KTM Dirt Bike History

Any off-road rider or racer would be familiar with the popular Orange machines dominating the dirt bike scene. Let’s look back at some of the highlights of KTM’s dirt bike history.

KTM is one of the 5 leading motorcycle manufacturers in the world and is constantly on the cutting edge of technology. All through KTM dirt bike history, racing has always been the testing ground for technology advances in production bikes.

The Early Years

The Austrian company had humble beginnings as a repair shop in Mattighofen, opened by Hans Trunkenpolz in 1934. His shop was known as Kraftfahrzeug Trunkenpolz Mattighofen, but the name was unregistered. In 1937 they became the official supplier of DKW motorcycles.

Hans Trunkenpolz and Ernst Kronreif
Hans Trunkenpolz and Ernst Kronreif

The company survived during the second world war doing diesel repairs for the military. Hans was called up for military service and his wife Elizabeth managed the business till 1943.

After the war, only a few people could afford a car, so Trunkenpolz started producing his own motorcycles and the first prototype was the R100 built in 1951.

KTM R100 1951

Most of the components were produced in-house, except for the engine, which was a 98cc Rotax made by Fichtel & Sachs.

In 1953 serial production started with just three bikes per day, with twenty employees.
Businessman and racing enthusiast Ernst Kronreif became a sizable shareholder in 1953 and the company was renamed and registered as Kronreif & Trunkenpolz Mattighofen. KTM after the two owners’ names and the town where it began.

A KTM bike won its first national championship, the Austrian 125cc in 1954.
In 1956 KTM made its first appearance at the International Six Days Trials (ISDT as it was known then) ridden by Egon Dornauer and won a gold medal.

Racing has always been a testing ground for technology at KTM.

The bikes were first brought to America by importer John Penton in 1968 under the Penton name.

The Seventies To Nineties

KTM GS125 1974
KTM GS125 1974

The GS125 was the first KTM to be imported into America. Their success in US motocross led to the opening of KTM America Inc. established in Lorain in 1978.

By 1971 the workforce totaled 400 and KTM was building 42 different models.

KTM has always been a leader in innovation, with the best parts available fitted standard to machines.

KTM 250 MX 1974
KTM 250 MX 1974

KTM began production of its 250cc MX and enduro bikes in 1973.

KTM 125 LC 1981
KTM 125 LC 1981

In 1981 KTM produced its first liquid-cooled two-stroke 125cc MX bike.

KTM 125 MX 1986

They followed this up with a liquid-cooled four-stroke in 1982 and became the first manufacturer to produce an MX bike with front and rear disc brakes in 1986.

The hydraulic clutch was also a KTM feature, with its light action helping to reduce arm pump during racing.

With the current domination of four strokes in motocross and supercross, KTM is one of the only manufacturers to continue producing two-stroke dirt bikes, and leading the way in making them more environmentally friendly and cleaner burning.

The nineties saw the introduction of the linkless PDS rear suspension on two-stroke models.

In 1995 KTM bought out Swedish manufacturer Husaberg and in 2013 also bought Husqvarna (then owned by BMW) which is why you’ll see similarities in the three brands. Husaberg is no longer in existence, with the technology being absorbed into Husqvarna.

KTM LC4 Supermoto
KTM LC4 Supermoto

In 1996 the motocross bikes were first produced in the now-signature Orange color, and the following year saw the introduction of the LC4 Supermoto and adventure motorcycles.

In 1998 KTM wins second to twelfth positions in the 20th Dakar Rally

Competition Success In The 2000s

In 2000 KTM wins six World Championship titles!

125cc Motocross – Grant Langston, 500cc Motocross – Joel Smets, 125ccEnduro – Juha Salminen, 250cc Enduro – Matteo Rubin, 400cc Enduro – Mario Rinaldi, 500ccEnduro – Kari Tiainen. In Dakar, KTM wins 10 of the 13 stages.

In 2001 KTM records it’s first Dakar win. KTM riders fill the first five places. Juha Salminen wins his first World Enduro Championship title.

KTM 950 Rally Twin

In 2002 Fabrizio Meoni wins the Dakar on the new 950 Rally twin. KTM riders win every stage of the Dakar Rally. Juha Salminen wins his second World Enduro Championship title.

In 2003 KTM riders again win every stage of the Dakar Rally. Juha Salminen wins his third World Enduro Championship title.

