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The First Motorcycle myths and truths

Who really invented the first motorcycle?


Motorcycles are descended from the “safety” bicycle, bicycles with front and rear wheels of the same size, with a pedal crank mechanism to drive the front wheel. Those bicycles, in turn were descended from high-wheel bicycles known as the penny farthing. The high-wheelers were descended from an early type of push-bike, without pedals, propelled by the rider’s feet pushing against the ground. These appeared around 1800, used iron-banded wagon wheels, and were called “bone-crushers,” both for their jarring ride, and their tendency to toss their riders.

 The Roper Steam Cycle - was this the first motorcycle ?The first motorcycle was built around 1868. It was not powered by a gasoline engine, but by a steam engine. Its builder was Sylvester Howard Roper. His steam-powered bike was demonstrated at fairs and circuses in the eastern US in 1867 and did not catch on, but it anticipated many modern motorbike features, including the twisting-handgrip throttle control. There is an existing example of a Roper machine, dated 1869. It’s powered by a charcoal-fired two-cylinder engine, whose connecting rods directly drive a crank on the rear wheel. This machine predates the invention of the safety bicycle by many years, so its chassis is also based on the “bone-crusher” bike.

FACTOID Sylvester Roper of Roxbury , Massachusetts, started making lightweight steam powered vehicles in 1855! At the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, the museum displays this 1865 model regarded as the first motorcycle and a photo of an 1866 “steam carriage”.

GOTTLIEB DAIMLERGottlieb Daimler 1834 – 1900: (who later teamed up with Karl Benz to form the Daimler-Benz Corporation) is often credited with building the first motorcycle in 1885, one wheel in the front and one in the back, although it had a smaller spring-loaded outrigger wheel on each side. It was constructed mostly of wood, with the wheels being of the iron-banded wooden-spoked wagon-type, definitely a “bone-crusher” chassis. It was indeed powered by a single-cylinder Otto-cycle engine, and may have had a spray-type carburetor. (Daimler’s assistant, Wilhelm Maybach was working on the invention of the spray carburetor at the time). Daimler was an an assistant to Nicholaus Otto (who invented the Otto cycle, a kind of engine). In 1885, Daimler added a gasoline motor to a wooden bicycle, replacing the pedals. Daimler’s motorbike was propelled by an engine, but it was not the first motor-driven cycle as was previously thought.

The German word EINSPURIG means “single track”, an inaccurate description of this early machine, since it was equipped with spring loaded outrigger wheels to keep it upright; these were necessary because the saddle was so high above the engine that the rider’s feet could not reach the ground. The top of the engine projected up between the frame members, and above it was mounted a curved saddle more suited to the back of a horse. O n the first machine, the handlebars were attached to a tiller, but this was later replaced by the link arrangement shown here. Then engine had an automatic inlet valve fed from a surface carburetor and a mechanically operated exhaust valve.

In many ways the engine was ahead of it’s time. The drive from the engine was by means of a flat belt to a countershaft, on the end of which was a pinion engaging with an internally toothed gear attached to the rear wheel. This was controlled by cords passing around the handlebars, twisting of which simultaneously tightened the belt and released the rear brake







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