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first motorcycle invented

first motorcycle invented

first motorcycle invented

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first motorcycle invented
first motorcycle invented

Who Invented the First Motorcycle?

After the discovery of the bicycle in 1860s France, inventors all around the world started formulating their designs for automated version of this transport device. With the help of machines available to them in that time, they produced several prototypes of motorcycles that would pave the way for all the future models. Here we will describe the how the first motorcycle came to be.

From the 1920 to 1860s, Europe and USA became first acquainted to the simple velocipede device called Dandy Horse. This simple design (modeled after the Baron Karl von Drais velocipede “Draisine”) enabled its rider to drive it using the power of its own feet. Lack of pedals or chain drive limited its use to small percentage of drivers, mostly children and younger men. All that changed during early 1861 when French blacksmith Pierre Michaux patented bicycle pedals and presented to the world his first “boneshaker” bicycle.


This marked the point in from bicycle transport received massive boost of popularity and sales. While bicycles continued to get continuous improvements over the next 40 years (especially in English model “Rover” which featured chain drive, pneumatic tires and many more safety devices), early motorcycles prototypes started to be produced all over the Europe.

First known steam motorcycle was produced in the factory of the famous bicycle inventor Pierre Michaux. His son Ernest managed to attach small steam engine to one of their early bicycle designs. In the following years several more inventors managed to repeat similar feat, all using the steam engines with various (solid, liquid or gas fueled) combustion chambers. Steam engine motorcycles worked fine, but they had several big drawbacks (mainly, low power production and constant need of refueling).

Timeline of Motorcycles

Ever since from early bicycles, scientist searched the way to make transport on public roads more automated and faster. With that goal in mind, in last one and a half century many inventors tried to make their version of the motorcycle. Here are some most important events regarding their discoveries:

first motorcycle invented
first motorcycle invented
  • 1867 – First steam-powered motorcycle was made during 1867, in the factory of famous bicycle inventor Pierre Michaux. His son Ernest who also invented the bicycle pedals attached small steam engine to one of his bicycle designs.
  • 1868 – American, Sylvester H. Roper presented his twin cylinder steam velocipede with a coal burn furnace. He died in 1896 while performing a demonstration of one of his steam motorcycles.
  • 1871 – French engineer Louis-Guillaume Perreaux developed steam one cylinder motorcycle with an alcohol burner.
  • 1881 – American inventor Lucius Copeland strapped small boiler engine on a rear wheel of “farthing-penny” bicycle. This configuration enabled him to reach the speed of 12mhp.
  • 1959 – Japanese company Honda became the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the world, surpassing German NSU.
  • the 1960s – British motorcycle dominance faded away during 1960s with the appearance of several large Japanese manufacturers – Suzuki, Kawasaki and the Yamaha.
  • 1990 – Japanese supreme dominance lasted all up to 1990s when several American and Italian companies begun expanding their markets.
  • Present day – Today beside Japanese companies several other manufacturers hold sizable piece of the market. Most notably there are BMW, Ducati, Victory and Harley-Davidson.

S. H. Roper’s 1869 Steam-cycle

Most of the development during this earliest of eras concentrated on three and four-wheeled designs, since it was complex enough to get the machines running without having to worry about them falling over. The next really notable two-wheeler was the Millet of 1892. It used a 5-cylinder engine built as the hub of its rear wheel. The cylinders rotated with the wheel, and its crankshaft constituted the rear axle.

The first really successful production two-wheeler though, was the Hildebrand & Wolfmueller, patented in Munich in 1894. It had a step-through frame, with its fuel tank mounted on the downtube.


The engine was a parallel-twin, mounted low on the frame, with its cylinders going fore-and-aft. The connecting rods connected directly to a crank on the rear axle, and instead of using heavy flywheels for energy storage between cylinder-firing, it used a pair of stout elastic bands, one on each side outboard of the cylinders, to help out on the compression strokes.

first motorcycle invented
first motorcycle invented

 The French firm of DeDion-Buton built an engine that was to make the mass production and common use of motorcycles possible. It was a small, light, high revving four-stroke single, and used battery-and-coil ignition, doing away with the troublesome hot-tube. Bore and stroke figures of 50mm by 70mm gave a displacement of 138cc.


