Hill Climb Motorcycle Racing is one of the oldest motorsports in the world. It dates all the way back to the early 1900s. Hill Climb Racing has garnered a dedicated following over the years and has stayed a very purist sport. Nothing significant has changed in the Hill Climb sport, but its origins are very interesting. So today, let’s take a trip down memory lane and remember some of the great riders as well as the amazing sport of Hill Climb Racing.
The Origins of Hill Climb Racing (the Early 1910s and 1920s)
Hill Climb Racing started in the early 1910s and 1920s, as both cars and bikes started to become a lot faster. As the racers' enthusiasm and passion for the sport started growing, these racers started looking to new avenues to satiate their racing desires. This need became all the more apparent with the fall in popularity of board track racing. And when the ground wasn’t enough for them, they started to look to the sky to meet their racing needs. Of course, this was what many believed to be the case, but the truth is that Hill Climb racing started much earlier than that, around 1905 to be specific.
The Start (1905)
Much like with most motorsports, it all started with a company looking to flex their impressive hardware. Hill Climb Racing in the early 1900s and wasn’t much of a sport but rather a glorified exhibition. Motorbike manufacturers would find the steepest of hills and the most daring of riders willing to climb. Then, they would test their hardware in front of a small crowd of motorcycle enthusiasts, and that would be all.
Now that is not to say that it was in any way easy. The bike’s power aside, the rider had to be experienced enough to navigate a steep slope. And the company that often found itself sending riders up hills was none other than Indian Motorcycles.
Indian Motorcycles was one of the most famous manufacturers at the time. So with them riding their motorcycles up steep hills, they managed to gather quite the crowd. Soon the exhibition grew into a sport for thrill-seekers, and manufacturers started crafting motorcycles specifically designed for climbing steep hills. Triumph eventually joined in on the action and Harley Davidson also made its way into the sport by 1910.
The Growth of the Sport (the 1920s)
After the initial reception of fans and dedicated motorbikes, the world was soon engulfed in the First World War. The manufacturers’ focus shifted during the time of war, which lead to halted production on consumer goods. But when the war was finally over, the manufacturers came back, and this time, more determined than ever.
In the 1920s the sport managed to really take off, with both manufacturers making improved bikes and spectators seeing brand new records being set. Hill Climbing became the stage for the big three: Excelsior, Indian, and Harley Davidson. And Hill Climbing’s rise to fame came at the expense of a much older motorsport, American Board Track Racing.
The fall of Board Track Racing
Board track racing was another incredibly famous motorsport in the United States that pitted some of the best racers against each other on a circular or oval track. The earliest interpretation of both dirt track racing and heavy bike racing, it was the ultimate thrill-seeking experience for bike enthusiasts.
But as bikes got faster, the board tracks just couldn’t handle the speed. The wooden tracks would sometimes chip off or break off entirely during a race due to the dated tire technology. This led to major casualties among riders and the audience. Although it was eventually shut down, it made a comeback in the form of dirt track racing throughout the US.
So with board track racing becoming dangerous for the audience, they started to move onto a relatively safer and much more thrilling experience, hill climbing. And with a massive audience moving towards this somewhat new sport, the AMA decided to sanction proper events for Hill Climbing making it a dedicated sport.
The AMA (American Motorcyclist Association) held the National Hill Climb championships for three years in a row in 1929, 1930, and 1931. Through these years both Excelsior and Indian Motorcycles fought for these championships, with Indian taking two of the three championships, and leaving Harley Davidson in the dust. Of course these good days were very short-lived, as the Great Depression started to sink in.
The Great Depression
The Great Depression was one of the lowest points for the sport and the United States in general. Excelsior closed down its Chicago factory in the early 1930s as a result of the hard times on the industry and Indian Manufacturers were also operating at only 5% capacity. Harley Davidson also fell victim to this tough economic setback, having faced one of the worst sales periods ever.
Despite the Great Depression becoming a concern for manufacturers, they were still focused on winning top honors in their respected sports. These races became a means for survival for both the racers and the companies, who somewhat carried them to the end. At the time, things were looking so bad that Harley Davidson and Indian Motors were looking to close down operations for good.
Today’s Hill Climbing
Hill climbing racing, despite what it had gone through, managed to persevere in the end. After both the Great Depression and the Second World War, the sport managed to make a comeback and garnered a lot of traction. In 2008, however, the sport almost died out completely when the AMA was focusing more on other motorsports.
The Daytona Motorsport Group took over from the AMA, and it soon managed to make its way to where it is today. Hill Climb Racing has also made its way to the icy mountains in Antarctica, becoming a major part of the X games. And that is how dirt climb racing came to be where it is today.