The history of dirt bikes is entwined with the history of motorcycles themselves. Dirt bikes, properly termed "Off-road motorcycles", are designed especially for rough terrain. Among dirt bikes there is also considerable variation. The motocross bike, trial bike, and track bike are all spin offs of what we would term dirt bikes. In the next few paragraphs we will go through a brief history of their inception, usage, and general history.
Dirt bikes can be trace their history back to the 1860's. In 1867, Pierre Michaux founded a company called "Michaux and Company" that began to construct bicycles fitted with pedals. Eventually, his son (Ernest) constructed a bicycle that was fitted with a small motor on it. This primitive 1887 motorcycle utilized a steam engine to get it going.
In the late 19th century commercial motorcycles began to be sold. With this brand new idea of an engine-propelled bicycle sprouting up in France, designs and ideas began to be spread to different countries. Germany, England, and (eventually) America took their own ideas to the table and founded new companies around the globe.
With new inventions came new challenges. As time went on, and as the history of dirt bikes rustled to a start, a sport called "motorcycle racing" was emerging in the Western world. Because motorcycles proved to be such great technological outlets for power, speed, and competition, people wanted to see these machines race. The motorcycle industry, it seemed, would have to step up its game.
As time would show, a man named Soichiro Honda would revolutionize motorcycles. When motorcycle racing came about, it emphasized that new bikes (coming from the industry) needed more power and capability. In 1959, Soichiro Honda, founder of what would become Honda Motor Company, branded his new bikes as something much more appealing than the "bad boy" stereotype of motorcyclists at the time. His bikes were 'trail bikes' that could be ridden off road; they also had less of a thuggish appeal to them.
Things took off. Honda showed the world that dirt bikes weren't just for gangsters. With his tag phrase "You meet the nicest people on a Honda" Soichiro revolutionized public perception of motorcycles. Dirt bikes began to be sold in high quantity and soon enough the motor bike industry responded with their own interpretations.
Today, dirt bikes are everywhere, in every form, and for every price. Dirt bikes come in rally, motocross, track, trial, and tons of other designs. They are usually very light, simplistic, and possessing large wheels. Yamaha and Honda continue to dominate the off-road motorcycle market well into the 21st century.
The history of dirt bikes isn't all that simple, and it overlaps with a large amount of innovations taking place in the twentieth century Western world. On the flip side of that, key events in dirt bike history, such as Honda's shop in L.A. and his indispensable advertisement campaign, can't be debated. The future of dirt bikes waits to be told, but for now we are looking at a heavily dominated Japanese market of bikes.