The Evolution of The Motorcycle - Part Five: The Post-War Era

Ducati started manufacturing electrical equipment in 1920 under the company name Societa Scientifica Radio Brevetti Ducati (the Ducati Scientific Society of Radio Patents). Today, Ducati is still involved in electric and electronic products and changed its name to Ducati Elettrotecnica and more recently renamed Ducati Energia SpA. In 1945, Ducati Meccanica began manufacturing the Cucciolo (Puppy); a 48 cubic centimeter engine bolted to a bicycle to convert it to a motorbike. Today, Ducati Motor Holding is known for exotic high performance sports and racing motorcycles and is very competitive in World Superbike and MotoGP (Motorcycle Gran Prix) Racing.

The Piaggio factory built aircraft from 1915 until the destruction of the factory during WWII. In 1946, Piaggio introduced a new style of motorcycle which had never been seen before. The bike did not have a frame, which had always been styled like a bicycle frame. Instead, this new bike had a steel monocoque chassis and the two-stroke 98cc engine was enclosed in rounded body panels. The front portion of the body included a floor with foot-controls and a front wall which protected the legs from wind and weather. The light front end, bulbous rear-end, and buzzy sound of the two-stroke engine made the bike look and sound like a "wasp" which, in Italian, is "Vespa." The sleek, lightweight, inexpensive Vespa became very popular with teens and young adults, not only in Europe and England, but in the USA as well.

Soichiro Honda was the son of a blacksmith and a self-taught engineer who owned and operated his own auto repair shop in Japan at the age of 16 (1922) and built his first motorbike in 1947. In the 1930s, Soichiro Honda mass-produced piston rings for Toyoda (the original spelling of Toyota) but his factory was damaged by Allied bombing during WWII and then destroyed by an earthquake. In 1946, Soichiro Honda purchased 500 small surplus engines from the Japanese Army and modified them to be sold, along with a belt-drive, to be bolted on to bicycle frames. When the stock of Army-surplus engines ran out, Soichiro Honda built his own engines. Today, Honda is the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer and the largest maker of internal combustion engines, by volume. The first production automobile from Honda was the T360 mini pick-up truck of 1963 powered by a 356cc motorcycle engine. In 2009, Honda held the second largest part of the US motorcycle market-share at 25 percent.

While some countries were rebuilding after the damage of war, American and British motorcycle makers advanced in performance. The post war period saw the introduction of early "super-bikes," race-bred motorcycles sold to the general public. Examples of these machines were the Vincent Black Shadow, the Harley-Davidson "K" model and Sportster, the Indian Scout, Velocette Venom, Norton Atlas, and the Triumph Speed-Twin, forerunner of the Bonneville. Many of these bikes were capable of speeds of 100 mph right off the showroom floor. The post-war period also introduced the first counter-culture groups of "biker-gangs" in the US and "Rockers" in England.

The Indian Motorcycle Company filed for bankruptcy in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1953.

Fascinating Fact: Ducati and Honda started during the same post-war period with similar products - a small engine for a bicycle. Both of their previous plants were destroyed by the war and their countries needed cheap transportation.

Read Part One: Early History

Part Two: Early European and British Motorcycles

Part Three: The First American Motorcycles

Part Four: World War II

Part Five: The Post-War Era

Part Six: The Later 20th Century: The Baby Boomers Become Young Adults

Part Seven: The Super Seventies

Part Eight: The American & Italian Connection

Epilogue: What Will We Ride In The Future?

Written By: Paul Andor Nagy