The first internal combustion, petroleum fueled Motorcycle was the
Petroleum Reitwagen. It was designed and built by the German
inventors Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach in Bad Cannstatt,
Germany in 1885. This vehicle was unlike either the safety bicycles or
the bone shaker bicycles of the era in that it had zero degrees of
steering axis angle and no fork offset, and thus did not use the two
outrigger wheels to remain upright while turning. The inventors called
their invention the Reitwagen ("riding car"). It was designed as an
expedient testbed for their new engine, rather than a true prototype
vehicle. Many authorities who exclude steam powered, electric or
diesel two-wheelers from the definition of a motorcycle, credit the
Daimler Reitwagen as the world's first motorcycle. If a two-wheeled
vehicle with steam propulsion is considered a motorcycle, then the
first was the French Michaux-Perreaux steam
bicycle of 1868.
This was followed by the American Roper steam velocipede of 1869,
built by Sylvester Howard Roper of Roxbury, Massachusetts. Roper
demonstrated his machine at fairs circuses in the eastern U.S. in
1867, and built a total of 10 examples. In 1894, Hildebrand &
Wolfmüller became the first series production motorcycle, and the
first to be called amotorcycle (German: Motor rad). In the early period
of motorcycle history, many producers of bicycles adapted their
designs to accommodate the new internal combustion engine. As the
engines became more powerful and designs outgrew the bicycle
origins, the number of motorcycle producers increased. Until World
War I, the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world was Indian,
producing over 20,000 bikes per year. By 1920, this honour went to
Harley-Davidson, with their motorcycles being sold by dealers in 67
countries. By the late 1920s or early 1930s, DKW took over as the
largest manufacturer. After World War II, the BSA Group became the
largest producer of motorcycles in the world, producing up to 75,000
bikes per year in the 1950s. The German company NSU held the
position of largest manufacturer from 1955
until the 1970s.
NSU Sport max streamlined motorcycle, 250 cc class winner of the
1955 Grand Prix season in the 1950s, streamlining began to play an
increasing part in the development of racing motorcycles and the
"dustbin fairing" held out the possibility of radical changes to
motorcycle design. NSU and Moto Guzzi were in the vanguard of this
development both producing very radical designs well ahead of their
time. NSU produced the most advance design, but after the deaths of
four NSU riders in the 1954–1956 seasons, they abandoned further
development and quit Grand Prix motorcycle racing. Moto Guzzi
produced competitive race machines, and by 1957 nearly all the
Grand Prix races were being won by streamlined machines. The
following year, 1958, full enclosure fairings were banned from racing
by the FIM in the light of the safety concerns. From the 1960s through
the 1990s, small two-stroke motorcycles were popular worldwide,
partly as a result of East German Walter Kaaden's engine work
in the 1950s.
Today, the motorcycle industry is mainly dominated by Japanese
companies such as Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha, although
Harley-Davidson and BMW continue to be popular and supply
considerable markets. Other major manufacturers include Piaggio
group of Italy, KTM, Triumph and Ducati. In addition to the large
capacity motorcycles, there is a large market in smaller capacity (less
than 300 cc) motorcycles, mostly concentrated in Asian and African
countries. An example is the 1958 Honda Super Cub, which went on
to become the biggest selling vehicle of all time, with its 60 millionth
unit produced in April 2008.
Today, this area is dominated by mostly Indian companies with Hero
Honda emerging as the world's largest manufacturer of two wheelers.
Other major producers are Bajaj and TVS Motors. For example, its
Splendormodel has sold more than 8.5 million to date.