Long before the word “motocross” was even coined, scrambles races started slowly but were active well in the 1930s. Brands like Yamaha and Kawasaki were still in the embryo phase at this time, back then, it was BSA, Triumph, Norton, Matchless from Britain, and a few other European marques that dominated the race tracks. The British pioneered enhancements like swinging fork rear suspension which took them well into the 1950s. Remember the famous BSA 441cc Victor Special? Originally, a world-class dirt bike! Another historical note, in 1954 (when I was born) BSA was the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world, producing 50,000 motorcycles per year and importing worldwide!
The first “scrambles races” with motorcycles I ever witnessed was in 1969 on a hot summer Sunday in upstate New York. Andre’s farm in Fishkill, New York was the local dirt bike track, and I remember my father taking my cousin and I at about age 14 to see this exciting event. I can still remember smelling the strong “racing Castrol” in the air which was a concoction added to the gas/oil for higher engine performance. Back then, two-stroke motorcycles with names like CZ-Jawa, Maico, Ossa, Bultaco, and Husqvarna were the hot bikes to own and race. The Japanese bikes were just coming into the scene. There were a few Triumphs, BSAs and Nortons on the track, mostly ridden by older guys. Compared to the European bikes I mentioned, they appeared heavy and slow.
In 1968, Yamaha introduced their legendary DT1-250 Enduro. It was stark white with black pin-striping and red tank badge, but the bike was really nice looking in person! It was a two-stroke 250cc single, and was designed to be ridden on both the dirt and street, and could be modified to race on the track. They were so successful, with this one model alone Yamaha started selling 50,000 units per year! Again, this was a single model only!
The phrase at the time was “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday!”
In 1969, with their wild success of the DT1 series, Yamaha introduced the AT1 (125cc) and the CT1 (175cc). Just for perspective, the CT1 weighed a mere 233 pounds and cost $625 brand new! The DT1 was now called a DT1B, and continued forward. The AT1 and CT1 were really nice little bikes and I remember lusting after both of these as they were displayed on the floor of the local Yamaha dealer, in Hyde Park, NY.
In 1970 they introduced the HT1, which was a little 90cc Enduro with five-speeds. At the top of the Enduro line was the RT1 in two versions, the street/dirt version and the RT1M, which was the pure racing version without lights and gauges. For the street RT1 and as with the DT1, one could always buy the optional GYT performance upgrade package. This kit included a new cylinder, new piston, new cylinder head, and high-performance piston rings. The installation of this kit provided noticeable improvement over the already feisty RT1.
In 1971, a “C” was added to the AT1 / CT1 models. The DT1 gained an “E” and the RT1 gained a “B”. (Author’s note: My very first “brand new” motorcycle purchased at the tender age of 17 was a 1971 RT1-B 360cc Enduro and it cost $995. I washed dishes on weekends at a local restaurant for 2 years to pay that bike off! I own an example << Left of this bike today.)
In 1972, the little 90cc became a 100 (98cc) and it was called the LT1 Enduro. With 10 HP, a 5-speed transmission and a re-designed frame it was an instant success with the younger set. The 125, 175, 250, and 360 series soldiered on. For 1973, the line-up included: GT1 (73cc), LT3 (98cc), AT3, (125cc) CT3 (175cc) DT3 (250cc) and RT3 (360cc).
From 1974 through 1981, the series continued and finally completed its life cycle. The final series in 1981 was featured as the DT100H (98cc), the DT125H (125cc), DT175H (175cc), the DT250H (250cc).
It is important to note that the DT1 was NOT the world’s first dual-sport bike, because BSA, Ossa, Bultaco, Zundapp, and other European brands offered models to support this. However, in 1968 the DTI was the first affordable, practical, reliable dual-sport bike that also offered Yamaha’s “Autolube” system, which meant you did not have to mix the gas and the oil before riding. It also had nice gauges and good suspension for both street and trail.
The DT1 and the entire Enduro series from Yamaha also spawned an industry of aftermarket parts such as suspension kits, expansion chambers, and engine modification kits so you could be competitive on the track. The other major Japanese brands soon followed with their own version of dual-sport machines.
When we think of modern dual-sport bikes the Euro's stand out; BMW's R1200GS, F650 and 800, the KTM Adventurer, Ducati''s Multistrada (many roads) and the new Triumph Tiger 800/1200 models being the most popular. Of course, the Japanese can't be forgotten with models like the Kawasaki KLR 650, the Honda TransAlp and Suzuki’s V-Strom series. Clearly dual sport has become a very viable segment in the motorcycle industry today, but they can all trace their roots back to Yamaha’s humble DT1 250 Enduro and the succession of bikes that followed.
Until next time, RIDE SAFE and we will see you down the road! JJ Cerilli
VMOL files, the Internet
www.dirtbikefanatic.com - The History of Dirt Racing
Mitch Boehm, Editor & Publisher of Moto Retro Illustrated.
Photos by Joe Bonnello and the Ed Burke archive.
Standard Catalog of Japanese Motorcycles, 1959-2007, by Doug Mitchel, pp. 305-338.