One fine day in 1868, a young man added a steam engine to his bicycle, hoping to speed it up; and it did. It sped the revolution of motorcycles. Thus, the concept of a petroleum-powered motorized bicycle came into existence. The present motorbike racing generation owes its speed and mobility to Sylvester Howard Roper.
The first motorcycle was built by Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach in 1885 with a four-stroke internal combustion engine. In 1894, the Hildebrand & Wolfmüller became the first motorcycle to be sold commercially. It was a 1,428cc four-stroke with 2.5 bhp and a top speed of 25 mph. In 1895, American inventor E.J. Pennington built a machine capable of 58 mph, and also coined the term motor cycle. A British manufacturer Matchless used French-made engines in 1899.
The most known motorcycle, Harley-Davidson, was the brainchild of William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson. The first available bike was built with a 3-1/8 inch bore and 3-1/2 inch stroke. Like-minded people across the US and Europe came up with better ideas and engines, and propelled the motorcycle industry. Soon names such as Excelsior, Indian, Pierce, Merkel, Schickel and Thor were seen racing for the top slot. By 1902, an English engineering company Royal Enfield had started making its mark. They developed the 239cc Enfield engine and installed it on a bicycle. The famous Bullet was developed between 1924 to 1930. Since 1965, the company has also been producing diesel-powered bikes.
In 1902, Triumph motorcycle produced its first motorcycle using a single-cylinder 2.25 bhp Belgian Minerva engine. By 1907, more than 1,000 motorcycles were made by them. In 1951, The BSA Group purchased them and became the largest producers of motorcycles.
However, the Second World War devastated the motorcycle industry, forcing many companies to shut down. It was revived by the technological advances made in Japan. In 1946, Honda was started with a 50cc engine. By the turn of the century, the European markets were facing stiff competition from Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki. The Japanese offered good looking faster bikes with bigger engines at a reasonable cost. By 1960, Honda's CD450 outran every western bike. In 1969, they introduced the SOHC inline 4-cylinder 750 engine for the first time. Motorcycle accessories and parts were made easily available. That, in turn, boosted the growth of the subsidiary industry.
The industry went through lean phases during the 1980s. But, since then the sales have increased manifold. Despite the present global recession, the motorcycle industry has held on. From a bicycle fitted with a charcoal-fired two-cylinder engine, the motorcycle has traversed a long way to a 250cc engine. Scooters and mopeds were also developed using the same technology.
Diesel motorcycles were first made available for commercial purposes in 2006 by the Dutch company E.V.A. to promote fuel efficiency. It uses the 800cc three cylinder DaimlerChrysler diesel engine.
The future of motorcycles now lies in the efficient use of fuels, possibly biofuels, lesser emissions, higher power hybrid engines, and definitely sleeker looks. The Honda Motor Company is ready to launch the world's first motorcycle powered by an eco-friendly fuel mixed with bio-ethanol and gasoline. So, go ride on for a cleaner environment, but don't forget the helmet!