In 2007, the market for motorcycles in the United States was $14.6 billion. Sales of individual street-bikes, dirt-bikes, dual-sports, and scooters peaked at almost 1.1 million units in 2005 and then dropped dramatically to little more than a half-million bikes sold in 2009 and less again in 2010 but, US sales have been gradually increasing since then. In 2013, American consumers bought nearly 325,000 street-bikes, 73,000 dirt-bikes, 34,000 scooters and 33,000 dual-sports.

Motorcycles are one of the most affordable forms of motorized transport in many parts of the world and, for most of the world's population, they are also the most common type of motor vehicle. There are around 200 million motorcycles (including mopeds, motor scooters and other powered two and three-wheelers) in use worldwide, or about 33 motorcycles per 1,000 people. This compares to around 590 million cars, or about 91 cars per 1,000 people. Fifty-eight percent of the motorcycles are in the developing countries of Asia, Southern and Eastern Asia, and the Asia Pacific countries, excluding Japan - while 33 percent of the cars (195 million) are concentrated in the United States and Japan. As of 2002, India, with an estimated 37 million motorcycles and mopeds, was home to the largest number of motorized two-wheelers in the world. China came a close second with 34 million motorcycles and mopeds.

There are many misconceptions and misunderstandings about motorcycles and their history. Motorcycles had played a significant role in 20th century mechanical technology and culture. In the 21st century, motorcycles will continue to be an important part of our efforts to reduce oil consumption and develop new fuels for transportation.

Early History: Developing the Components Needed to Build the First Motorcycles

The first component to ultimately become part of the foundation of the first motorcycle was the steam engine. Thomas Savery, an English military engineer, patented the first crude steam engine in 1698, based on Denis Papin's Digester or pressure cooker of 1679. This was used as a stationary machine, not on a vehicle. William Murdoch built a prototype Steam Locomotive in Scotland in 1784. Samuel Morey demonstrated the first successful steam-powered paddle-wheel boat on New Hampshire's Connecticut River in 1793.

A motorcycle is essentially a bicycle with an engine. The bicycle was invented and developed soon after the steam engine was invented. The earliest bicycle was a wooden scooter-like contraption called a "celerifere" which was invented around 1790 by Comte Mede de Sivrac of France.

In 1816, Baron Karl von Drais de Sauerbrun, of Germany, invented a bicycle with a steering bar attached to the front wheel, which he called a Draisienne. It had two wheels of the same diameter, and the rider sat between the two wheels, but there were no pedals. To move, you had to propel the bicycle forward using your feet (a bit like a scooter or a modern child's Strider balance-bike). He exhibited his bicycle in the Paris Expo of 1818.

Pierre and Ernest Michaux, a French father-and-son team of carriage-makers, invented an improved bicycle in the 1860s. Many early bicycles (called velocipedes, meaning "fast foot" or also known as "bone shakers") had huge front wheels - it was thought that the bigger the wheel, the faster you could go. Early tires were wooden, metal tires were an improvement, and solid rubber tires were added later. A chain with sprockets was added to the bicycle in the 1880s and was called the "safety bicycle." Air-filled tires were eventually added in the 1880s.

By 1869, the Michaux Company of Paris was already established as the largest bicycle manufacturer in Europe. By the mid-19th century, the small industrial steam engine had become commercially available in France, and Pierre Michaux decided to install a complete steam power plant, which he obtained from the Perreaux company, within the framework of one of his 'boneshaker' bicycles. The rider started the cycle by foot pedals on the front wheel, and once forward motion was established, pressurized steam was admitted to the cylinder. Transmission was by two leather belts direct from an engine pulley to each side of the rear wheel. The machine had no brakes, iron tires, and was reputedly capable of 10 mph.

The first known steam-cycle to be built in the United States also appeared in 1869. It was built by American inventor Sylvester Howard Roper of Roxbury, Massachusetts, and Roper's invention may have the distinction of being the first American motorcycle.

Eventually, the steam engine was to be replaced by the Internal Combustion Engine. In 1876, Nikolaus August Otto of Holzhausen, Germany built the first four-stroke internal combustion engine. This was the first practical alternative to the steam engine. In the next 10 years, more than 30,000 of the engines were sold. This engine was the prototype of the combustion engines that have been built since. The engine was named the "Otto cycle" in his honor. The engine's design consists of four strokes of a piston which draws in and compresses a gas-air mixture within a cylinder. This process results in an internal explosion.

In 1885, Gottlieb Daimler constructed a very light engine, using Otto's model and mounted it to a bicycle. This became the world's first internal-combustion motorcycle. Karl Benz built his first three-wheel automobile employing Otto's engine. Daimler also constructed an automobile, using Otto's engine. The firms of Daimler and Benz merged and manufactured the famous Mercedes-Benz vehicles.

The Hildebrand & Wolfmueller was the world's first production motorcycle. Heinrich and Wilhelm Hildebrand were steam-engine engineers before Alois Wolfmueller agreed to finance them to produce their internal combustion Motorrad (German for motor-wheel but also "motorcycle") in Munich in 1894.

The first practical pneumatic tire was made by Scotsman John Boyd Dunlop in 1887 for his son's tricycle to help prevent the headaches his son had while riding on rough roads. Dunlop started supplying tires for racing in 1889. Dunlop is very well know today for motorcycle and automotive tires for both consumers and racers.

Fascinating Fact: Both the internal combustion engine and pneumatic tires were utilized on a bicycle or motorcycle before they were on a car.

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