MINI BIKE HISTORY
If you are a parent or grandparent shopping for a fun gift, or looking for a new "toy" to put in your collection, you will be sure to remember the mini bike craze. The early history of mini bikes is spread across the latter half of the last century, originating in America, funnily enough. Drag racers in the 1950's built mini bikes out of spare parts, and used them to navigate around the confined spaces of the pits. In the off season they brought these mini bikes home, and soon a substantial number of children could be seen riding around neighborhoods on the little bikes. Mini bikes reached their height of american popularity in the 60's, when most were hand-built by enthusasts in weld shops. The looks vary from rectagular boxes with wheels to some that look like little Buells or Harleys. However, as no US companies stepped up with quality domestically manufactured mini bikes, the sport had no room to thrive and it all but died out in America by the late 1960's. In most cases, the mini bikes have 4 stroke engines, varying from 50cc's up to 97cc or 125cc. Popular engines are usually lawnmower engines, such as Briggs n Stratton or Honda.
These engines are attached to a centrifugal automatic clutch that drives a chain drive to the rear wheel. The pinion gear and the rear sprocket are connected by custom-cut heavy-duty chain. One of the biggest problems with mini bikes today is where to buy them, let alone purchase parts for them. It seems that just about nobody carries them in the stores, and they are expensive. You will also notice that all mini bikes on the market are a little different from each other, and use different parts, including engines.
Most mini bike manufacturers in the U.S. have gone out of business. Well-known companies included Rupp, Heath Company (producer of Heathkit Boonie GT mini bike), Taco, Gilson, and Fox Doodle Bug. All of these bikes featured a simple frame, horizontal-shaft mounted engine, and in some cases, lights and front suspension.
Some minibikes actually looked more like real motorcycles such as Panda, Yerf Dog, and Kazuma Elf. Sadly, due to a very limited market, most of these bikes are either not available in the USA at all, or can only be found as vintage models at pawn shops or swap meets.
MINI BIKES TODAY
The good news is that mini bikes today are alive an well in the form of more specialized, purpose-built racing machines called pocket bikes. For about $300 you can purchase a model with a high-output 2-stroke engine. There is a growing resurgence of interest in vintage-style mini bikes, and if that is something you are in the market for, be sure to let us know.
From 2005 through 2009, another craze swept the country - "Super pocket bikes". Also known as Ninja pocket bikes, These were mini bikes built to look like real motorcycles, complete with lights, turn signals, and even four speed manual transmissions with clutches. However, due to the fact that super pocket bikes look too much like motorcycles even though they were never designed for on-road use, it is now very difficult to find them for sale. Mini bikes clearly look like hobby bikes, and cannot be confused with motocycles. They also do not go as fast (usually not exceeding 25 mph), and lack features such as brake lights and turn signals. Be it you purchase a fully built minibike or put one together yourself, it is sure to give you plenty of off-road riding fun.
Update (April 2011): we are discontinuing sales of our minibike, the Baja Mini Bike, due to the manufacturer's inability to provide warranty parts to our customers. We highly recommend our X18 Nitro or X19 Mini Bike instead. While they are more expensive, they feature a real motorcycle engine (not a lawnmower engine strapped to a frame), and even the option for a four-speed manual transmission with a clutch!