So you know a Norton from a Brough Superior, The Wild One from Easy Rider and can take your hog apart to perform routine maintenance and upgrades… but did you know that a motorised tricycle was developed and exhibited two years before Karl Benz’s first automobile was displayed to the public? How much do you know about Motorcycles?
Granted, it never actually made any money – its designer and engineer Ed Butler never managed to get financial backing – but it’s still an important fact.
You’ve probably also heard of the Penny Farthing but what you might not have known is that there was an American version of it called the American Star (named after the spoke pattern) that was successfully steam-powered up to 12mph by a man in Phoenix, Arizona.
Here we look at other lesser-known facts to find out just how much you really know about motorcycles.
Application for use in conflict
Unlike many things in human history, motorcycles thrived in war. During WW1, horses were effectively replaced by the motorcycle for front line communication and reconnaissance. By this time, Triumph and Harley-Davidson were already big players with Harley claiming that over half of their output was going straight to war. They were also a popular choice for military police which would catch on in regular police use shortly after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.
Post-war, Harley-Davidson and Indian Cycles were the dominant manufacturers. Production demand soared in the latter parts of the 1930s as war loomed.
As Steve McQueen immortalised, motorcycles played a big part of WW2, particularly for MP use or personal escorts and motorcades. A certain Austrian dictator never drove his Mercedes far without a fistful of armed guards on motorcycles as the bike was now the established quick response unit.
British motorcycle engineering boomed post-WW2, cemented by BSA’s commercial acquisition of Triumph. A great testament to this is The Great Escape. Generated in an era where British motorbikes were most popular, Steve McQueen (or his stuntman Bud Ekins) launched a Triumph TT Special over a barbed wire fence to flee pursuing Nazis who would all have been historically riding BMWs. The British are nothing if not competitive.
The superbike emerged and Japanese engineering was king. Kawasaki and Honda walked in and took over the West as if the market was already theirs. If Mad Max is anything to go by we’ll be riding Japanese motorcycles right into our uncertain futures!