American Sylvester Howard Roper built 10 examples of his Roper Steam Velocipede and took it around to fairs and circuses in the Northeastern States in 1867. That's right, I said STEAM. The first two-wheeled motorized cycles were based on early steam propulsion technology. Steam technology was very common in the 19th century. An interesting side note: Today, the literary genre "steam punk" is based on using Victorian steam technologies in contemporary settings. But back to the bikes!
In 1868, the French Michaux-Perreaux steam bicycle followed on the heels of Roper's designs. But it would be 17 more years before the world would see it's first internal combustion, petroleum-fueled motorcycle.
In 1885, Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach created the Petroleum Reitwagen. It would be a German company in 1894 who would begin the first production series of a model based on the one built by Gottlieb and Maybach, the Motorrad.
By 1920, the infamous Harley-Davidson brand of motorcycles were being sold in over 67 countries. Today, the motorcycle market is dominated by Japanese manufacturers but Harley-Davidson, BMW, and several Italian companies like Ducati still have a place in the global motorcycle market.
Motorcycles have 65% less emissions than a standard mid-size car, so in terms of the environment, motorcycles ROCK! Unfortunately, because most of the drivers on the road today use two-ton vehicles to get around, riding a motorcycle is also one of the most dangerous ways to travel. But that didn't stop the 51% increase in motorcycle registrations between 2000 and 2005. And in the last several years, with the global economic down turn, motorcycle sales actually went up by about 6%!
At least part of the reason why has to do with the role of motorcycles in popular culture. Shows like Monster Garage and American Chopper have brought the art of motorcycle maintenance to mainstream America. Of course, Robert Pirsig's 1975 literary phenom, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, did the same thing in 27 languages decades earlier.
Motorcycle-culture in the 21st century has shed much of its "bad boy" image. Today, when you see a group of motorcycles on the road, it's most likely a rally for a charity or good cause. For example, every Memorial Day weekend, you can expect to see 250,000 motorcycles heading to Washington DC for the Rolling Thunder First Amendment Demonstration Run. Starting with a mere 2,500 riders in 1987 (with founder, Ray Manzo, Corporal USMC), Rolling Thunder brought awareness to the POW/MIA issue in America and still does today. There's also an annual charity ride for the Children's Miracle Network, a network of hospitals that treats 17-million children a year.
Amazing stuff! Motorcyclists raise millions of dollars for hundreds of charities each year--now THAT'S cool!
So don your leather and grab your helmet...take a ride on the wild side with 144 years of motorcycle history! And if you're not a motorcycle-kind of person, please DRIVE SAFELY around those who are this summer season! Be kind to the bikers who not only are kind to our environment but to people in need as well, While four wheels can move the body, some say it takes only two wheels to move the soul....