys and Indians, but he soon turned to a smaller BSA with the thought that “smaller may be better”. He spent 1958 racing enduros all over the US on a quest that became legendary and during this won his first Jack Pine.
In 1959 on a bet, he attempted a transcontinental record attempt from New York to California. He did 3051 miles in 52 hours, 11 minutes and 1 second with an average speed of 58mph. His record was heavily advertised by BMW and newspapers all over the world covered the record run making Penton a legend in motorcycling.
In 1960, Penton won the AMA’s Most Popular Rider Award in a time when that prestigious award was almost exclusively won by AMA Grand National racers. He was also given the NSU Victorious Rider Award which has only been awarded 7 times and he is the only American recipient.
In 1967, Penton was a member of the U.S. International Six Day Trial (now called International Six Day Enduro) and known as the “Olympics of Motorcycling” since it is said to be the “most difficult and prestigious motorcycle endurance event on earth”.
While in Europe, Penton toured the Husqvarna factory trying to convince the manufacturer to produce an even lighter off-road machine. After receiving a lukewarm reception Penton decided to visit the KTM factory in Austria. His proposal for a lightweight off-road bike was again met with skepticism. As an incentive, Penton offered to put up his own money if KTM would build prototypes to his specifications. KTM agreed and in early 1968 Penton took delivery of six Penton 100cc prototypes. He promptly entered races and put some of the other top riders on the other bikes. In the first year, more than 400 Pentons were sold.
Penton’s innovations were not reserved exclusively for the manufacture of motorcycles. Wanting to improve on the standard work boot that most off-road riders wore, he approached Italian ski boot maker Alpinestars about modifying its boots for motorcycling. The result was Hi-Point boots, “Built for Champions”, which were endorsed by Kenny Roberts and by the late-1970s, were considered a must-have by many motocross and off-road riders and it became the biggest-selling boot in the country. Hi-Point expanded to include all forms of off-road riding apparel.
His many accolades and awards go on and on. In 1980, Cycle News declared him the “Motorcyclist of the decade”. He won 13 AMA Enduro Championships and in 1998, he was inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame. His fans are many and have wonderful enduring words and memories to describe him including “He sold motocross to America” and “A Legend in his own time”
We are honored to have John Penton as the Grand Marshal for the 15th Annual Barber Vintage Fes