Motorcycle History

Early milestones

Petroleum power

The inspiration for the earliest dirt bike, and arguably the first motorcycle, was designed and built by the German inventors Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach in Bad Cannstatt (since 1905 a city district of Stuttgart) in 1885. The first petroleum-powered vehicle, it was essentially a motorized bicycle, although the inventors called their invention the Reitwagen ("riding carriage"). They had not set out to create a vehicle form but to build a simple carriage for the engine, which was the focus of their endeavours.

Steam power

However, if one counts two wheels with steam propulsion as being a motorcycle, then the first one may have been American. One such machine was demonstrated at fairs and circuses in the eastern United States in 1867, built by Sylvester Howard Roper of Roxbury, Massachusetts.

There exists an example of a Roper machine dating from 1869, but there is no patent existing and nothing proves it was a working model. It was powered by a charcoal-fired two-cylinder engine, whose connecting rods directly drive a crank on the rear wheel. The Roper machine pre-dates the invention of the safety bicycle by many years, so its chassis is based on the "boneshaker" bike.

In 1868, the French engineer Louis-Guillaume Perreaux patented a similar steam-powered vehicle, which was probably invented independent of Roper's. In this case, although a patent exists that is dated 1868, nothing indicates the invention had been operable before 1871. Nevertheless, these steam-powered vehicles were invented prior to the first petroleum-powered motorcycle.

An 1894 Hildebrand & Wolfmller

The English persisted with steam powered bikes into the Edwardian period.[citation needed] Pearson and Cox was one firm that made units until the First World War.[citation needed]

First commercial products

In the decade from the late 1880s, dozens of designs and machines emerged, particularly in France, Germany and England, and soon spread to America.

During this early period of motorcycle history, there were many manufacturers since bicycle makers were adapting their designs for the new internal combustion engine.

In 1894, the Hildebrand & Wolfmller became the first motorcycle available to the public for purchase. However, only a few hundred examples of this motorcycle were ever built. Soon, as the engines became more powerful and designs outgrew the bicycle origins, the number of motorcycle-oriented producers increased.

The first known motorcycle in the United States was said to be brought to New York by a French circus performer, in 1895. It weighed about 200 lb (91 kg) and was capable of 40 mph (64 km/h) on a level surface. However, that same year, an inventor from the United States E.J. Pennington demonstrated a motorcycle of his own design in Milwaukee. Pennington claimed his machine was capable of a speed of 58 mph (93 km/h), and is credited with inventing the term "motor cycle" to describe his machine.

The 20th century

Before World War II

A 1913 FN (Fabrique National), Belgium, 4cylinders and shaft drive

In 1901 English quadricycle and bicycle maker Royal Enfield introduced its first motorcycle, with a 239 cc engine mounted in the front and driving the rear wheel through a belt. In 1898, English bicycle maker Triumph decided to extend its focus to include motorcycles, and by 1902, the company had produced its first motorcycle bicycle fitted with a Belgian-built engine. In 1903, as Triumph's motorcycle sales topped 500, the American company Harley-Davidson started producing motorcycles.

In 1904, the Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company, which had been founded by two former bicycle racers, designed the so-called "diamond framed" Indian Single, whose engine was built by the Aurora Firm in Illinois. The Single was made available in the deep red color that would become Indian's trademark. By then, Indian's production was up to over 500 bikes annually and would rise to 32,000, its best ever, in 1913.

During this period, experimentation and innovation were driven by the popular new sport of motorcycle racing, with its powerful incentive to produce tough, fast, reliable machines. These enhancements quickly found their way to the public machines.

A 1923 BMW R32, with a shaft-drive, boxer twin engine

Chief August Vollmer of the Berkeley, California Police Department is credited with organizing the first official Police Motorcycle Patrol in the United States in 1911. By 1914, motorcycles were no longer just bicycles with engines; they had their own technologies, although many still maintained bicycle elements, like the seats and suspension.

A pre-war Polish Sok 1000

An historic V-twin American motorcycle a 1941 Crocker

Until the First World War, Indian was the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world. After that, this honor went to Harley-Davidson, until 1928 when DKW took over as the largest manufacturer. BMW motorcycles came on the scene in 1923 with a shaft drive and an opposed-twin or "boxer" engine enclosed with the transmission in a single aluminum housing.

