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Complete Fun History of Motorcycles
Tattoos, leather jackets, studded boots, rock-and-roll, Harley-Davidson – all stereotypes that have taken over the idea of motorcycles, particularly in the US. But, where did the history of motorcycles really begin? With a long, complicated, and interesting history, motorcycles have left their mark in more than just one place in the world from the early, steam-powered bikes to the bikes we know today.
Early Steam-Powered Cycle
The earliest known steam-powered bicycles were developed in the 1860s by a blacksmith from Paris named Pierre Michaux. He founded the company “Michaux et Cie” (“Michaux and company”) which was the first company to construct bicycles with pedals at the time – known as velocipedes. The Michaux-Perreaux steam velocipede can be traced back to 1967 when Pierre’s son Ernest put a small steam engine to one of the velocipedes.
The next design that followed was by Pierre Lallement in America. He was a Michaux employee that claimed to have developed the prototype of the steam velocipede in 1863. In 1866, he filed for the first bicycle patent with the US in 1866.
In 1868, an American from Massachusetts, Sylvester H. Roper, developed a velocipede with a coal-fired boiler between the wheels –he died while demonstrating the invention in 1896. That same year, a French engineer patented a similar steam engine with an alcohol burner and twin belt drives.
In 1881, a man from Arizona named Lucius Copeland designed a smaller steam boiler that drove the American Star high-wheeler at 12 mph. Copeland went on in 1887 to form the Northrop Manufacturing Co. to produce the first successful “Moto-Cycle” (3 wheeled).
First Commercial Products
While all these tests and inventions attempted the motorcycle, it wasn’t until 1885 that the first motorcycle with a diesel engine would be regarded as the first motorcycle, built by German inventors Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach.
In 1894, Hildebrand and Wolfmüller were the first manufacturers to mass produce a series of motorcycles which were the first to be referred to as “motorcycles”. By 1895, the first ever motorcycle came to the US with a French circus and American E.J. Pennington created his version of the motorcycle that went up to 58 mph.
With motorcycle races starting, the demand for faster and more powerful engines and designs rose. Between 1901-1903, big plants started mass productions, most notably:
- English Royal Enfield
- Triumph Motorcycles
- Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company
First World War
The first World War called for a surplus of motorcycles. It made it easier and faster to deliver messages to the troops in front line instead of riding a horse there. During the war, Harley-Davidson devoted 50% of its factory output toward the military contract.
Triumph Motorcycles sent about 30,000 Model H motorcycles to the allied troops. It is now recognized as the first modern motorcycle because it was the first to come without pedals.
After the war, in 1928, the German company DKW surpassed Harley-Davidson and Indian Motorcycle as the largest motorcycle maker in the world. By the 1930s, there were over 30 motorcycle models in England.
After World War II, American veterans started to create motorcycle clubs most recognized in the 1954 movie “The Wild One”. But, while the US was former “motorcycle gangs”, Europe was focused on figuring out how they could make a motorcycle more practical and a form of economic transport. In 1948, they found a niche American bikes did not, and the Vespa was created.
By 1959, Honda had become the largest manufacturer for motorcycles in the world. Through the 1960s, the British dominance faded with the growth of several Japanese companies. That dominance would continue to expand in the market until the 1990s.
Today, while the Japanese still hold a good size of the motorcycle market, there are still other companies that are recognized and known for their influence on the industry like:
Fun Facts About the History of Motorcycles
- Yamaha began its life in 1887 manufacturing pianos. Including pianos, they also now manufacturer boats, car engines, swimming pools, industrial robots, wheelchairs, RVs, electronics, and many other things – including motorcycles.
- Triumph began in 1888 at an old ribbon-making factory where they produced bicycles.
- Honda started manufacturing motorized bicycles and didn’t start making automobiles until the post-war period.
- BMW was the first manufacturer to patent and use telescopic forks, although they don’t use the system on its big motorcycles.
- The co-founder of Indian was a watchmaker before he turned to bicycle repairs, which led to building some of the first motorcycles.
- The Victory Kingpin set the world record for “World’s Fastest Victory” in 2009 with a speed of 165.9 mph.
- Three motorcycle manufacturers have been named: Devil, Satan, and Lucifer.
