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Take a Ride Through History: The Evolution of the Motorcycle

Today, the motorcycle is an absolute monster; a high-powered concoction of various components that is equal parts aesthetically gorgeous and functionally astounding.

However, the motorcycle was certainly not always this way. Like most things, the motorcycle evolved. What was once a glorified bicycle has become a cultural icon. 

Interested in taking a ride through the motorcycle’s past? Then hop on and fasten up that helmet. We’re going to take a trip through motorcycle history! 

Motorcycle History from Year to Year 

The motorcycle’s evolution wasn’t particularly fast, nor was it particularly slow. The machine evolved gradually from year to year, seeing improvements as new inventions and innovations arose. 

1850-1875

Like many engine-driven commodities, the motorcycle saw its inception in the 1800s. The first of what many might call the motorcycle was invented in 1867 by American inventor Sylvester Howard Roper.

His invention was essentially a steam-powered bicycle, driven by a coal-fired engine. 

Around the same time that Roper had invented his steam-powered bike, French inventor Ernest Michaux had invented his own steam-powered bike.

However, unlike Roper’s bike, the bike of Michaux was driven by alcohol instead of coal. 

Both men’s inventions made use of front-wheel drive, something that would change in the very near future. However, for their time, their inventions were both astounding and innovative. 

1876-1900

It was in the 1880s when the motorcycle really started to pick up steam. Due to innovations with steam engines, inventors were finding ways to make motorcycles both faster and lighter. 

A huge development came in 1881, in particular. In this year, American inventor Lucius Copeland utilized a small steam engine in order to power the back wheel of a bicycle.

This engine generated enough power to allow the bike to travel at speeds of up to 12 miles per hour, a speed that was untouchable previously. 

The question of, “who invented the motorcycle?” is an interesting one. While steam-powered bikes had already existed previously, many historians credit German inventor Gottlieb Daimler with the invention of the first motorcycle in 1885.

Daimler’s bicycle was the first to utilize a gas-driven internal combustion engine; an engine invented by Nicolaus Otto. 

By 1894, the invention was being commonly called the motorcycle and was being mass manufactured all across Germany, Great Britain, and the United States.  

1901-1925

1903 was a huge year for the motorcycle. The reason for this? It was the year that the Harley-Davidson Motor Company was established. 

Harley-Davidson is now considered by many to be the premiere of all motorcycle brands. In fact, it didn’t take long for the brand to reach these heights. By 1920, Harley-Davidson was the world’s largest manufacturer of motorcycles. 

There were a variety of other motorcycle manufacturing companies opened around this time as well. These include the Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company, Triumph, and Royal Enfield. 

By this point, the motorcycle had become something of a celebrity. Motorcycles were being run in races, demonstrating how fast and how powerful they had become. These demonstrations led to increased interest in the vehicle, spurring on further invention and innovation. 

1926-1950

From 1926 to 1950, a motorcycle boom occurred all throughout the work. Not only did the popularity of the vehicle grow substantially in the United States, but in Germany and the United Kingdom as well. 

In fact, up until the beginning of World War II, the British had more than 30 different motorcycle brands that they could claim.

It could be very well argued that the United Kingdom owned this era of motorcycle innovation. 

1951-1975

After World War II occurred, the British lost their grip on the motorcycle throne. The country was depleted by the realities of the war, and many such companies went under. 

During this time, an unlikely contender stepped up and seated itself in the throne. That contender was Japan, the country which produced Kawasaki, Yamaha, Suzuki, and, of course, Honda, which, at this point, was the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the world. 

In the United States, motorcycle culture had reached a fever pitch. Biker gangs had started to take shape and were being celebrated in films such as 1953’s The Wild One and 1969’s Easy Rider.

The most famous biker gang of this time was Hell’s Angels, a gang that started in 1948, but which reached its peak of popularity in the late 1960s. 

During this era, American motorcycle tastes leaned toward choppers. Choppers are large, imposing motorcycles, equipped with long, tall handlebars, and long, extended front wheels.

They have become what many American associates with motorcycles. 

1976-2000

From 1976 to 2000, the Japanese continued their reign of motorcycle dominance, as Yamaha, Honda, Suzuki, and a variety of other brands maintained high quality and innovation. 

During this period, small motorcycles tended to be the trend. They were the exact opposite of some of the choppers you see on the road today. 

However, this isn’t to say that choppers weren’t being manufactured during this period. In the 1990s, specifically, American, Italian, and German companies made a comeback in the world of motorcycles. 

In fact, hugely popular American brand Harley-Davidson made its ascent back to greatness during this decade. This ascent cemented Harley-Davidson’s reputation as the greatest American motorcycle manufacturer. 

2001-Present 

In the early 2000s, sports motorcycles became hugely popular. These gaudy, flashy motorcycles were largely invented by Japanese companies.

Their popularity indicated the dominance of Japanese companies in the motorcycle industry; a dominance which exists to this day. 

Today, motorcycles continue to see a great deal of innovation. In 2006, a Dutch company released the first commercially viable diesel-powered motorcycle. This motorcycle is hugely powerful, but also hugely expensive, available for well over $50,000. 

All in all, motorcycles are still very popular. Plenty of people throughout the world grow up hoping to ride a motorcycle someday. Click here if you are one of those people. 

A Wealth of Interesting Information 

Now that you’ve learned a little motorcycle history, you might be looking for some more interesting information. If so, you’re in the right part of the internet.

Paldrop.com has a wealth of interesting information. 

Whether you’re looking to learn about travel, history, science, or otherwise, our website has you covered. There’s no subject that we don’t cover. 

Check out some more of our interesting facts now!