By 1931, Indian and Harley-Davidson were the only two American manufacturers producing commercial motorcycles. This two-company rivalry in the United States remained until 1953, when the Indian Motorcycle factory in Springfield, Massachusetts closed and Royal Enfield took over the Indian name.

There were over 80 different makes of motorcycle available in Britain in the 1930s, from the familiar marques like Norton, Triumph and AJS to the completely obscure, with names like New Gerrard, NUT, SOS, Chell and Whitwood, about twice as many motorcycle makes competing in the world market during the early 21st century.

In 1937, Joe Petrali set a new land speed record of 136.183 mph (219.165 km/h) on a modified Harley-Davidson 61 cubic inch (1000 cc) overhead valve-driven motorcycle. The same day, Petrali also broke the speed record for 45 cubic inch (737 cc) engine motorcycles.

In Europe, production demands, driven by the buildup to World War II, included motorcycles for military use, and BSA supplied 126,000 BSA M20 motorcycles to the British armed forces, starting in 1937 and continuing until 1950. Royal Enfield also produced motorcycles for the military, including a 125 cc lightweight motorcycle that could be dropped (in a parachute-fitted tube cage) from an aircraft.

After World War II

An original Vespa with sidecar

After the Second World War, some American veterans found a replacement for the camaraderie, excitement, danger and speed of life at war in motorcycles. Grouped into loosely organized clubs, motorcycle riders in the U.S. created a new social institutionhe motorcyclists or "bikers"hich was later skewed by the "outlaw" persona Marlon Brando portrayed in the 1954 film The Wild One.

In Europe, on the other hand, post-war motorcycle producers were more concerned with designing practical, economical transportation than the social aspects, or "biker" image. Italian designer Piaggio introduced the Vespa in 1946, which experienced immediate and widespread popularity. Imports from the UK, Italy and Germany, thus found a niche in U.S. markets that American bikes did not fill.

The BSA Group purchased Triumph Motorcycles in 1951 to become the largest producer of motorcycles in the world claiming "one in four". The German NSU was the largest manufacturer from 1955 until the 1970s when Honda became the largest manufacturer title now claimed by Indian bike firm Hero Honda, which specialises in small motorcycles throughout India and similar markets.

A 1962 Triumph Bonneville represents the popularity of British motorcycles at that time

British manufacturers Triumph, BSA, and Norton retained a dominant position in some markets until the rise of the Japanese manufacturers (led by Honda) in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The role of the motorcycle shifted in the 1960s, from the tool of a life to a toy of a lifestyle. It became part of an image, of status, a cultural icon for individualism, a prop in Hollywood B-movies.

The motorcycle also became a recreational machine for sport and leisure, a vehicle for carefree youth, not essential transportation for the mature family man or woman, and the Japanese were able to produce modern designs more quickly, more cheaply, and of better quality than their competitors. Their motorbikes were more stylish and more reliable, so the British manufacturers fell behind as mass-market producers.

The Honda Motor Co., which was officially founded in Japan on September 24, 1948, introduced their SOHC inline 4-cylinder 750 in 1969, which was inexpensive and immediately successful. It was not a high-performance bike, but it established the across-the-frame-4 engine configuration as a design with huge potential for power and performance. Despite being much more complex than any other mass-market motorcycle, it was the most reliable large motorcycle on the road.[citation needed]

Shortly after the introduction of the SOHC, Kawasaki demonstrated the potential of the four-cycle four-cylinder engine with the introduction of the KZ900. The only motorcycle that outperformed the KZ900 was another Kawasaki, the H1, a much smaller and lighter 3-cylinder, two-cycle engine.[citation needed] The H1 was prone to fouling, and was considered dangerous by many riders.[citation needed]

The Suzuki Motor Co., Ltd., Kawasaki Heavy Industries and the Yamaha Motor Corporation each started producing motorcycles in the 1950s. Meanwhile, the sun was setting on British dominion over the big-displacement motorbike market.

Japanese dominance

The Honda CB750 revolutionized motorcycle marketing and was emblematic of Japanese dominance

The excellence of Japanese motorcycles caused similar effects in all "Western" markets: many Italian bike firms either went bust or only just managed to survive. As a result BMW's worldwide sales sagged in the 1960s, but came back strongly with the introduction of a completely redesigned "slash-5" series for model year 1970.

