A first ride on a minibike was once was a rite of passage, with wide-eyed youth getting their initiating taste of the nervous energy that comes with that virgin roll on something with two wheels and an engine. It never took long after that before you and your childhood buddies were grabbing some bricks and plywood and building yourselves a rickety ramp to launch from. That first taste often ignited a lifelong passion for riding, as minibikes would inevitably lead some youngsters to dirt bikes, then street machines. But like my memories of those days, the minibike’s popularity seemed to wane over the years.
It took a trip to Oregon’s high desert to reopen my eyes to the reborn and rising minibike culture. I got wind of The Oregon Gambler 100 Mini Bike Enduro from a fellow editor, and seeing how it was being held only three hours from my house, I rolled the dice. When the first person I saw upon arriving was a burly bearded guy in a blue tutu sitting on a camouflaged Coleman scooter, I knew I was in the land of the Gamblers. (Learn more in our Dogfight in the High Desert article.)
Walking around the campground and seeing a minibike with both a single-sided fork and swingarm and a scooter with three inline wheels wasn’t what I expected. After a night of minibikes jumping a bonfire (where, yes, a rickety ramp was erected), everybody straggled from their camps, cranked up their Coleman CT200s, Baja Doodle Bugs, and Honda Trails and turned out to battle in a 100-mile enduro. Thanks to newfound friend Jason Lightner, I got to spin a lap on the 5.6-mile course aboard his camoed Coleman. It’s the most carefree fun I’ve had on two wheels in a long time. I felt like a kid again, realizing why this subculture is burgeoning. There’s big fun to be had on little bikes.
Minibikes even infiltrated Sturgis this past summer as the Buffalo Chip invited the Gambler crew to the rally. Mayhem ensued at Camp Zero, the throwback, bare-bones camping area the Chip opened up across from the main venue. The first minibike marathon at Sturgis that I know of was held there as Colemans buzzed around for hours, culminating in late-night antics around the actual campground. I’ve seen photos of the fun, which included—what else—a homemade ramp. From what I’ve heard, they’ll be back again this year.
Turns out the minibike craze isn’t just an American phenomenon. It’s an international affair too, evidenced by the outpouring of mini love at the Mooneyes show. Morgan Gales brought back an incredible gallery of custom minibikes from Yokohama
as Japanese builders took minibike builds to the next level. There was a full-on speedway mini that looked delightfully dangerous as well. And whoever made that chopper out of a Honda Trail slayed it. The ingenuity and engineering put into the minibikes at Mooneyes was impressive to say the least. No word whether any ramps made an appearance.
The craze shows no signs of slowing down. At this year’s 10th anniversary, The One Moto Show is holding the first Chopper Gods Mini-Bike Build-Off and race in which six builders customize an 80cc Mega Moto USA pull-start minibike. The invited include Savannah Rose of S&S Cycle, Prism Supply, Chase Stopnik, Moto Galore, Church of Choppers’ Jeff Wright, and Warren Heir and Kenda1 of Jr’s Cycle Products. The race goes down February 9, so if you’re anywhere near Portland that weekend, be sure to check out the 10th anniversary party because it’s guaranteed to be a wild one. There will also be electric minibike races, and knowing Thor and the See See Motorcycles crew, yes, there will be ramps.