Motorcycl¬es evolved from the “safety” bicycle, a bicycle that offered many advantages in stability, braking and ease of mounting.
The essential features of a safety bike included:
- Spoked front and rear wheels of the same size – roughly 30 inches in diameter (compared to the “ordinary” bicycle, which had a 48-inch front wheel and a 30-inch rear wheel)
- A chain-driven rear wheel
- A front chainwheel roughly twice as large as the rear sprocket
- A low center of gravity
- Direct front steering
The first bicycle to provide all of these features and gain market acceptance was the Rover Safety, designed by John Kemp Starley in 1885. After the Rover pattern took over the market, safety bicycles were simply called “bicycles.”
It didn’t take long for someone to take the user-friendly safety bicycle design and strap on an internal combustion engine.The first to do so successfully was Gottleib Daimler, who is credited with building the first motorized bicycle – or motorcycle – in 1885.
Daimler’s motorcycle included a single-cylinder Otto-cycle engine mounted vertically in the center of the machine. It also had one wheel in front, one wheel in back and a spring-loaded outrigger wheel on each side for added stability.
Its chassis consisted of a wooden frame and wheels with wood spokes and iron rims. Such designs were called “boneshakers” because of the rough, jarring ride they delivered.
The next notable motorcycle was designed in 1892 by Alex Millet. Millet incorporated the basic safety bicycle design, but added pneumatic tires and a five-cylinder rotary engine built into the rear wheel. The cylinders rotated with the wheel, while the crankshaft formed the rear axle.
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