From the 1960s through the 1990s, small two-stroke motorcycles were popular worldwide, partly as a result of the East German Walter Kaaden's engine work in the 1950s, later acquired by Suzuki via stolen plans supplied by MZ rider Ernst Degner, who defected to the West on 13th September 1961 after retiring from the 125cc Swedish Grand Prix at Kristianstad.

Harley-Davidson (HD) in the U.S. at the time suffered from the same problems as the European firms, but its unique product range, American tariff laws and nationalism-driven customer loyalty allowed it to survive. One alleged flaw, however, was retaining the characteristic HD 45 engine vee-angle, which causes excess vibration as well as the loping HD sound.

A factory full fairing was introduced by BMW motorcycles in the R100RS of 1977, the first factory fairing produced in quantity. In 1980, BMW stimulated the "adventure touring" category of motorcycling with its R80G/S. In 1988, BMW was the first motorcycle manufacturer to introduce anti-lock-brakes (ABS) on its sporting K100RS-SE and K1 models.

The present

A 2004 Kawasaki ZX-7RR

Today the Japanese manufacturers, Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha dominate the large motorcycle industry, although Harley-Davidson still maintains a high degree of popularity, particularly in the United States.

Recent years have seen a resurgence in the popularity around the world of many other motorcycle brands, including BMW, Triumph and Ducati, and the emergence of Victory as a second successful mass-builder of big-twin American cruisers.

In November 2006, the Dutch company E.V.A. Products BV Holland announced that the first commercially available diesel-powered motorcycle, its Track T-800CDI, achieved production status. The Track T-800CDI uses a 800 cc three-cylinder Daimler Chrysler diesel engine. However, other manufacturers, including Royal Enfield, had been producing diesel-powered bikes since at least 1965.

Motorcycle traffic in Bangkok

Currently, the largest motorcycle market is the small machines market for the developing world, hence the claim from Indian Hero Honda to be the world's new biggest bike firm. India has also been the home to the Enfield Cycle Company's Royal Enfield, since 1995. Enfield India still makes updated versions of the 1955 Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle.

There is a large demand for small, cheap motorcycles in the "developing world", and many of the firms meeting that demand now also compete in "developed" markets, such as China's Hongdou which makes a version of Honda's venerable CG 125.

Motorcycle taxis are the developing world's limousines. Scooters, mopeds and motorcycles offer a fast, cheap and risky way around snarled traffic and scarce mass transit, as they can easily squeeze through jams.

See also


Motorcycle manufacturers


Police motorcycle

Safety bicycle

Further reading

Early history and use in the United Kingdom

Pennell, Joseph (February 8 1901). "Some Experiences Of Motor Bicycles". Journal Of The Society Of Arts XLIX (2,516). Retrieved 2009-08-15. 

Hiscox, Gardner Dexter (1902). The Automobile: A Practical Treatise On The Construction Of Modern Motor Cars Steam, Petrol, Electric And Petrol-Electric: Chapter XXI. Motor Bicycles (1903 ed.). London: Cassell And Company, Limited. pp. 751763. Retrieved 2009-08-15. 

Lavergne, Gerard (1902). The Automobile: Its Construction And Management (Various Chapters). London: Cassell And Company, Limited. Retrieved 2009-08-15. 

Wilson, A. J. (1903). Motor Cycles And How To Manage Them, 6th ed.. London: Iliffe & Sons Limited. Retrieved 2009-08-15. 

Early history and use in the United States

Lockert, Louis (1899). Petroleum Motor-Cars: Chapter VIII "Motor Bicycles". New York: D. Van Nostrand Company. pp. 6475. Retrieved 2009-08-15. 

"The Automobile Bicycle". The Literary Digest XIX (16): 463464. October 14 1899. Retrieved 2009-08-15. 

Hiscox, Gardner Dexter (1900). Horseless Vehicles, Automobiles, Motor Cycles Operated By Steam, Petrol, Electric And Petrol-Electric: Chapter XI. Automobile Bicycles And Tricycles. New York: Munn & COmpany. pp. 175215. Retrieved 2009-08-15. 

"Interesting Notes. Single Motor Bicycles". The School Journal LX (22): 632. June 2 1900. Retrieved 2009-08-15. 

