The History of Motorcycles

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More History of Motorcycles

Motorcycles have come along way from when they were first created by doing nothing more than adding an engine to a bicycle. Now motorcycles are some of the most technical machines out there. Here we have gathered some information and put it together to give you a brief history on the motorcycle.
How It Started

Not long after the first bicycle was introduced at the end of the nineteenth century, a few inspired individuals felt it was just not fast enough and strapped on an engine and started the motorcycle craze. Experiments by two individuals would set the tone for what motorcycle building was all about. These two men went by the names of William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson. Unless you have been stuck in a cage for the last century, I am sure you know who I am talking about. In 1903, they started what back then was nothing but an up and coming company known as The Harley-Davidson Motor Company. Now Harley-Davidson is world renowned for their line of motorcycles. You will not find a more respected motorcycle than the Harley-Davidson.

But back then Harley-Davidson where not the only ones meddling around with motorcycles. In 1902, a year before The Motor Company (what Harley-Davidson is known as), Triumph Cycle, Co.Ltd. of England started producing bikes of their own.

During the early 1900's, many other companies started appearing offering a motorcycle of their own design. People were now becoming more and more attracted to the motorcycle as transportation due to its relatively low cost. Cars were still too expensive for the general public to own so naturally they bought the motorcycles.

However, with just like every other craze, it all comes to the survival of the fittest. Many companies came out to try to compete with each other but after the invention of the affordable car, many companies went bankrupt. It was more convenient to carry the whole family in an affordable Ford Model T than a motorcycle. Then after the Great Depression, most of the companies that survived the last crisis came to the same fate as their competition.


During the 1950's American and British motorcycles were in control of the motorcycle market. The only downside to this was that in order to drive a motorcycle during this time, you had to know how a motorcycle worked inside and out. It was very difficult to own a motorcycle during this time if you were not mechanically inclined. Just starting a motorcycle was a mission on its own. Advancements in designs of motorcycles were at a near stand still because there was really no competition to force new technology. Then came the Japanese.

Japan had been suffering like every other country that was involved in the war. The only difference with Japan is that their completely manufacturing infrastructure had been destroyed. Therefore, instead of rebuilding how it was before, they decided to look into the future and build towards that. Like most other countries building motorcycles after the war, they were primarily concerned with providing cheap transportation for their citizens. Japanese motorcycles were not popular in the US since no one here had the need for a bicycle with an engine in it.

As the late 1950's rolled around, Japanese motorcycles started evolving into bigger and better motorcycles. They started slowly making their way to Europe and soon enough they were in the US. They had come from small slow mopeds to reliable, attractive, fast, and most importantly affordable motorcycles. The Japanese made several advancements that were lacking from American companies. One of the most noticed advancements was the introduction of the electric start system. A kick-start was no longer needed to start your bike.

Since the Japanese were mostly concerned with making small motorcycles, none of the other major motorcycle manufacturers considered them a threat. They were in a different league and were not considered competition. This proved to be a fatal mistake. As the 1960's progressed, Japanese bikes were getting bigger and faster but no one paid attention until Honda introduced their CD450. This bike was nothing anyone had ever seen before. This bike was good looking, affordable and could outrun any stock Harley-Davidson with more than twice the engine size time and time again without breaking down like the Harley tended to do.

Finally other motorcycle companies took notice to Japan and started creating ways to compete with the Japanese bikes. Several companies incorporated new technology to their classic line of bikes but this proved to bee too little too late. When Honda introduced its new four cylinder CB750, there was no doubt Japanese motorcycles were here to stay. There is nothing that can be said about this bike to overstate it; this bike's introduction was incomparable to any other in the world. It was like a new car company making a car that could perform as well as the top of the line Mercedes-Benz for the price of a Hyundai. Now people could have the fastest most reliable motorcycle and pay only a fraction of the price.


As is with all good things, they all must end. During the baby-boomers period, everyone had purchased a motorcycle. It was the generation that wanted speed and reliability and they found it in the Japanese motorcycles. But during the late 70's when baby-boomers were concentrating on starting families and getting jobs that required most of their times, motorcycles started loosing their appeal. American distributors found themselves with a surplus of Japanese motorcycles that no one wanted to buy. They were forced to sell their left over stock at half of what their cost was. This drove many companies out of business.

Rise Again

After this latest disaster to hit the motorcycle industry, they were in need of something to bring them back from the dead. This time it was up to the most unlikely company to revive the old hogs. Harley-Davidson had the reputation of not being reliable largely because they simply were not. You had to be a mechanic to own one so it was not for the public. In 1981, Harley-Davidson was able to separate itself from its parent company AMF (American Machine and Foundry) and start working on a new engine. The introduction of the Evolution engine brought a completely new market to Harley-Davidson.