The Different Types of Motorcycles
Whether you’re in the market for a new motorcycle or you’re just a beginner, there are many motorcycles to choose from. With over 15 different motorcycle manufactures, over 5 different types of motorcycles, and hundreds of styles, you’ll have plenty of options to choose from with these manufacturers:
- Moto Guzzi
- MV Agusta
- And more
Choosing Your Type of Motorcycle
Consider your experience level before choosing your motorcycle, as well as what you plan to accomplish with it. More experienced riders will feel more comfortable with a variety of motorcycles or may have developed a preference over time.
If you are a beginner, you might want to stick to a bike with:
- Lighter weight – helps with steering, balancing, accelerating, and braking
- Lower seat height – helps plant your feet when stopping
- Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) – makes it easier to stop quickly and safely
- Cheaper – while you’re still learning, you could still drop it
- “Non-specialized” – choose something that does everything well (at least to start)
Fun Types of Motorcycles
The standard motorcycle, also “naked motorcycle”, is in the name. It’s great for beginners and is your traditional, simple motorcycle. It allows for upright riding and comes with handlebars and foot pegs situated so riders can maintain a comfy position while they ride. A moderate size engine and user-friendly design, it’s perfect for those who are just looking for a motorcycle to take cruising through town or to the nearest metropolitan during the warm weathers.
The most common, standard/naked motorcycles from 2016 were:
- Yamaha FZ-07
- Yamaha FZ-09
- Suzuki GSX-S750
- Honda CTX700
- Yamaha FZ6R2
Cruisers are modeled after the large, American machines from the 1930s-1960s. The staple icons of motorcycles, the most well-known: Harley-Davidsons. They come with a V-twin engine for low-end torque and allow a low-riding position. The high handlebars and forward foot pegs allow the rider to slightly lean back in a “cruising” position. They are not ideal for riding at high speeds for long periods of time because of the seating position.
Google lists these cruisers as some of the most popular searched:
- Honda Fury
- Honda CMZ250C
- Yamaha Bolt
- Triumph Rocket III
- Suzuki Intruder M1800R
Also known as the dual-purpose, on- or off-road motorcycle, the dual-sport features high seats and a high center of gravity to allow the rider to handle a rougher ground. Similar to dirt bikes, they come equipped with mirrors and lights which allows them to be street legal. With small engines and a lightweight frame, they are good for new riders as long as they can straddle it while standing.
Some popular dual-sports from 2016 are:
- KTM 690 Enduro
- Honda XR650L
- Kawasaki KLR650
- Suzuki DR650S
- Husqvarna FE501S
Touring motorcycles are made for long-distance riding. They have larger engines and bigger fuel tanks to withstand the distance. Touring motorcycles also have comfortable, upright positions and more storage to be prepared for a longer ride. The size and higher cost usually works better with more experienced riders.
In 2017, these touring bikes were on the top 10:
- BMW 1600GTL Exclusive
- Harley-Davidson CVO Limited
- Honda Gold Wing Audio Comfort Navi XM ABS
- Indian Roadmaster Classic
- Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager ABS
If you prefer high speeds, a sport bike might be the best for you. They are meant for high speeds and acceleration, built with a high-performance engine and lightweight frame. Due to the higher foot pegs and longer reach to the handlebars, lower speeds can be tiring because more weight is on your wrists and hands.
A few popular sports bikes from 2017 include:
- Suzuki GSK-R1000
- Husqvarna Vitpilen 401
- BMW HP4 Race
- Ducati Super Shot
- Yamaha YZF-R6
This motorcycle is a hybrid of a sport bike and touring. It has more storage and more relaxed seating than a sport, but lighter than a touring.
Some common sport touring bikes include:
- 2017 Yamaha FJ-07
- 2016 Ducati Multistrada 1200 Enduro
- 2016 Yamaha FJR1300
- 2017 KTM Super Duke GT
- 2016 Motus MST and MSTR
Choppers are made more for show. Harley-Davidson is probably the first bike that comes to mind when you think of a chopper, especially from the Panhead in the film Easy Rider. They tend to have raked forks, reclined seats, and showy chrome.
Here are the top 10 bikes of the show “American Chopper” (2011):
- The Anti-Venom
- The Cadillac
- The Christopher Reeve
- The David Mann
- The Eragon
- The Jet
- The Gears of War
- The Geico
- The Make-a-Wish
- The Yankees
There are other motorcycles that are slightly different from the standard and other categorized bikes, but still fall under the motorcycle category:
- Tricycles – 3-wheeled motorcycles
- Scooters – Smaller engines and all-enclosing bodywork for clean and quite ride. Allows for more storage.