Krarup, M.C. (November 1900). The Field For Motorcycles: Motorcycling Vs. Motoring. XXXVII. pp. 207212. Retrieved 2009-08-15. 

Bill, L. H. (August 1902). "The Poor Man's Automobile". Overland Monthly, And Out West Magazine XL (2): 197198. Retrieved 2009-08-15. 

Burr, H. Walter (December 1902). Up Mount Hamilton On A Motor Cycle. XL. pp. 556561. 

"Possibilities of the Motorcycle". The Automobile XIII (4): 123. July 27 1903. Retrieved 2009-08-15. 

Hiscox, Gardner Dexter (1904). Mechanical Appliances, Mechanical Movements And Novelties Of Construction: Road And Vehicle Devices, Types Of Motor Bicycles. New York: The Norman W. Henley Publishing Company. pp. 215216. Retrieved 2009-08-15. 

"Motor Bicycles for Medical Men". The Medical World XXIII (10). October 1905. Retrieved 2009-08-15. 

Cummings, C. E. (February 1906). "An Idyl Of The Tireless Bike". Recreation XXIV (2): 127130. Retrieved 2009-08-15. 

Bashore, S. D. (July 1906). "The Motor Cycle For Physicians". The Texas State Journal of Medicine II (3): 9293. Retrieved 2009-08-15. 

"Mail Collection By Motor Van". The Commercial Vehicle III (7). July 1908. Retrieved 2009-08-15. "An experiment is being conducted by the Post-office ... with the use of a motorcycle van ... of the "Indian" type". 

"Development Of The Motor Cycle Van: Increasing Use Of This Type Of Light Package Delivery Motor Vehicle Noted Both Here And Abroad". The Commercial Vehicle III (10): 227228. October 1908.;=RA1-PA227. Retrieved 2009-08-15. 


^ a b "The Past - 1800s: First motorcycle". The History and Future of Motorcycles and motorcycling - From 1885 to the Future, Total Motorcycle Website. Retrieved 2007-06-28. 

^ Daimler, Paul (December 1901). "The Development Of The Petroleum Automobile". Engineering Magazine XXII (3): 350. Retrieved 2009-08-15. "Illustration "The Original Daimler Motorcycle"". 

^ a b c Ian Chadwick (June 30, 2001). "An overview of the British motorcycle industry and its collapse". British Motorcycle Manufacturers. Retrieved 2007-06-28. 

^ "Brief History of the Marque: Hildebrand & Wolfmuller"., European Motorcycle Universe. Retrieved 2007-06-28. 

^ "Theatrical Gossip" (PDF). The New York Times. 25 November 1895. Retrieved 2007-11-07. 

^ Harley-Davidson: At the Creation

^ "Our History". Berkeley Police Department Online, City of Berkeley, CA. Retrieved 2007-06-28. 

^ a b "HD History: Timeline - 1930s". Harley-Davidson USA (2001-2007 H-D).!-74508550!1457951189&locale=en_US. Retrieved 2007-06-28. 

^ "Post 1953 Indian Motorcycle History". Retrieved 2007-06-28. 

^ "British Motorcycles of the 1930s"., webWorld International, LLC (2001-2007). Retrieved 2007-06-28. 

^ a b "Freedom and Postwar Mobility: 1946-1958". The Art of the Motorcycle, Guggenheim Museum. Retrieved 2008-10-24. 

^ Bill Stermer (January/February 2008). "1977 BMW R100RS". Motorcycle Classics. Retrieved 2009-08-10. 

^ "The first commercially-available diesel motorcycle". (November 20, 2006). Retrieved 2007-06-28. 

^ "Diesel motorbikes". Journey to Forever. Retrieved 2007-06-28. 

^ "Hongdou Group: Manufacturer & Exporter . . .". International Department, Hongdou Motorcycle Co. Ltd. Retrieved 2007-06-28. 

^ Daniel Michaels. "Two-Wheel Taxis Tap Upscale Market in Paris". Startup Journal - Enterprise, The Wall Street Journal - Center for Entrepreneurs (2007 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.). Retrieved 2007-06-28. 

External links

The Art of the Motorcycle at the Orlando Museum of Art.

The Future of Motorcycles - An Opinion - Before the future, we have to understand the past.

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