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✔ Article reviewed by Ethan Orenstein. Bringing motorcycles back from the dead since 2013. Learn More.

History of the Motorcycle

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Learn all about the history and origins of the modern motorcycle here at!

What is a Motorcycle?

A motorcycle is defined as a two-wheeled vehicle that’s powered by a motor with no pedals.

For registration purposes, most states will go further to define a motorcycle as having an engine size of no less than 50cc – under that, they may be considered a scooter, moped, or motorized bicycle.

When was the motorcycle invented?

The first steam powered motorcycles were built around 1868.

The first internal combustion, petroleum powered engine motorcycle was invented in 1885.

This bike was the Daimler Reitwagen, or “riding car.”

Who invented the motorcycle?

The first steam powered motorcycles were invented around 1867 to 1868 by attaching a steam engine to a bicycle. The first records of this include the Pierre Michaux/Louis-Guillaume Perreaux Velocipede from Paris, France and the Sylvester Roper Velocipede from Roxbury, Massachusetts.

This first internal combustion motorcycle was designed and built by Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Mayback in Bad Cannstatt, Germany.

First Production Motorcycles

Many of the early motorcycles were one-off designs.

The first production motorcycle was the 1894 Hildebrand & Wofmuller.

Other motorcycle manufactures followed:

  • In 1896: Excelsior Motor Company in England.
  • In 1898: Orient-Aster in Massachusetts.
  • In 1898: Triumph Motorcycles in England.
  • In 1899: Royal Enfield in England.
  • In 1901: Indian Motorcycles in Massachusetts.
  • In 1902: Norton in England.
  • In 1903: Harley-Davidson in Wisconsin.
  • In 1910: Birmingham Small Arms Company.

By 1920, Harley Davidson was the largest motorcycle manufacturer.

By the 1970s, Japanese motorcycle manufactures, specifically Honda, began to dominate the motorcycle market.

What was the first American motorcycle?

The most common manufacturers that come to mind when you think of American motorcycles are Harley-Davidson and Indian.

However, the first production motorcycle in the U.S. was the Orient-Aster in 1898.

The first Indian motorcycles were sold in 1901-1902, and Harley-Davidson followed in 1903.

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Content Editor: Ethan Orenstein

Ethan is not just any motorcycle enthusiast. With a decade of experience riding, maintaining, and restoring a range of motorcycles, Ethan brings a wealth of knowledge to the table. Many of the tips and tricks shared on this site are born from hours spent wrenching on personal bikes. Paired with his experience as a journalist covering DMV & insurance topics, is a must-visit site for any home-mechanic. Every article has been carefully reviewed and edited to ensure accuracy, authenticity, and simplicity - all to help bring your bike back from the dead and onto the road.

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