A total loss lubrication system was employed to drip oil into the crankcase through a metering valve, which then sloshed around to lubricate and cool components before dumping it on the ground via a breather. DeDion-Buton used this 1/2 horsepower powerplant in roadgoing trikes, but the engine was copied and used by everybody, including Indian and Harley-Davidson in the U.S.





The 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s are the textbook era of revival, creativity, attitude, and revolution. The world would soon be thrust into a time of re imagination; new ideas and perspectives that had been brewing and festering for the last two decades would finally see the light of day in the 50’s and 60’s – and the motorcycle had its own profound effects on the people and attitudes that would soon reshape the globe. Motorcycle culture would begin to take root in societies around the world, varying region by region, but all sharing a commonality in counterculture, rebellion, and style.

Many of the political and cultural icons of the first half of the 20th century developed their own personal sense of independence, power, and grandeur thanks in part to the essence of riding a motorcycle.


T.E. Lawrence, a British archeologist, military officer, diplomat, writer and motorcycle rider offered his mesmerizing account of the world in his book, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, an autobiographical account of his involvement in the Arab Revolt, where he was stationed as an officer in the British forces in 1916.


This book earned him fame and an international title as Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence rode and owned 8 Brough motorcycles, and even died in 1935 while riding George V, his British Brough Superior SS100 – one of the first bikes recorded at 100 mph – becoming an influential voice with the postwar British public thanks to his vivid war-time writing.

Lawrence nicknamed all his Brough’s his Boanerges, a biblical name meaning “Sons of Thunder.” Of his bikes, he once said, “a skittish motorbike with a touch of blood in it is better than all the riding animals on earth, because of its logical extension of our faculties, and the hint, the provocation, to excess conferred by its honeyed untiring smoothness.”




The British love affair with the motorcycle soon gave way to a cultural phenomenon that’s since spread across the globe, epitomizing the coming-of-age attitude of legions of young riders. The Ace Cafe has been a stronghold of motorcycle history, culture, and lore for generations. Originally built as a truck stop in the late 30’s, the Ace was destroyed by a German air raid in 1940 and rebuilt in 1949 where the infamous Ton-Up-Boys rocker subculture of North London took refuge under its roof.

first motorcycle invented
first motorcycle invented

Rock and roll, racing, leather jackets and the booming British motorcycle industry gave rise to a unique style of bike, the Cafe Racer, of which cafe patrons would challenge each other to races ‘round the block. A juke box rock song would be played and a racer would have to successfully depart and arrive back to the table before the song would end. The Cafe style bike helped the British scene develop a sense of identity that rivaled the American ‘outlaw’ brand of riding, uniting bikers in the counterculture.



In 1953, the Cuban Revolution begins – a revolt against foreign oppression of Cuban soil by the Castro brothers and an Argentine doctor named Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara.


Guevara’s left-wing socio-political Marxist ideologies were first shaped by a South American motorcycle trip aboard a single cylinder 1939 Norton 500cc affectionately named La Poderosa, The Mighty One, that took him from his home in Buenos Aires to Chile, Perú, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, and Panama. Guevara recorded a powerful memoir of his motorcycle voyage in the Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey;  encountering foreign interest, poverty, suffering, and inequality, Guevara’s Norton helped shape – in however small a role –  the eventual Cuban Revolution and a distinct socio-cultural shift in the western world.


first motorcycle invented
first motorcycle invented



Random Posts

A work of fictionalized autobiography, Robert Pirsig’s iconic 1974 book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, sold over 5-million copies worldwide upon its release as a philosophical work which investigates the metaphysics of quality; how humans perceive and give value to aspects of their lives.


Pirsig uses a story of a 17-day motorcycle trip from Minnesota to Northern California he undertook with his son and two friends as a pretext for contrasting romanticism and classicism, as well as the concept of quality – which Pirsig argues is undefinable.


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