1969 Penton 125
Back in the day, when off-road motorcycles were big, heavy and not all that different from streetbikes, nobody ever dreamed of a machine like this.
Except maybe John Penton.
In the post-World War II era, Penton raced enduros on Harley-Davidsons, BSAs, BMWs and NSUs, always choosing the route of smaller and lighter rather than heavier and more powerful.
Still, Penton wasn’t satisfied. When a Triumph representative urged him to sell Triumphs at his BSA dealership, Penton exasperated the fellow by listing everything wrong with his motorcycles. The rep finally retorted that if Penton knew so much about motorcycles, maybe he should build his own.
So he did.
After years of racing enduros in the United States, and watching other riders zip past him on smaller machines in the International Six Days Trial in Europe, Penton knew what worked and what didn’t, which parts were reliable and which ones broke.
Penton picked the best components, including a Sachs engine, and had KTM build the motorcycles for him in Austria. The first of these unique machines bearing the Penton name went on sale in 1968.
The 1969 Penton 125 shown here is owned by Kip Kern of Van Buren, Indiana, who’s had a passion for Pentons ever since he was 11, when he and his brother tore through the woods and trails on one. He remembers writing a letter to John Penton in pencil and being shocked and awed to get a response.
Kern collects and rebuilds Pentons for himself and for others. He purchased this 1969 125cc model at the swap meet at AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days a few years ago, but wasn’t content just to restore the 125 to its original state.
Back when the bike was new, many racers opted for a 152cc kit to bump up the power, so that’s what Kern did.
Today, instead of sending Penton scribbled letters, Kern shows him his latest restorations.
“I did the 152cc kit just to surprise John,” Kern said. “I just love to see the look on his face.”
That’s part of the allure of Pentons, for fans such as Kern and other members of the active Penton Owners Group (www.pentonusa.org). Not only did the bikes advance the evolution of competition dirtbikes, but the visionary who invented them is still around, accessible and enthusiastic about motorcycling.