History of Motorbikes
It’s not easy to pinpoint the exact inventor of the motorcycle as this popular contraption was an evolution of sorts; a genius creation that developed thanks to tinkering by individuals across the world. Nowadays, countries like Thailand – and the travellers that explore it – have these men to thank for letting them feel the wind in their hair on board such freedom-bringing vehicles.
The Early Days
Many people attribute the inaugural motorcycle to US-based Sylvester H. Roper in 1868. Others say that bicycle inventor and blacksmith Pierre Michaux got in there first. Michaux’s steam-powered design was made in 1867, while Roper was a year later with his twin-cylinder steam velocipede, which gained motion thanks to a coal burning furnace. He later perished in 1896 while showing off one of his steam bikes.
In 1871, French engineer Louis-Guillaume Perreaux graduated away from this slightly by manufacturing a steam, one-cylinder motorcycle featuring an alcohol burner. But it was Gottlieb Daimler who first launched a motorcycle more like those we see today, but not until 1885. His featured a single-cylinder internal combustion engine, which was set on a wooden frame and had iron-banded wooden wheels. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t make for a comfortable ride and was promptly dubbed the ‘boneshaker’
In 1895, French auto firm DeDion-Buton unveiled a light four-stroke engine that paved the way for mass motor production. Four years later, the man who created the name ‘motorcycle’, Charles H. Metz, made the United States’ first production bike.
The Big Guns
The globe’s first mass-market motor came from Hildebrand & Wolfmüller, but they only created a couple hundred units. Not so long after, however, engineers like E.J. Pennington began producing their own rides – with a max speed of 58mph. This sparked the first patent for a motorbike in 1900 by Werner Brothers, and the big-brand factories soon caught on. Some of today’s most prestigious motorcycle brands, like English Royal Enfield and American Harley-Davidson launched into the market between 1901 and 1903.
Motor races were organised for the first time in history and people started clamouring for bigger and better rides.
A Cool Culture
During WWI, motorbikes took on a practical guise, with the US and European military often using them to do reccies and transport messages quickly. Motors in general picked up in popularity after the war, and the 20s was epitomised by an increased mania for motorbikes. BMW launched around this time, but the Great Depression meant that several producers soon shut up shop.
Still, by the 30s there were 30 different motorbike types in Britain. Yet it wasn’t until the end of World War II that gang culture in America started to paint riding as a rebellious subculture. Veterans started to join together in unofficial groups over their love for these inventions, infamously shown in Marlon Brando classic The Wild One in 1954. Films such as the Great Escape, where Steve McQueen is shown escaping from the Nazis on a motorbike, added to the appeal.
Japanese engineering started to shine by the 60s, after Honda became the biggest motor maker internationally. Honda revealed the CB750 with a standout 4-cylinder, single overhead cam engine. It was widely referred to as the world’s first superbike.
Kawasaki and Yamaha – both much-loved today – followed suit and revolutionised the industry by producing electronic fuel injection systems, which we still largely use nowadays. US and Italian companies eventually began to take over in terms of sales, but not until the 1990s after a 30-year reign for the Japanese.
Nowadays, the popularity of motorcycle culture can be seen all over the globe. In Asia, they’re becoming incredibly widespread, with around 6.2 million sold in Indonesia in 2016 compared to 487,000 in America.
With cars becoming electrified, and hybrid electric bikes such as Eko Vehicle’s ET-120, which went on sale in India in 2009, being invented, it will be interesting to see how the motor market will continue to develop. Fingers crossed for flying engines anytime soon.