John Penton was one of the most influential figures in the birth of off-road motorcycle racing in America during the 1960s and ’70s. He was a top-level championship racer that went on to develop the Penton brand of off-road motorcycles. He also founded Hi-Point, the well-known boot and apparel company that was highly influential in the early days of off-road motorcycle racing.
Born in Ohio on August 19th, 1925, he grew up on the family farm. Along with his brothers, the Pentons took a liking to motorcycle riding, a decision that would be a central point in his career. After returning from his military service during WWII, John and his brother Bill purchased used Harley Davidsons and competed in the Jack Pine enduro in 1948. This event set the stage for Penton’s eventual line of off-road motorcycles.
In 1950, the Penton brothers opened a motorcycle dealership in Ohio. At first, they sold BSAs, then BMWs and NSUs, and eventually the new bikes from Japan. 1958 would prove very successful for Penton as he won the Ohio State Enduro Championship, the Stone Mountain Enduro, the Alligator Enduro, several Enduros across the midwest, and even the Jack Pine enduro. He ended the year with a record ride from New York to Los Angeles in fifty-two hours and eleven minutes, further cementing him as a motorcycling legend.
He won the AMA’s Most Popular Rider Award in 1960, and throughout the 60s, Penton would continue his winning ways. He was a member of the ISDT team in 1967, and this was another milestone in his life. He used the trip to pursue his idea of a new lightweight off-road bike. His tenacity allowed him to overcome an objection from Husqvarna to an eventual relationship with KTM. Putting his money where his mouth is, Penton put up $6000 of his own funds to get KTM to produce a prototype to his specifications, and in early 1968 Penton took delivery of six Penton 100cc prototypes. In the first year, Penton sold more than 400 units, and by the time they sold to KTM about ten years later, the dealers sold more than 25,000 Penton motorcycles in America.
Not settling for influencing motorcycles alone, Penton worked with Alpinestars to develop the Hi-Point boots. The boot with the iconic metal shin plate was a must-have for any motocross or off-road racer in the late 70s. Eventually, Penton also added gear to the line, and Hi-Point was a part of the fabric of early motocross and supercross.
The AMA inducted John into their Hall of Fame in 1998, and industry filmmaker Todd Huffman produced a documentary about his life in 2014.