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Running on Fumes

What is the World’s First Motorcycle?

Thursday, April 29, 2010
Dutiful readers may recall recent news that the first production motorcycle was sold. Bonhams, the auction house, describes the 1894 Hildebrand & Wolfmuller two-cylinder water-cooled design as being of the “utmost historical significance as the first powered two-wheeler to enter series production, and is the first such vehicle to which the name ‘motorcycle’ (motorrad in German) was ever applied.”

The release piqued my interest because a recent trip to Japan saw me perusing the Honda collection hall at the Motegi circuit. And while strolling through the amazing displays, what should I discover but “The world’s first motorcycle”. It was a reproduction, actually, of the Daimler Reitrad build by Gottlieb Daimler in 1885 (the replica produced by Daimler Benz.) The original bike was a test model built by the famed engineer, with a wooden frame and “auxiliary” wheels on the side.

That discovery in turn reminded me of a story (The Future of Alternative Motorcycles) where I claimed the world’s first motorcycle was built way back in 1869 by an American. Sylvester Roper built the twin-cylinder steam engine-powered two wheeler, with a charcoal stove heating up the water. Roper would later go on to develop a new machine in the latter years of the 19th Century, upon which he famously died while riding at an exhibition – the crash and death due to heart failure.

So... what is the world's first motorcycle?

Maybe it’s nationalistic of me to throw my weight behind Roper, but old Sylvester seems to have the European claimants covered by a good decade!
Daimler ReitradThe Hildebrand   Wolfmüller motorcycle is historically significant because it was the first powered two-wheeler in series production.  American inventor Sylvester Roper invented a steam-powered motorcycle over 140 years ago. The concept of two-wheeled propulsion has come a long way since. How will the motorcycle evolve in the future
The world's first motorcycles: Daimler Reitrad (left), 1894 Hildebrand & Wolfmuller (center), Roper's steam bike (right).
Post Tags: world's first motorcycle, oldest motorcycle
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Comments
benlyben petrolhead -motorcycle collector September 14, 2010 02:22 AM
the daimler was the 1st. petrolpowered motorcycle anywere.steam might have been before, but as a practical means of mass transportation,it never succseedet.the hildebrandt/wolfmueller was the 1st. massproduced,petrolpowered two wheeler.they all have a place somewere.my vote goes to the daimler.
R34 -First Motorcycle April 30, 2010 03:21 PM
Where body position reigned supreme, and lean angle was still in the womb
adam-motousa -jc April 30, 2010 02:20 PM
you got ur own brand of motorcycle--ur famous!@
x2468 -Hmmmm April 30, 2010 01:24 PM
I think it's time for a Shootout!
JC -I'm a little biased. April 30, 2010 11:09 AM
I'm voting for the H&W, mostly because I like the name...