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.
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. Pearson and Cox was one firm that made units until the First World War.
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.
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.
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. The H1 was prone to fouling, and was considered dangerous by many riders.
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.
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.
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.
Early history and use in the United Kingdom
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Early history and use in the United States
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^ Daimler, Paul (December 1901). "The Development Of The Petroleum Automobile". Engineering Magazine XXII (3): 350. http://books.google.com/books?id=HgXOAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA358. Retrieved 2009-08-15. "Illustration "The Original Daimler Motorcycle"".
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^ "Brief History of the Marque: Hildebrand & Wolfmuller". Cybermotorcycle.com, European Motorcycle Universe. http://www.cybermotorcycle.com/euro/brands/hildebrand_wolfmuller.htm. Retrieved 2007-06-28.
^ "Theatrical Gossip" (PDF). The New York Times. 25 November 1895. http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?_r=1&res=9B07E5DB1139E033A25756C2A9679D94649ED7CF&oref=slogin. Retrieved 2007-11-07.
^ Harley-Davidson: At the Creation
^ "Our History". Berkeley Police Department Online, City of Berkeley, CA. http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/police/history/history.html. Retrieved 2007-06-28.
^ a b "HD History: Timeline - 1930s". Harley-Davidson USA (2001-2007 H-D). http://www.harley-davidson.com/wcm/Content/Pages/H-D_History/history_1930s.jsp?HDCWPSession=lG1xFnTQTTXKR0p6wpHB1N1cHtzdJ1250h8CvxtWctfBkvrFnRG4!-74508550!1457951189&locale=en_US. Retrieved 2007-06-28.
^ "Post 1953 Indian Motorcycle History". www.cycletownusa.com. http://www.cycletownusa.com/post1953.html. Retrieved 2007-06-28.
^ "British Motorcycles of the 1930s". www.webBikeWorld.com, webWorld International, LLC (2001-2007). http://www.webbikeworld.com/books/british-motorcycles-1930.htm. Retrieved 2007-06-28.
^ a b "Freedom and Postwar Mobility: 1946-1958". The Art of the Motorcycle, Guggenheim Museum. http://www.guggenheim.org/exhibitions/past_exhibitions/motorcycle/motorcycle.html. Retrieved 2008-10-24.
^ Bill Stermer (January/February 2008). "1977 BMW R100RS". Motorcycle Classics. http://www.motorcycleclassics.com/motorcycle-reviews/2008-01-01/bmw-r100rs.aspx. Retrieved 2009-08-10.
^ "The first commercially-available diesel motorcycle". www.Gizmag.com (November 20, 2006). http://www.gizmag.com/go/6493/. Retrieved 2007-06-28.
^ "Diesel motorbikes". Journey to Forever. http://journeytoforever.org/biodiesel_bikes.html. Retrieved 2007-06-28.
^ "Hongdou Group: Manufacturer & Exporter . . .". International Department, Hongdou Motorcycle Co. Ltd. http://www.aupamotor.com/. 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.). http://startup.wsj.com/columnists/enterprise/20060125-michaels.html. Retrieved 2007-06-28.
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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