Who Invented the Motorcycle?


In the nineteenth century, the evolution of motorcycles continued to progress. Pierre Michaux and Ernest Michaux invented steam-powered motorcycles. Steam-powered motorcycles used twin belt drives to drive the front wheel. Gasoline-powered motorcycles appeared in the following decade. Reitwagons were also invented by Daimler and Maybach, who relied on extra spokes at the rear wheel.


Gottlieb Daimler is credited as the motorcycle inventor, but the idea dates back to the mid-1800s. He was an engineer who experimented with gasoline motors for boats, and he also went on to pioneer the manufacture of automobiles. Daimler’s car company went on to become Mercedes-Benz. By the end of the 1880s, dozens of companies were producing self-propelled “bicycles.” Hildebrand & Wolfmuller were the first to make motorcycles on a production line, and Charles Metz’s factory in Waltham, Massachusetts, produced the first production motorcycle.

Daimler patented an internal combustion engine in 1833. By 1885, he had the engine mounted on a sturdy bicycle, creating the prototype of the motorcycle. In 1887, he used the new engine in a four-wheeled vehicle. It produced a few more horsepowers than Benz’s, but Daimler’s motorcycle was much lighter and ran faster.


In 1867, Sylvester H. Roper of Boston invented the motorcycle. Young bicycle racers laughed at him as he raced on his steam-powered bike on the one-third-mile Charles River Park track. But Roper was determined to compete with the hotshots of the day.

Roper was also an inventor of the Handstitch Sewing Machine, a steam engine, knitting machines, and a hot-air engine. He later invented an automatic fire escape and the steam-powered car. Today, Roper’s steam motorcycle is displayed at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. Tragically, Roper died testing his steam-powered motorcycle on the Charles River in 1896. In 2002, he was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame.

Daimler and Maybach

Daimler and Maybach didn’t intend to build motorcycles – their original goal was to test the viability of a liquid petroleum engine. The two men had already built a two-wheeled test frame, the Petroleum Reitwagen. They eventually patented the first motorcycle, which was known as a bicycle with an engine.

In 1861, Daimler visited Paris and observed the development of the first internal combustion engine, developed by Etienne Lenoir. The two later joined a company established by Nikolaus August Otto, which created the first successful gaseous fuel engine.

Daimler Reitwagen

The Daimler Reitwagen is widely considered to be the first motorcycle. It was designed and patented on August 29, 1885. The bike had a high saddle supported by stabilizer wheels on either side. Although the Daimler Reitwagen never made it into production, it did prove that a combustion engine could be used in a motorcycle. As a result, the two men moved on to create cars and engines.

The Reitwagen’s first public ride was in November 1885. There are conflicting accounts of the exact date, but the first official ride was performed by Daimler’s seventeen-year-old son, Paul. The ride covered five kilometers and reached speeds of between five and twelve kmph. Onlookers were shocked at the human-controlled vehicle.


The motorcycle was first created in the late nineteenth century and became popular in the United States. It was an offshoot of motorized bicycles, which were already widely available. The Waltham Manufacturing Company in the United States built the first motorcycle in 1899, adapting a heavyweight roadster bicycle to accommodate a small engine. The Aster company in France also made bikes, and other manufacturers soon followed. Before the market crash of 1929, the motorcycle industry in the US was booming.

Aster was the most important supplier of automobile components and produced engines for both end-users and vehicle manufacturers. In 1904, the company was the largest supplier of automobile engines in France, with over 130 different vehicle makes using its products.

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