With the new Evo engine, Harley's now became the reliable motorcycles that people had been looking for. Now anyone was able to own a classic Harley and not have to be a worried about it breaking down in the middle of the night. Nowadays Harley-Davidson is at top of sales in the United States. Every bike Harley makes is already sold before it leaves the factory. Their dedication to motorcycles is why they are at the top once again. Now there are several big companies that make good motorcycles. You can find a motorcycle for just about anyone. Whether you like them big or small, there is someone out there that makes the bike for you.

Ride Safe

-Team Motorhelmets

The Motorcycle

Gottllieb Daimler's 1885 Motorcycle
American, Sylvester Howard Roper (1823-1896) invented a two-cylinder, steam-engine motorcycle (powered by coal) in 1867. This can be considered the first motorcycle, if you allow your description of a motorcycle to include a steam engine. Howard Roper also invented a steam engine car.

German, Gottlieb Daimler invented the first gas-engined motorcycle in 1885, which was an engine attached to a wooden bike. That marked the moment in history when the dual development of a viable gas-powered engine and the modern bicycle collided. Gottlieb Daimler used a new engine invented by engineer, Nicolaus August Otto. Otto invented the first "Four-Stroke Internal-Combustion Engine" in 1876. He called it the "Otto Cycle Engine" As soon as he completed his engine, Daimler (a former Otto employee) built it into a motorcycle.

History of the Harley Davidson Motorcycle
Many of the nineteenth century inventors who worked on early motorcycles often moved on to other inventions. Daimler and Roper, for example, both went on to develop automobiles. However, inventors Harley and the Davidsons developed motorcycles and their business competitors were other new start-up companies such as Excelsior, Indian, Pierce, Merkel, Schickel and Thor.

In 1903, William Harley and his friends Arthur and Walter Davidson launched the Harley-Davidson Motor Company.
The bike had a quality engine, so it could prove itself in races, however, the company planned to manufacture it as a transport vehicle. Merchant, C. H. Lange, sold the first officially distributed Harley-Davidson in Chicago.

Hog Heaven
Celebrating 100 years of the Harley Davidson motorcycle.

The First Motorcycle?
A few early attempts at two-wheeled locomotion - Gottlieb Daimler is thought to have invented the real gas-powered motorcycle in 1885.

The History of the Motorcycle

Nicholaus August Otto, who invented the Otto Cycle, had an assistant, Gottlieb Daimler. Daimler left Otto to develop his own engine. In 1885 he made a wooden bike. He drove it with his engine instead of with a pedal arrangement.

Motorcycle Online
Features on motorcycle history: Adventures of the Wild Turkeys - The Rise and Fall of the NSU Empire - The Sammy Miller Museum - A Brief History of Indian Motocycles.

Motorcycles @ About

Find out about motorcycles today with guide Walter Kern, also read his section on the history behind different models of motorcycles and the motorcycle gangs.


The first motorcycle in history was produced in 1885 by German inventors Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach It was called a riding car. However, history shows us that in 1967, Sylvester Howard Roper of Roxbury, Massachusetts built a steam propulsion motorcycle. In 1876, Otto produced the first "Four-Stroke Internal-Combustion Engine".

The first motorcycle that went on sale was the Hildebrand & Wolfmüller in 1894. The "Indian" wad the largest motorcycle manufacturer prior to World War 1. Over time different motorcycle manufacturers would dominate the market from Harley Davidson to BSA Group to the powerful Japanese manufacturers that mostly dominate the market these days.

In 1946, Soichiro Honda founds the Honda Technical Research Insitute. By 1947, Honda has produced its first motorcycle, the 98cc, 2-cycle Dream.

The Ducati Family with investors founded the Società Radio Brevetti Ducati in Bologna. Originally they manufactured industrial components for radio transmissions. By 1946, Ducati introduced a 4-stroke 48cc clip-on engine for bicycles. And in 1952, the futuristic Cruiser 175cc, with automatic transmission and electric starter.

Yamaha: Founded by Torakusu Yamaha in 1888 originally as Yamaha Musical Instrument Company. After the war, Yamaha expanded into Motorcycles. The first was the 125cc, single cylinder two-stroke YA-1 Motorcycle.

1902: First Triumph motorcycle is produced. It uses a single-cylinder Belgian Minerva engine. It is fitted onto a bicycle frame.

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Monday, January 22, 2007 17:07