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Who Invented the Motorcycle?

By Jim Noss

If you know the answer to this, you are far more the historian than am I. I am betting alot of people today would simply say that Harley-Davidson invented the motorcycle. Although they did not invent the motorcycle, they sure had a big part in mass producing bikes for the everyday commuting population.

The truth, as history states it, all depends on one's definition of what exactly is a motorcycle. By todays common definition, a motorcycle is a two-wheeled motorized vehicle. But what is the motor? is it gas, electric, or steam driven?

Here is the Wikipedia definition for Motorcycle:

A - motorcycle - is a two-wheeled vehicle powered by an engine. The wheels are in-line, and at higher speed the motorcycle remains upright and stable by virtue of gyroscopic forces; at lower speeds continual readjustment of the steering by the rider gives stability. The rider sits astride the vehicle on a seat, with hands on a set of handlebars which are used to steer the motorcycle, in conjunction with the rider shifting his weight through his feet, which are supported on a set of footpegs which stick out from the frame.

Yes, I said steam. The steam-engine motorcycle was invented in 1867. This coal-powered steam engine was invented by Sylvester Howard Roper, an American inventor. The steam-engine motorcycle ran on two cylinders.

Now a few years later the first petroleum gas-powered engine motorcycle was invented in 1885 by Gottlieb Daimler. This motorcycle used a Four-Stroke Internal-Combustion Engine which was invented in 1876. This is a bookmark in history since was the first real practical application of combining a practical gas engine with a bicycle. The Four-Stroke Internal-Combustion Engine that Gottleib Daimler used was invented by Nicolaus August Otto.

Now this all leads us up to 1903 and the creation of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company. A motorcycle company formed by William Harley with Arthur and Walter Davidson. At the turn of the century the demand for mass produced automobiles was increasing. Along with this, was a demand for motorcycles. The pedal-powered bicycles were everywhere in everyday 1903 life. The public wanted more. As with the auto industry, the race track was the place where technology flourished. Harley-Davidson built their first bike with a high-performance engine. They used this bike to win races. The race wins brought them brand name recognition. The next step was for Harley-Davidson to start mass producing motorcycles for the public.

Now fast forward 100 years later and we now see motorcycles everywhere. Motorcycle build and enthusiast shows are everywhere on cable television. Everyone wants to own a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. This is mainly because of their incredible brand name recognition vice the actual quality of their product. Motorcycling is gowing more popular every year. There are Motorcycle Safety courses to teach new riders. Of which, the majority are women. I think women have finally decided they want to ride their own bike and no longer want to be the passenger. It is all good and the motorcycling industry is gearing their products towards this new market base.

With all this information, when you appear on Jeopardy and are asked, "who invented the motorcycle?" Hopefully you will have enough information to correctly answer Alex's question.

Ride safe.

Contributing author to Cycle Solutions dot Net


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