1968 Yamaha DT-1
First in the dirt
Brad Powell's 1968 Yamaha DT-1.
Photo by Landon Hall
Years produced: 1968-1971
Claimed power: 18hp @ 6,000rpm
Top speed: 70mph (approx.)
Engine type: 246cc, 2-stroke, air-cooled single
Weight (dry): 105kg (231lbs)
Price then: $520 (est.)
Price now: $1,500 - $4,500
1968 was quite a year: History buffs will likely remember the escalating war in Vietnam or that Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated that fateful year. But gearheads of a certain age remember 1968 as the year the Yamaha DT-1 hit the scene and changed motorcycling forever.
Prior to the release of the Yamaha DT-1, a reliable, reasonably powerful and inexpensive dirt bikes simply didn’t exist. The various — mostly British — scramblers on the market tended to be big and heavy, and while companies like Greeves, Montesa and Penton offered purpose-built dirt bikes, they were expensive and quirky. The DT-1 changed all that.
Read about Gary and Rick Bault's experience of owning and riding a 1968 Yamaha DT-1
The Yamaha DT-1 was a solid, inexpensive bike you could ride to the track and then run with the best purpose-built dirt bikes of the day once you got there. And even if you weren’t a racer, it was a great compromise bike that could handle almost any trail you threw at it — and still get you safely home at the end of the day.
A fresh idea
Looking back, it seems simple enough: Build a lightweight but strong frame, put some moderately-long-travel suspension under it, add some dual-sport tires, throw in a reliable and reasonably powerful engine, add the street legal bits, and then sell it for a good deal less than the nearest true dirt bike. Presto, instant hit.
Up until that point, nobody had figured that out, and with the introduction of the Yamaha DT-1, Yamaha essentially defined a new market for motorcycles. Savvy research had shown there was a market for this type of bike in the U.S., but even Yamaha was surprised by the enthusiasm American buyers showed for its new bike: The initial 12,000 production run sold out quickly, so Yamaha ramped up production immediately, selling thousands of its little dirt bike while the rest of the industry played catch-up.
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