Motorcycle History Class is in session, so sit back and grab a snack

You love to ride; correction, you practically live to ride. But despite your love and passion for everything that is riding, how much of the history of its origins do you know? You’d probably be surprised to get a general overview of how the motorcycle originated, where it came from, and the growth that it’s seen throughout the years.

When the motorcycle was first created, those individuals couldn’t have possibly been able to predict its popularity or the culture it would create. They wouldn’t have known that the biking lifestyle creates a brotherhood, sisterhood, and family that other clubs really can’t possibly mimic.

So, sit down for a lesson on the history of motorcycles. It will be a good and-hopefully-surprising one:

motorcycle in fog
1867: Sylvester Howard Roper (American) was the creator and inventor of steam-powered, two-cylinder velocipede. This was essentially a very early form of a bicycle but was, as originally stated, the first steam-powered one. While some may question if that should have been considered a ‘motorcycle,’ it had two wheels and a coal-fired steam engine, which was very advanced for its time.




1881: Lucius Copeland (from Arizona) created something similar, just years later, except that he was able to make the steam boiler smaller and it could ride at 12 mph, which was a great achievement during that time.


1885: German partners Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Mayback created the first gas-powered, combustion engine. This was a staple in motorcycle history, as it was the first time anyone was able to combine a traditional bike with a gas-powered engine. They received help from an engineer by the name of Nicolaus Otto, who in 1876, had created the first-ever four-stroke internal combustion engine. Triumph Engineering is founded in England, which would letter become the well-known and heavily acclaimed Triumph Motorcycles.


*Fun Fact*: Gottlieb Daimler would later try his hand in the car manufacturing industry, and the company he created would go by the name of ‘Daimler Benz,’ which is, you guessed it, currently Mercedes-Benz.


1894: A German company by the name of Hildebrand & Wolfmuller would become the first to create a factory production line to create these vehicles. But to make things a little more self-explanatory to the public, they dubbed the vehicles to be called “motor-cycles.”

 1895: Dedion-Buton, a French man, would introduce a new, and innovative 4-stroke engine that would catapult the production of “motor-cycles.”  


1899: Charles H. Metz would create the first American production of “motor-cycles.”


1901: It's the dawn of motorcycles in America as Indian Motorcycle uses DeDion-Buton’s design to create their first motorcycle. Indian proved to develop fantastic ones, and their motorcycles would be the world’s best-selling models up until WWI.

Source: MrClassicMotorcycle YouTube 

1903: William Harley and his partners, Arthur and Walter Davidson would launch Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company. While the company had originally anticipated marketing their bikes as transport bikes, their engine creation proved to be speedy, so it constantly won races. The first-ever Harley-Davidson would be distributed and sold in Chicago.  


1914: The first World War starts, and European and American armies begin to integrate motorcycles into the Army, as a means of carrying messages to and from bases quickly.


1916: The world's rarest motorcycle, the Traub, was created by a mysterious inventor. The motorcycle featured unique technology that was strangely advanced for its time, it was the only one made, and was not discovered for over half a century


1920's-1930's: The motorcycle is embraced, and the industry experiences a large influx of sales. This is when well-known companies like Moto Guzzi and BMW get their feet wet in the industry. The American Motorcyclist Association is also established during this time.


1937: Sally Robinson becomes the first woman to ever receive her motorcycle license. 


1940's: Once World War II ends, the sales of motorcycles in both America and Europe skyrocket. This is due to the large number of veterans returning home after having ridden them during the War, and wanting one of their own. This is when the ‘cruiser’ style and design becomes popular.

Source: TurtleHouse98 YouTube

Mid-1940's: American soldiers who fought in WWII, especially scouts and runners who became accustomed to motorcycles, come back home with a passion for two wheels. Brotherhoods and motorcycle clubs began to take off at this point, and we also see the development of many popular motorcycle superstitions, such as the green motorcycle curse


1947: The Hollister Riot, an event that occurred with the AMA in California, created a false image of the motorcycle culture to the press and society. The issue? More riders than anticipated showed up to an event and caused some damage, which was later considered minor.


1951: Austrian company Kronreif & Trunkenpolz Mattighofen-currently know at off-road extraordinaire KTM-would create its first prototype motorcycle.


1952: Suzuki becomes the first Japanese producer for motorcycles in Japan, but quickly starts a ripple effect of high-quality bikes created within the country.  


1955: Honda and Yamaha also merge into the marketplace to shake things up, along with trying to prove that they could create as advanced motorcycles as power-house American brands like Harley-Davidson and Indian.


1960: Kawasaki, soon to make waves in the racing industry and kick the stereotype of "green being an unlucky color," releases their first bike.


1962:Honda works with Grey Advertising on their "You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda" campaign, which helps to eliminate some of the false misconceptions for motorcycle riders.


1965:Custom motorcycles become exceedingly popular, with varying styles and custom paint.


1969: Honda makes waves in the industry, yet again, by creating a 4-cylinder motorcycle that becomes the first “superbike.”


1970: The industry sees an all-time high with 5 million motorcycles registered in the United States.


1980's: Honda and Kawasaki become the first companies to showcase motorcycles that have electronic fuel injection systems. This system would later become the norm for many.


1990's: After a large dip existing in the motorcycle market, the baby boomers dive back into riding, and the industry seess another skyrocket in motorcycles sales, which would encourage brands like BMW, Ducati, Aprilia, and Triumph to make their comebacks.

ducati engine


1998: Polaris throws their all into the competitive market by introducing Victory into the industry. The first electric motorbike, the Lectra, is produced.

2009: The world is given the first hybrid motorcycle, the Eko Vehicle's ET-120, which went on sale in India.


2013: Polaris announces the resurrection of the first American motorcycle brand, Indian.

Indian Motorcycle


2018: Harley-Davidson makes their claim and stake in the electric motorcycle industry be announcing a new, electric bike to debut in 2019.


And there you have it folks, the history of the motorcycle and motorcycle culture! It’s been a long ride, that’s for sure, but its history is rich in innovation and dedication. And for that, we’re grateful, because without all of these individual milestones, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Maybe you’re still riding an older bike? If that’s the case, where to sell a motorcycle no longer has to be a question. RumbleOn has the best used motorcycles for sale online, and is the best way to buy a motorcycle.


Comment down below on what you think was the most important imprint in motorcycle history! 


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