History of Motorcycles

History of Motorcycles

Motorcycles have been with us for so long in so many forms that it seems hard to remember that they are a recent invention in the realm of transportation. Still, in the over 100 years that motorcycles have been a part of our culture, they have evolved in many exciting ways, including specializations for sports, adventuring, and speed. Here are some highlights from the history of the motorcycle.


  • 1868- Michaux-Perreaux puts a steam engine on a bicycle, calling it the ‘Velocipede’
  • 1860’s to 1900’s – “Boneshakers” – a term for the earliest motorcycles which were engines on wooden frames and wheels – are being made all over Europe by different inventors
  • 1895 – Hildebrand & Wolfmüller first two-wheeled powered vehicle offered to the public on a commercial basis
  • 1901 – Indian Single created by Carl Oscar Hedstrom in Brooklyn, New York, a De Dion engine attached to a tandem bicycle to create a faster pacer bike for bicycle races
  • 1907 – First Isle of Man TT race run (longest consecutively running race still being held today)
  • 1910 – the Pierce Four is introduced as the first four-cylinder motorcycle manufactured in the US
  • 1910 – The first Scottish Six Day Trial is held, helping usher in the sport of motorcycle trials (the Scottish Six Day is still held today)
  • 1914 – The overhead cam Cyclone makes its introduction, breaking race and speed records all over the US.
  • 1921 – A Harley Davidson 8 Valve becomes the first motorcycle in the world to win a race going over 100 m.p.h.
  • 1922 – the Megola Sport is introduced in Germany, one of the only bikes in the world to place the engine cylinders on the front wheel of the bike
  • 1923 – BMW comes out with their first commercially successful bike, the R32
  • 1924 – American Motorcycling Association (AMA) founded
  • 1931 – the Ariel Square Four is introduced in Britain, unique for the camshaft placed above the cylinder and driven by a chain without the pushrods of normal engines
  • 1937 – BMW sets the world land speed record in Germany with a speed of 173.57 m.p.h.
  • 1938 – The Triumph Speed Twin is introduced, the first parallel-twin design
  • 1938 – First Sturgis Bike Rally held in US
  • 1944 – Harley Davidson created the U.S. Military Model U for the U.S. government to use in WWII
  • 1949 – Grand Prix World Championship motorcycle racing begins
  • 1954 – Vincent Black Shadow, renowned for its smaller wheelbase and rapid direction-changing ability, ceases production in Britain
  • 1956 – MV Agusta 500 Grand Prix bike is introduced, and they get their first 500 cc world title
  • 1956 – Ducati introduces their first desmodromic valve bike for the 125 Grand Prix, the 125 Desmo
  • 1960 – Honda CB92 Benly Super Sport comes out, introducing reliable electric starters
  • 1964 – Bultaco Sherpa T trials bike introduced, becoming the first foreign bike to win a Trials British Championship round, and then went on with Sammy Miller (who built the prototype) to win the championship and the Scottish Six Day Trial that year
  • 1969 – Peter Fonda’s Easy Rider movie comes out, introducing the world to the now-iconic Captain America Easy Rider chopper
  • 1970 – Honda CB750 introduced
  • 1971 – Harley Davidson Super Glide introduced
  • 1978 – the first Paris-Dakar endurance race is run, won by Cyril Neveu on a Yamaha (this is now known as the Dakar rally)
  • 1984 – Kawasaki comes out with the GPZ900R Ninja, the first 16 valve liquid-cooled engine
  • 1994 – The Britten V1000, a version of the bike John Britten’s racing team used to make racing history, goes on sale to the public. The Britten became known for amazing and futuristic design, including carbon fiber and Kevlar composite frame and Britten made carbon composites for the wheels
  • 1995 – the Honda EXP-2 comes out, introducing Honda’s revolutionary Activated-Radical Combustion system (ARC), where the fuel self-ignites without need for an ignition spark, cutting fuel consumption which was needed for an endure bike competing in the Paris-Dakar rally
  • 1997 – Dougie Lampkin wins the World Trials Championship on a Beta Techno, one of the first ‘modern bikes’ in trials, with a specialized engine, forks, and frame, and a large skid plate to assist the rider as he navigates obstacles. Modern Trials bikes are most notable for their lack of seat which assists the rider in moving the nimble bike around the obstacles.
  • 2000 – Kenny Roberts Jr wins the Grand Prix 500cc World Championship, the first time a father (Kenny Roberts) and son (Kenny Roberts Jr) had both won championships at the highest level
  • 2006 – EVA Products BV Holland produced the first commercially available diesel engine motorcycle
  • 2009 – Honda introduces the first ethanol flex-fuel bike in Brazil

These are of course just some of the highlights in the illustrious evolution of our favorite two-wheeled machine. There are many others that weren’t covered, and many awards, accolades, firsts, and amazing feats of art and machinery. Whether they were racing on tracks made from wood or concrete, performing death-defying feats at county fairs and sideshows, racing across the desert, carrying our troops across a battlefield, or just allowing the average rider to feel a sense of freedom and adventure you couldn’t get with a car, motorcycles have been a huge part of the world’s culture.

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