After the discovery of the bicycle in 1860s France, inventors all around the world started formulating their designs for automated version of this transport device. With the help of machines available to them in that time, they produced several prototypes of motorcycles that would pave the way for all the future models. Here we will describe the how the first motorcycle came to be.
From the 1920 to 1860s, Europe and USA became first acquainted to the simple velocipede device called Dandy Horse. This simple design (modeled after the Baron Karl von Drais velocipede “Draisine”) enabled its rider to drive it using the power of its own feet. Lack of pedals or chain drive limited its use to small percentage of drivers, mostly children and younger men. All that changed during early 1861 when French blacksmith Pierre Michaux patented bicycle pedals and presented to the world his first “boneshaker” bicycle. This marked the point in from bicycle transport received massive boost of popularity and sales. While bicycles continued to get continuous improvements over the next 40 years (especially in English model “Rover” which featured chain drive, pneumatic tires and many more safety devices), early motorcycles prototypes started to be produced all over the Europe.
First known steam motorcycle was produced in the factory of the famous bicycle inventor Pierre Michaux. His son Ernest managed to attach small steam engine to one of their early bicycle designs. In the following years several more inventors managed to repeat similar feat, all using the steam engines with various (solid, liquid or gas fueled) combustion chambers. Steam engine motorcycles worked fine, but they had several big drawbacks (mainly, low power production and constant need of refueling).
In 1885, two German inventors -Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach managed to produce first modern model of motorcycle. They managed to attach small petroleum based combustion engine to the wooden bicycle frame. This motorcycle called “Daimler Reitwagen” is today regarded as the first true motorcycle and it was a starting point for all future motorcycle based innovations and improvements. Development of “Reitwagen” started in 1882 when Daimler and Maybach started the production of thir experimental high-speed single-cylinder engine. Their initial plan was to make small automobile, but they opted to test their engine design on a bicycle frame. Small 264-cubic-centimetre, single cilindre, 0.5 horsepower engine managed to power the motorcycle with the speed of only 7 miles per hour 11 km/h). During the one of the first test runs seat of the motorcycle caught fire from the heat emanated from the nearby engine. Daimler and Maybach patented during August 1885, and the final version of “Reitwagen” was presented to the public in 1886.
Original models of the “Daimler Reitwagen” were sadly lost in 1903 factory fire at Cannstatt, Germany. Several replicas exist in museum collections in Germany, USA, Australia and Japan.