motorcycle accident attorneyToday’s motorcycle is the result of 200 years of invention and technology. The history of motorcycles is a fascinating trip, and we’d like to share some of the highlights.

The ancestor of the motorcycle is the humble bicycle. The first bicycles in the early 1800s were made of wood, and riders literally walked them along—good exercise, but not a fast mode of transportation. Bicycles weren’t chain-driven until the late 1860s, and the first steam-powered bicycle, the velocipede, was patented in 1866.

Powering cycles with something other than human power had already occurred to some inventors, and through the 1800s, they came up with dozens of cycles with two, three, and four wheels powered by gas and steam. By the end of the century, motorized tricycles were common, but some areas enforced speed limits and other restrictions.

As with many “firsts” in technology, there is some debate about who built the first motorcycle. Inventors mentioned in the discussion include Sylvester Roper and his steam-powered bike, Michaux with a single-cylinder bike, Lucius Copeland and his three-wheeled steamer, and Daimler and Maybach with the Reitwagen, powered by an internal combustion engine.

An early motorcycle from Royal Enfield had a 239 cc front-mounted engine that powered a belt to the rear wheel. While early motorcycles tended to be two-stroke, the four-stroke engine soon replaced it. After the breakthrough combustion engine, it was possible to mass produce motorcycles, and The Hildebrand & Wolfmuller made its debut in 1894. Companies such as Triumph, Indian, and Harley-Davidson soon followed.

Once motorcycles were mass-produced, technological advances occurred regularly. Tires, engines, and transmissions continued to evolve, and the motorcycle lost the old moto-bicycle look and morphed into the design we recognize today.

Motorcycles soared in popularity during the first decade of the 20th century. By the time World War I began, motorcycle manufacturers were building thousands of bikes a year, and soldiers used them regularly during the war.

While the Great Depression affected motorcycle companies, advances and leaps in technology continued, with engines becoming larger and more powerful. Body designs were streamlined, and in the ‘40s and ‘50s, more companies entered the market, such as Honda, Kawasaki, and Yamaha.

Through the rest of the century to the present, manufacturers have focused on continuously upgrading the bike as a whole. Advances have included diesel engines, wind protection, antilock brakes, left-side gear change, and aesthetic improvements such as metallic paint and neon kits. Motorcycles are now safe, speedy, and comfortable.

As Sullivan’s Island motorcycle accident attorneys who also ride, we’re fascinated by the history of motorcycle technology. What’s your favorite point in motorcycle history? 

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