Juha Salminen
Juha Salminen 13 time World Enduro Champion

In 2005 KTM wins 16 World Championship Titles taking the total to 120 to date. KTM wins all six Enduro world titles.

In 2006 Marc Coma wins the Dakar and KTM riders take the top eight spots and win all but one stage of the Dakar.

In 2007 Indian motorcycle manufacturer Bajaj Auto bought a 14.5% share in KTM and by 2013 held a 47.97% share in the company.

In 2009 KTM wins 4 World Championship titles in Motocross and Enduro. Marc Coma wins Dakar again.

In 2010 KTM wins all motocross World Championship titles, never achieved before by any manufacturer.

In 2011 Marc Coma wins Dakar for his third time on KTM 450 Rally, marking KTMs 10th consecutive win.

In 2012 Cyril Despres wins Dakar, his fourth win, and KTMs 11th consecutive win.

In 2013 Cyril Despres again wins Dakar, his fifth win, and KTMs 12th consecutive win. KTM riders take the top five places.

In 2014 Marc Coma wins again taking his fourth victory, and marking KTMs 13th consecutive win. KTM riders occupy seven of the top 12 places.

Marc Coma Dakar 2015
Marc Coma Dakar 2015 winner

In 2015, Marc Coma wins his fifth Dakar, and Australian Toby Price finishes in third place on his first attempt.

Toby Price 2016 Dakar
In 2016 Toby Price wins his first Dakar for the Red Bull KTM racing team. Toby Price Bio

 To date, KTM has won more than 270 world championship titles in Moto 3, Motocross, Enduro, and many more.

KTM is now the largest European manufacturer of motorcycles with annual revenue of more than 1.1 Billion Euros. KTM has a dirt bike history and racing record to be proud of.

Related Posts

For More on the Dakar Rally: Famous Dirt Bike Events

For more Dirt Bike History: Defining Moments Of The Last Forty Years

For handy tips to set up your bike: Dirt Bike Setup Tips

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Honda Dirt Bike History

Suzuki Dirt Bike History

Kawasaki Dirt Bike History

Husqvarna Dirt Bike History

Beta Dirt Bike History

Sherco Dirt Bike History

Have you ever owned a KTM? What’s your favorite bike? Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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8 thoughts on “KTM Dirt Bike History”

  1. Hi Greg,
    Really enjoyed your article on KTM Dirt Bike History, I go back to being an aircraft technician with the Rotal Australian Air Force stationed in Malaysia in arguably the only offensive the western world has succeded in since WW2 . That is keeping the Communists from taking over South East Asia .

    The year is approx 1974 I want to compete in the National Malaysian Championship, my main rival on a Honda 250 Elsinore 250 MX model is dominating, I secretly contact the KTM factory in Matighofen and they help me out, first off a 1974 250. This is ground breaking in my world, I follow this up with a visit to the factory and they have just won their first world MX Championship I come away with factory race parts and become KTM ‘s only rider for three quarters of the globe.

    Whilst at the factory I was able to witness and feel the atmosphere of them having just won their first world title.
    There were many many memorable moments, in particular looking up at a giant print of the then current world champion Guennady Mosseev roosting on an identical bike, being taken into the board room and introduced to John Penton, he offered me a ride at the forthcoming 1975 ISDT in the Isle of Man, I am probably the only rider to turn down a factory offer, I had more important plans as a very young man to head to the nudist beaches in the south of France.

    As I return to Malaysia the customs officer recognises me and swiftly process my excess excess baggage .

    I recall there was monthly parcels from KTM new parts riding gear etc etc, I wondered what it would be like to be rider 10,000+ on say Yamaha’s list of riders it was just me, very exciting.

    The bike is an instant hit taking me to many race success , this high profile attention catapults me then into the exciting world of road racing in particular GP racing for Suzuki, but that’s for another day.

    I have had the good fortune to meet Aussie champ Toby Price and we spoke about being in the family that is KTM.

    • Hi Mark. Wow, that’s quite a story. Not many people can say they were at the KTM factory after they won their first world title, and got to meet John Penton. Are you still riding KTMs today?
      I’d like to meet Toby Price. He lives here on the Gold Coast in Queensland but he probably doesn’t spend much time at home. I was also riding back in the 70s, a great time. The bikes were so much simpler.
      Thanks for sharing your story.


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