Thunder Roads La/MS November TRLAMS_NOVW - Page 16

The History of Motorcycles - pt3 motorcycle 101: By: Melanie Schwarte Re-Print by Request In the earliest days of motorcycle production the biggest players in the industry remained the bicycle manufacturers. They began adapting their designs to accommodate the up and coming internal combustion engine. As engines became more powerful and designs began to outgrow their bicycle origins, the number of motorcycle producers increased. With so many people trying to succeed in the motorcycle industry, many of the 19th century inventors inevitably moved from motorcycle development to automobiles. Survival of the fittest at its finest, and at the turn of the century the first major mass production firms were established. 1894 marked the year of the first production motorcycle in Germany. Hildebrand and Wolfmüller developed the “Motorrad”. They even patented the Motorrad engine, a revolutionary 1488 cc model, but only a few hundred bikes were ever completed. At the same time the term “motorcycle” was first used in the English language when it appeared in materials promoting machines developed by E J Pennington. Sadly, Pennington’s designs never progressed past the prototype stage. In 1896 The Excelsior Motor Company began selling motorcycles to the public in Coventry, England. (Excelsior would also operate a company in the U.S. from 1905 – 1931) 1898 presented us with a U.S. development in the industry, when the Orient-Aster was built by Charles Metz at his factory in Waltham, Massachusetts. At this point in the game, many names that have become household standards began to emerge. The first familiar name in motorcycles appeared out of the bicycle era in 1898…Triumph. Triumph extended its production focus to include the motorcycle, and by 1902 had successfully produced its first model for sale. The first Triumph was essentially a bicycle fitted with a Belgian built engine that boasted a whopping 2.2 HP, and a short year later Triumph had emerged as the largest producer of motorcycles boasting an annual production of over 500 units. Clearly not considered “mass production” by today’s standards, but in 1902?? Triumph was kicking some serious ass in the motorcycle revolution. By 1907 Triumph had perfected a new 450 cc 3.5 HP engine and was producing 1,000 units annually. 1901 was the birth year for the famed Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company. The love child of two former bicycle racers, Indian quickly became (and has remained) a beloved name in motorcycles. Their first design was the “diamond framed” Indian Single. Its engine was built by the Aurora Firm in Illinois per Indian’s specifications. The Single was made available in one color…Deep Blue. Indian also increased its production to over 500 bikes by the close of 1902, making Indian a strong competitor for Triumph. Along the way, Indian pushed the evolution of the motorcycle in several ways…in 1902 Indian produced the first chain driven bike sold to the public, as well as released the first American V-Twin in 1906 (which remains the most popular motorcycle engine today). 1907 brought the first police unit to NYC (Indian bikes were chosen by all), and by 1914 Indian had created the “loop frame” positioned gas tank, swing arm and leaf spring suspension, and the world’s first electric lights and starter. No more need for a flashlight, or parking your bike at dusk…diehards could now ride all damn night! Indian would continue to rise in the production game as well, up to 32,000 units per year (its best ever) in 1913. 1901 also brought an eager young man by the name of William S. Harley into the biking world. At the age of 21 he completed his first blueprint of a bicycle engine. In 1903, William and his partner Arthur Davidson produced their first motorcycle in their meager 10 by 15 foot factory. Henry Meyer of Milwaukee bought the original 1903 model directly from the founders…Meyer obviously had no idea what a lucky bastard he was! In 1904 the first Harley dealership was opened in Chicago, Illinois by C. H. Lang, where one of the first production models was sold. In 1907, Harley becomes a corporation and builds a new, larger factory. In 1908, the first HD motorcycle is delivered to the Detroit Michigan PD for Detroit’s first motorcycle patrol unit. The following year, for the first time ever, spare parts for the HD V-twin were made available for sale…makes me wonder what the hell you did before that if your bike broke down?? By 1914 Harley had introduced the world to the renowned bar and shield logo, begun production of the “F-Head”, and brought us sidecars…the beginning of the tag-along rider (insert apology here). By this time, mass production was in full swing, and competition was in full force. Experimentation and innovation were taking over and being further driven by the growing sport of motorcycle racing. A powerful incentive to produce tougher, faster, more reliable machines was on the rise. While initiated for the racing world, these enhancements were to quickly infiltrate the public’s machines as well. Remember that mention of the U.S. Excelsior Motor Company? Well those cats can be thanked for being a huge driving force behind why that bad ass bike parked in your driveway does more for you than just take you from point A to point B. We will delve into our need for speed next time… Melanie Schwarte, Thunder Roads Iowa 14 Thunder Roads Magazine Louisiana/Mississippi | November 2017 |