Credit Mickey Rupp for infecting the fever dreams of every eight to 12 year old from 1968 to 1971. He built everything a kid could ever want in those days, including go-karts and snowmachines, but the vehicle that kept his company afloat was the “minicycle.” the minibike.
In four short years between 1968 and 1971, Rupp had a license to print money housed behind the overhead doors of its Mansfield, Ohio production facility, and it did so with nothing that displaced more than 200cc.
Starting in 1962, Rupp offered the Dart Cycle, a minibike in the classic configuration, with a 2 1/4-hp engine, no suspension, and a rear drum brake. For $199.50, a lot of these ads were burned into the memory banks of kids all over the country.
The Roadster Minicycle was a simple machine: the basic configuration was two loops of conduit with a rear swingarm, and twin shocks at the front and the rear. The padded seat sat atop a pull-start, single cylinder, four-stroke engine.
Kids got Roadster Minicycles by the truckload, but the bikes were designed to comfortably transport adults. The tall handlebars kept man-sized riders upright, and the functional head- and tail-lights and license plate bracket showed that it was intended for road use.
The engine did, too. While later bikes relied on the smaller 3 1/2hp Briggs & Stratton engines, the Rupp Roadster had a big, five-horse Tecumseh engine, pushing power to the rear wheel through an innovative, two-speed centrifugal clutch. Unlike the popular Vespa and Lambretta scooters that required oil mixed with gasoline, and the ability to learn how to shift, all it took to operate a street-legal Rupp Roadster was gas in the tank, and the ability to yank the engine’s pull cord.
Rupp pitched the Roadster to anyone who’d listen. Campers bought them as well as amateur racers, for their ability to be stashed in a trailer. Students agreed with the marketing materials: “Rupp Cycles are a groovy way to commute to and from school.”
Unfortunately for Mickey Rupp, the Roadster’s popularity and simplicity were its ultimate downfall. Once any dimwit who could bend tubing figured out how to weld a frame together and order a Briggs engine out of a catalog, a plague of lesser competitors were at Rupp’s heels. Companies like 500 Industries, Cat, Fox, Mini Doodle and Speedway had their own knockoffs on the market in no time, clogging the ad section at the back of Popular Mechanics.
Retail giants like Sears, Roebuck offered their own complete minibikes.
Legit manufacturers like Arctic Cat and Polaris got in on the act, diversifying their snow-centric product lines.
Arctic Cat had a terrific ad campaign that mirrored Volkswagen’s innovative campaign with the same self-depricating humor:
For Rupp, it was all over by 1974, as the massive wave of knockoffs crashed, and better bikes arrived by the containerload from Japan.
For a brief moment, though, minibikes were a sensation. Check out the celebrities who rode them in the minibike’s heyday: