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History of Motorcycles

If you are a motorcycle enthusiast, knowing a bit of history about this vehicle type is always a good idea. Let's take a look at a few key points in the history of motorcycles worth knowing today.

  • Motorcycles actually came from what were called "safety bikes" in the 19th century. Bicycles used to be made with two different sized wheels until a safety bike with two equal sized wheels and what is called a pedal crank mechanism was introduced. While this is the basic model of a motorcycle, there is no one starting point where the first motorcycle was officially created. In the 1860s, Pierre Michaux constructed the first bicycles with pedals called a velocipede.

  • In 1867, Pierre Michaux's son, Ernest, created the first steam engine for a velocipede. While this was still a far cry from what we think of today as a motorcycle, it was one of the first self-propelling two-wheel vehicles ever created which made it historic. The following year, an American named Sylvester H. Roper created a twin-cylinder steam velocipede, with a coal-fired boiler positioned between the two wheels. While this was an improvement on the previous steam model, it was slightly more dangerous, and he would later end up dying while demonstrating one of his models. In 1881, another American, Lucius Copeland designed a considerably smaller steam boiler which was capable of driving the large rear wheel of an American Star high-wheeler at 12 mph which would become the first successful motorcycle design by 1887.

  • These motorcycles were still essentially prototypes because they weren't made available to the general public. The race to create the first bike with a motor for public use was a diverse race with several entities competing against one another. For example, the history of motorcycles started to amp up greatly when Excelsior Motor Company, originally a bicycle manufacturing company based in Coventry in England, began production of their first motorcycle model in 1896, which would be made available for purchase by the public.

  • Once the first official motorcycle was made available to the public, other manufacturers started to get in on the market. At the time, almost all bicycle manufacturers were simply adding an internal combustion engine to their bicycle design and calling it a motorcycle.

  • By the early 1900s, motorcycle designs continued to improve by way of adding a more durable frame or a more cushioned seat, as well as upgrades to the engine system. The design of the common motorcycle during this time made it an ideal choice for use during World War I thanks to the lightweight body and ability to maneuver through tighter spaces than a car, as well as the economical factor. While previous wars used messengers on horses, this was the first war to use messengers on motorcycles. The motorcycles of this time were more advanced than pre-war models with some of the first 499 cc air-cooled four-stroke single-cylinder engines on the market. Many of the models on the market at this time were created by Harley Davidson. In fact, this manufacturer devoted over 50% of their factory power to creating motorcycles for military purposes.

  • By the 1920s, Harley Davidson would lead the way in a motorcycle revolution of riding them for pleasure instead of military purposes alone. Harley Davidson, along with Indian and BMW, were creating motorcycles in several designs and models. By the 1930s and 1940s, motorcycles were more commonplace in America and Britain outside of wartime thanks to these manufacturers.

  • World War II was another interesting turning point in the history of motorcycles. When many soldiers returned home, they found they missed the sense of camaraderie of their fellow soldiers in their everyday civilian life. This lack of brotherhood eventually led to the first motorcycle clubs popping up in the late 1940s and early 1950s. This is when the term biker started to become a common word in the culture of Americans, though it often had a somewhat bad connotation due to many films stereotyping motorcycle riders as bad seeds.

  • The history of motorcycles had its ups and downs the rest of the 20th century. While rowdy bikers living a lawless lifestyle was still a common misconception of the motorcycle rider, these bikes found new ways to introduce themselves to the public such as dirt bike racing. With the dominance of dirt bike racing and off-road motorcycling taking popularity, the use of motorcycles became more mainstream over time. While Harley Davidson continues to hold a good share of the personal riding market, especially in America, worldwide manufacturers like Kawasaki, Honda, and Yamaha dominate the world market thanks to their innovations and commitment to excellence for a wide range of bike types.