PEOPLE WHO MOVE US
exporting goods to the U.S. John wanted someone with
the resources to build the small-bore off-road bike he
envisioned for American trails. In other words, they needed
each other. John agreed to pay KTM to build a prototype
of the bike, and within only a few months, the first Penton
motorcycle arrived in Ohio.
Penton introduced the bike at the Stone Mountain
Enduro near Atlanta in 1968. It was a 125 with Ceriani suspension, and it weighed 185 pounds. It had a flawed transmission and a restrictive airbox, but it demonstrated that
John had the right idea. In the next few years, both Penton
and Husqvarna grew, and John became one of the most
important Americans in the off-road motorcycle business.
The first two Pentons were the Berkshire 100 and the
Six-Day 125. They both used Sachs motors, but almost
immediately John started pressuring the KTM factory to
make a motor of its own. That didn’t happen until 1972
when the Jackpiner arrived. The motor was overdesigned
so that it could provide a platform for future models. The
250 followed, and all were sold in stripped form with an
optional enduro kit that could be installed by the dealer.
A 125cc trials bike called the Mud Lark was more or less
forced on Penton. “I made a deal for 50 and he sent me
100,” John said of the Mud Lark. “I thought we were never
going to sell all those trials bikes.”
THE KTM VS. HUSQVARNA THING
Today, we see KTM and Husqvarna as longtime rivals
that have only recently been united under one roof. In truth,
they have a link going back decades, with John Penton
as the common element. He was importing and selling
both bikes during a phenomenal growth period in off-road
motorcycling. Both factories battled with John over this
conflict of interest, but they both accepted that his understanding of the U.S. market was essential. John set up the
two businesses as separate corporations and performed a
hat-swapping dance to keep them both running.
KTM, in particular, was becoming more and more dissatisfied with the name on the gas tank. The bikes might
have been John’s idea, but they were made entirely in
Mottighofen, Austria. Mr. Trunkenpolz wanted to see more
of the KTM logo. Thus, in other markets, the motorcycles
that Penton designed started showing up under the KTM
name. In 1972, the 175 Penton came to America with a big
KTM logo cast right into the cases. It was the first full-size
motorcycle engine that KTM had manufactured in-house,
and the factory wanted to broadcast that information.
John, on the other hand, wanted to open every crate and
file off the logo. In 1975, the situation became even worse
when KTMs started appearing on the West Coast imported
by someone else.
Likewise, Husqvarna was never happy that the name
of its U.S. distributor appeared on the tank of a competing motorcycle. In most of his later racing years, John
actually rode Husqvarnas in an attempt to counter those
complaints, but it didn’t work. The factory pressed John
One of the motorcycles that influenced John’s dirt bike philosophy was the German-made NSU 175. He used it to win the
Jackpine, the Corduroy, the Alligator and other events.
John and Donna produced a clan of Penton’s that still influence motocycling today.