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Early History of Motorcycles

In the late 1860’s several people were working on attaching a steam powered engine to a ‘velocipede’ (a velocipede is a human-powered land vehicle with one or more wheels such as a bicycle) in different parts of the world. This includes Pierre Michaux in Paris, France, as well as, Sylvester Roper in Roxbury, Massachusetts. This work continued to evolve and in 1885 Gottlieb Daimler introduces the first gas-engined ‘motorcycle’ by attaching an engine to a wooden bike. Many bicycle makers were experimenting with designs that included an internal-combustion engine, and in 1894 the Hildebrand & Wolfmueller was the first series production ‘motorcycle’ and there were over 200 of them on the road.

Over the next 20 years the motorcycle technology continued to improve as more companies began working on them. They played an important role in WWI as riders used motorcycles instead of horses for messaging, reconnaissance and military police. One example of this is the ‘Triumph Model H’ which was a British motorcycle engineered by Triumph Engineering Co. Ltd. Over 30,000 of them were sold to Allied forcing during the war.

After the war, Harley-Davidson (founded in 1903) became the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the world. Within years DKW (headquartered in Germany) took over the top spot. Companies around the world continued to manufacture and improve motorcycle technology and by the 1960s Honda became the largest manufacturer in the world and still holds the top spot today.