When Was the First Motorcycle Made? A Primer

Motorcycles have been a popular mode of transportation and recreational vehicle for over a century. But have you ever wondered when the first motorcycle was made? The history of motorcycles is a fascinating tale of innovation, perseverance, and evolution. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the early years of motorcycle history, the pioneers who made it happen, and the key events that shaped the industry.

The Early Years: 1860s-1880s

The first motorcycle was invented in the late 19th century by Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach, two German engineers who worked for Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG). They were tasked with creating a horseless carriage, but their experiments led to the creation of a two-wheeled vehicle powered by a gasoline engine instead.

Their first prototype, the Daimler Reitwagen, was created in 1885. It had two wheels connected by a frame, with a gasoline engine mounted on the bottom. The rider sat on a seat above the engine and steered the vehicle using a handlebar connected to the front wheel. The Reitwagen was not designed for mass production but served as a proof of concept for the motorcycle.

The First Production Motorcycles: 1890s-1900s

In 1894, Hildebrand & Wolfm├╝ller became the first production motorcycle manufacturers. Their first model, the Hildebrand & Wolfm├╝ller Motorcycle, featured a 1.5 hp engine and had a top speed of 25 mph. It was a simple design, with a step-through frame and a cylindrical fuel tank. The motorcycle quickly gained popularity, and other manufacturers began to produce their own models.

The early 20th century saw the rise of motorcycle clubs and racing events. One of the most famous early motorcycle clubs was the Excelsior Motorcycle Club in Germany, founded in 1901. Motorcycle racing also became popular, with the first Isle of Man TT race held in 1907.

The Interwar Period: 1910s-1930s

World War I had a significant impact on motorcycle production. Many manufacturers shifted their focus to producing military vehicles, such as the Harley-Davidson Liberator, which was used by the US military. The war also led to the introduction of new technologies, such as the kickstart and the three-speed transmission.

In the 1920s, motorcycle popularity grew in the United States, particularly among young people. The rise of motorcycle clubs and gangs also became a cultural phenomenon, with the formation of clubs like the Hells Angels in 1948.

See also  How Often Should I Lube My Motorcycle Chain

Post-War Motorcycles: 1940s-1960s

World War II had a profound effect on the motorcycle industry. Many factories were destroyed, and production was slow to recover. However, the post-war period saw the rise of Japanese motorcycle manufacturers, such as Honda, Yamaha, and Kawasaki. These manufacturers produced affordable, reliable motorcycles that quickly gained popularity worldwide.

The 1950s and 1960s saw the introduction of new styles and models, such as the sport bike and the chopper. The sport bike, designed for speed and agility, became popular among young riders. The chopper, a customized motorcycle with an extended frame and elongated forks, became a symbol of rebellion and freedom.

The Modern Era: 1970s-Present

The 1970s saw significant advancements in motorcycle technology, with the introduction of disc brakes, fuel injection, and anti-lock braking systems. The rise of superbikes, such as the Kawasaki Ninja and the Yamaha FZ, also became popular among enthusiasts.

In recent years, motorcycle safety has become a major concern. The introduction of safety regulations, such as helmet laws and safety standards, has helped to reduce the number of motorcycle accidents. Advanced safety features, such as anti-lock braking systems (ABS) and traction control, have also become common in modern motorcycles.

The rise of electric motorcycles is another recent trend in the industry. Electric motorcycles offer several advantages over traditional gasoline-powered motorcycles, including lower maintenance costs, reduced emissions, and quieter operation. Manufacturers such as Zero Motorcycles and Harley-Davidson have introduced electric models, and many expect electric motorcycles to play a significant role in the future of the industry.

Key Differences Between The Early Motorcycles And The Modern Ones

The early days of motorcycles were a time of innovation and experimentation. Inventors and manufacturers were still figuring out what worked and what didn’t, and many early models were quite different from the motorcycles we know today. Here are some key differences between early motorcycles and modern ones:

  1. Engine: Early motorcycles used engines that were relatively primitive and unreliable compared to today’s standards. Many early motorcycles had single-cylinder engines that were air-cooled and had a relatively low power output. Modern motorcycles, on the other hand, have advanced engines that are liquid-cooled, multi-cylinder, and produce significantly more power.
  2. Design and style: Early motorcycles were often simple in design and lacked the sleek, aerodynamic styling of modern motorcycles. They were typically constructed with a simple frame, a sprung seat, and basic suspension. Today’s motorcycles have a much more sophisticated design, with a focus on aerodynamics, ergonomics, and style.
  3. Brakes: Early motorcycles often had very basic braking systems, with a single brake on the rear wheel or even a foot pedal that pressed against the tire to slow the bike down. Modern motorcycles, on the other hand, have sophisticated braking systems with multiple disc brakes and anti-lock brake systems.
  4. Transmission: Early motorcycles often had a simple, two-speed or three-speed transmission, while modern motorcycles typically have five or six gears, as well as advanced features like slipper clutches and quick-shifters.
  5. Suspension: Early motorcycles often had a simple sprung seat or a basic suspension system, while modern motorcycles have advanced suspension systems with adjustable dampening and rebound.
  6. Safety features: Modern motorcycles are equipped with a range of safety features that were not available on early models, such as ABS, traction control, and advanced helmet technology.
See also  How Fast Does a 250cc Motorcycle Go

Overall, motorcycles have come a long way since their early days. Today’s motorcycles are faster, more reliable, and better equipped to handle the demands of modern riding. But despite their differences, both early and modern motorcycles share a common heritage and a passion for the open road.


The history of motorcycles is a fascinating story of innovation, perseverance, and evolution. From the early experiments of Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach to the advanced technology of today’s motorcycles, the industry has come a long way. 

The motorcycle has become a symbol of freedom, adventure, and rebellion, and its popularity continues to grow worldwide. Whether you’re a seasoned rider or a beginner, there’s never been a better time to get on a motorcycle and experience the thrill of the ride.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What was the first motorcycle club?

The first motorcycle club was the Excelsior Motorcycle Club, founded in Germany in 1901.

Who is the father of the motorcycle?

Who is the father of the motorcycle?

What is the most popular motorcycle brand in the world?

The most popular motorcycle brand in the world is Honda, which has been the largest motorcycle manufacturer since the 1960s.

Who invented the first motorcycle engine?

The first motorcycle engine was invented by Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach in 1885. It was a gasoline-powered, internal combustion engine that powered the first motorcycle, the Reitwagen.

Who is the most famous motorcycle designer?

The most famous motorcycle designer is probably Erik Buell, who founded Buell Motorcycle Company in 1983 and is known for his innovative and high-performance motorcycle designs.