- Underbones – Small-displacement motor with step-through frame and larger wheels than a scooter and foot pegs.
- Mopeds – Hybrid bicycle and motorcycle with small engine and bicycle bike train.
- Off-road – Dirt bikes made for rough surfaces, simpler and lighter, long suspension travel, high ground clearance, and rugged constructions. Used for:
- Rally raid
- Track racing
Safety Feature Facts for Motorcycles
When it comes to owning and driving any kind of motorcycle, most people are concerned with safety. Motorcycles after all are generally just not as safe as cars, as they do not have the protection of doors, windows, or crumple zones.
However, there are safety features being developed for motorcycles. This could make driving a motorcycle much safer and change people’s minds of owning and driving a motorcycle themselves. Here are some of the safety features being added to motorcycles, that are also making roads safer:
Brake Safety Features for Motorcycles
The anti-lock brake system, or the ABS, was first developed for cars. It made a huge difference in preventing cars, and other vehicles, from skidding and causing major accidents. This same brake safety feature is being introduced to motorcycles. It is no surprise that Harley Davidson was the first to use this technology in their motorcycles. Knowing that an anti-lock brake system can reduce motorcycle crash rates by 37%, it is no surprise that this technology is being used more and more by motorcycle manufactures.
Airbag Safety Features for Motorcycles
Airbags are an essential safety feature that can save lives. In vehicles such as cars or trucks, this feature comes standard with the vehicle. The issue many motorcycle manufacturers have is that in a motorcycle—because it is so open—there really aren’t any compartments where an airbag could sit. However, airbags are being implanted in front of motorcycles, where there is a small amount of room.
Honda was the first motorcyle manufacturer that offered a motorcycle airbag in 2006. Another cool feature—that works around motorcycle compartments—is an airbag that is attached to a jacket. This jacket comes with the motorcycle. The motorcycle and the jacket are paired through Bluetooth technology and the airbag deploys based on accident data—as fast as 45 seconds. Ducati was the first manufacturer to release this safety feature.
Backlight Safety Features for Motorcycles
If anyone has driven both a motorcycle and a car, it is easy to understand the acceleration and braking differences that exist between them. Motorcycles can speed up and slow down much faster than a car—without using the brake. The danger comes from the back light only being lit when the motorcycle driver uses the brake to stop.
When the brake is not used, the driver behind the motorcycle gets no warning. This could cause a major accident and manufactures/tech companies are taking notice. Motorcycle lights that light up—despite not using the brake—have already been developed and just have to make their way onto the market.
Theft Safety Features for Motorcycles
Theft is a real concern for motorcycle owners across the country, as motorcycles can be a large asset. Many manufacturers are taking notice, and nowadays many of these vehicles come with sophisticated security systems that help protect a vehicle from theft.
Safety Features Outside the Motorcycle
In addition to the new developments happening inside the motorcycle itself, pay attention to additional safety features being added to motorcycle accessories. Here are a few safety accessories to look out for:
Diagnostic systems are already available in Europe, and they check the overall safety/working performance of a motorcycle. They check the vehicles stats, like air tire pressure, cruise control, and the brakes.
Motorcycle manufacturers are working on motorcycle gloves that offer cell phone connection via Bluetooth technology. Touching certain parts of the glove will allow access to certain apps, such as navigation.
Having a good pair of boots is an important part of motorcycle safety. They could protect drivers from serious foot injuries and prevent irreversible damage in an accident. Work is being done to make them more impact proof and durable.
There are motorcycle helmets out there that do more than simply protecting a person’s head from injury. There are helmets that have safety features, such as built-in GPS systems or built-in rear view cameras. This makes navigating easier and safer for motorcycle drivers.
Motorcycle safety is an important concern for drivers on the road. There are all kinds of motorcycle safety features being developed, not only by car manufacturers, but by independent technology companies as well.
Motorcycle safety features can be added to the motorcycle itself or as a motorcycle accessory. Having a combination, or even all of them, can make driving a motorcycle much safer for riders of all experience levels. Chances are—like the development of cars—the safety features being developed will someday come standard with the purchase of any motorcycle. Until then, it is really up to motorcycle drivers to get themselves equipped with extra safety features.