History of the Motorcycle

Gottlieb Daimler is thought to have invented the first modern motorcycle.

Gottllieb Daimler's 1885 Motorcycle
Gottllieb Daimler's 1885 Motorcycle. LOC

Early versions of the motorcycle were introduced by numerous inventors in the 19th century.

Steam-Powered Bicycles

American Sylvester Howard Roper (1823-1896) invented a two-cylinder, steam-powered velocipede in 1867. This can be considered the first motorcycle, if you allow your description of a motorcycle to include a coal-fired steam engine. Roper, who also invented a steam engine car, was killed in 1896 while riding his steam velocipede.


Around the same time that Roper introduced his steam-powered velocipede, Frenchman Ernest Michaux attached a steam engine to a velocipede invented by his father, blacksmith Pierre Michaux.


Gottlieb Daimler - First Gas Engined Motorcycle

German Gottlieb Daimler invented the first gas-engined motorcycle in 1885 when he attached an engine to a wooden bike. That marked the moment in history when the dual development of a viable gas-powered engine and the modern bicycle collided.

Gottlieb Daimler used a new engine invented by engineer, Nicolaus Otto. Otto invented the first "Four-Stroke Internal-Combustion Engine" in 1876, dubbing it the "Otto Cycle Engine" As soon as he completed his engine, Daimler (a former Otto employee) built it into a motorcycle.

The Harley Davidson Motorcycle

Many of the nineteenth century inventors who worked on early motorcycles often moved on to other inventions. Daimler and Roper, for example, both went on to develop automobiles.

However, inventors such as William Harley and the Davidsons brothers continued to develop motorcycles and their business competitors were other new start-up companies such as Excelsior, Indian, Pierce, Merkel, Schickel and Thor. In 1903, William Harley and his friends Arthur and Walter Davidson launched the Harley-Davidson Motor Company.

The bike had a quality engine, so it could prove itself in races, however, the company planned to manufacture it as a transport vehicle. Merchant, C. H. Lange, sold the first officially distributed Harley-Davidson in Chicago.