For over 150 years, motorcycles (or machines much like them) have been the vehicles of choice for people from road-trippers and daredevils to couriers and commuters. No matter what kind of rider you are, every time to climb onto the back of your bike you’re participating in that century and a half of history.
But participant or not, how well do you really know the history of the motorcycle? If you’re like many riders, the answer is “not nearly as well as you should!”
Brush up on your motorcycle history with this list of the most important early milestones in motorcycle history!
1867 – 1869: The First Motorcycles are Invented and Patented in France and Boston
There’s some debate over who can claim to have created the very first motorcycle, but the earliest date, shared by two of the top contenders, is 1867.
Both the Michaux-Perreaux steam velocipede, a simple pedal bicycle with an attached steam engine created by Pierre Michaux and Louis-Guillaume Perreaux in Paris, and the Roper steam velocipede, a similar steam-powered bike created by Boston’s Sylvester H. Roper, were unveiled to the public and patented between 1867 and 1869.
Historians still debate which of the two steam-powered motorbikes came first – but considering Michaux-Perreaux and Roper each worked independently of each other on different continents, it’s fair to say they both deserve their share of the credit.
1885: The First Motorcycle with an Internal Combustion Engine
As historic as Michaux-Perreaux and Roper’s achievements were, many experts officially define “motorcycle” as a bike with an internal combustion engine, rather than one that’s steam-powered. Using this standard, the first true motorcycle was the Daimler Reitwagen (German for “riding car”). Created in 1885 by "the father of the motorcycle,” Gottlieb Daimler, the Reitwagen topped out at about 6.8 miles per hour with an engine output of a half horsepower. Not very exciting by today’s standards, but to Daimler’s 19th Century contemporaries, it must have looked quite impressive indeed.
1903: The First Harley-Davidson® Is Made Available to the Public
Created by William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson, the first Harley was a racer with a 3-1/8 inch bore and 3-1/2 inch stroke. While their original model wasn’t a huge success – it had trouble climbing hills without pedal power – it was the first of what would become one of the most iconic brands in motorcycle history, and by the outbreak of World War I Harley-Davidson was successful enough to be the United States military’s sole motorcycle supplier.
1916: Augusta and Adeline Van Buren Become the First Women to Ride Across America
In 1916 sisters Augusta and Adeline Van Buren rode from Brooklyn, New York to Tijuana, Mexico in a pair of 1,000 cc Indian Power Plus motorcycles – the first women to cross the continent on their own motorbikes. The women, descendants of President Martin Van Buren, wanted to prove that women could ride as well as men and should be allowed to serve as dispatch riders in World War I (thereby eliminating one potent argument against women’s suffrage), though this goal, unfortunately, went unattained.
The Van Buren sisters’ pioneering ride was honored in July 2016 with the Sisters' Centennial Motorcycle Ride, a charity event that loosely followed their path from the Lincoln Highway to San Francisco.
1953 – 1955: Hollywood Embraces the Motorcycle
1953 and 1955 saw the release of The Wild One and Rebel Without a Cause. The former film stars Marlon Brando as the leader of a motorcycle gang, and while there are no bikes in Rebel Without a Cause, it did catapult actor and motorcycle enthusiast James Dean to stardom as a counterculture icon. Between the two hit films, Hollywood had successfully branded the motorcycle (not to mention the leather jacket) as a timeless symbol of youthful rebellion.
1969: Honda Unveils the CB750 “Superbike”
The first motorcycle ever to be called a “superbike,” the CB750 was an air-cooled transverse in-line four cylinder engine motorcycle dubbed "the most sophisticated production bike ever" by Cycle magazine upon its release. Boasting the first four-cylinder engine from a major manufacturer, the CB750 marked the dawn of the “street racer” branch of the motorcycle family.
1970 – Present
The last 40 years have been as eventful as the hundred preceding them – technical innovations, cultural shifts, moves toward greater inclusivity, and more have all made the motorcycle community more diverse and exciting than ever.
Image Source: Wikipedia