With the sudden influx of pocket bikes, many Americans may believe that this is a new sport. But small, motorized bikes have been around since the 50’s. They appeared soon after mechanized racing karts became common. There were goofy contests such as “jousting.” Two riders would ride at each other while holding rolled up newspapers and try to pop a balloon tied to their opponent’s helmet. After the 60’s, the mini bikes became relatively rare in the states.
During the 70’s, pocket bike racing became a serious sport in Japan. They used inexpensive and low-tech bikes for racing. In the 80’s the Italians took the sport up a notch and began racing better quality, high-tech bikes. Still, the bikes they first used were powered by relatively weak engines with no more power than an electric screwdriver.
By the later 90’s the sport had spread all over Europe. In 1996 the Swiss Pocket Bike Championship was created. This championship grew to include other pocket bike clubs to eventually become one of the largest in the world. Over 120 people compete in 8- 11 races every year. The races, which are held on different tracks, are divided up by the age and sex of the participants as well as the type of pocket bike (junior, stock or racing).
Pocket bike racing remains one of the fastest growing sports in Europe and is also spreading to other countries in Asia and North America. In certain European countries the races are even televised. Italy remains the number one producer of Minimotos, though the machines they create are now much more powerful than the earlier models. The Chinese have recently began making the bikes, which although of a much lower quality than their Italian counterparts, are nonetheless much less expensive.
Many of the top motorcycle racers first learned their sport on a Minimoto. World champs who began on pocket bikes include Valentino Rossi (Italian), Loris Capirossi (Italian), Nobuatsu Aoki (Japanese) and Daijiro Kato (Japanese). However, an English motorcycle instructor named Alec Tague holds the latest land speed record. Alec, who is 39 years old and 5 foot 10, reached 78 MPH on his 12-inch bike. The old record, held by American Dave Myers was 63.888 MPH.
Modern pocket bikes that have not been souped up usually have between 4 and 14 horsepower. Entry-level bikes produce 3 to 4 hp, while racing models can have the power output of 11 to 12 hp. Most bikes weigh around 40 pounds and run anywhere from $200 for a low end Chinese model, to $5,000 for a well-crafted, top of the line Italian bike.