18th October 2013

Features: Wonderful World of the Motorcycle

Man’s love of motion took him off his beloved horse and into the realm of two-wheeled mechanical motion. In a little over a century we have laid asphalt over millions of earth miles, made countries smaller, businesses bigger. Our love of freedom and quest for adventure has been our catalyst. Many of todays Motor manufacturers, who ply us with their latest temptation, all began from humble beginnings, that of the single track, two-wheeled often referred to and now defunct, motor-bicycle. Were it not for an Irish man called Ford, whose production line Model T damn near caused the collapse of the American Motorcycle Industry, we might all be riding Harleys. Motorcycle versus motorcar has been a consistent argument since they both began sucking gasoline. The plain fact is that one is no better than the other, they are simply different, to be enjoyed by their owners as their lifestyle dictates.

Gottlieb Wilhelm Daimler

The world’s first motorcycle, with an internal combustion engine was the Einspur. This wooden framed machine was built in 1885 by Gottlieb Wilhelm Daimler, who later was involved with a chap called Benz in the automotive business.

Harley Davidson

The brothers Arthur, William and Walter Davidson with their friend William Harley built their first motorcycle in 1903. The carburettor design for this model was assisted by their neighbour Ole Evinrude, later to make his name with outboard engines for boats. By 1920 H-D had become the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the world, boasting dealers in 67 countries. At this stage they also began to provide, through their dealers, clothing and accessories for riders, which was unique at the time.


Kawasaki Heavy Industries which build ships, aircraft and industrial robots first supplied 2-stroke engines to Meihatsu prior to 1960, when their first Kawasaki badged 50cc and 125cc, 2-strokes appeared. It is the smallest of the Big Four Japanese manufacturers. In 1972 it produced the Z1, a 900cc 4-cylinder, in-line model, derivatives of which are still in production today.


After World War 1 several German aircraft and engine makers went into motorcycle production. Among them was BMW, whose logo denotes the spinning propeller of an aircraft engine. The first outright BMW appeared in 1923, designed by Hans Fink.


James Lansdowne Norton began making his own 490cc, side-valve engines in 1908, continuing production for another 40 years. In 1927, overhead-camshaft racing machines were introduced which were successful and gradually evolved into the world famous Manx Norton. Rex Mc Candless developed a frame for the Manx Norton. Works rider, Harold Daniel described it as comfortable as a ‘feather bed’. The name stuck and Feather-bed Norton’s are today a very collectable motorcycle.


The British Small Arms Company, (BSA), began building complete motorcycles in 1910. Having acquired the design from DKW in Germany after World War 2, it built its best selling 125cc, 2-stroke, the ‘Bantham’.


Originally bicycle makers, Triumph produced their first motorcycle in 1902, a 293cc, side-valve unit. Introduced in 1959, the Triumph Bonneville, named after Triumph’s speed records set at Bonneville’s Salt Flats in Utah, USA during the 1950’s, became the quintessential Triumph.


In 1928, Philip Vincent having acquired the HRD trademark, (named after Howard R. Davies who won the 1921 Senior TT and subsequently set up his own marque), developed his well engineered, high quality motorcycles. In 1934 he began to make his own engines with the prototype of the famous ‘Black Shadow’ appearing in 1949. Production of Vincent motorcycles stopped in 1955.


In 1948 Soichiro Honda got army surplus engines and bolted them into bicycle frames. Some 12 years later, 1960, Honda had become the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the world. Car manufacturing began in 1963. Soichiro Honda died in 1992. In 1958 he introduced the world to the C100 Super Cub, a basic, cheap 50cc, 4-stroke that became the biggest selling motorcycle ever made.


The brothers Peugeot, then bicycle makers, began attaching engines to one of their frame designs back in 1899 making them now the longest established motorcycle manufacturer in the world. Car production began in 1907.


Ducati began production in 1948 building 48cc motorcycles and scooters. Designed Fabio Taglioni joined the company in 1954 and created a single cylinder machine, with a shaft-driven overhead camshaft, that formed the basis of their range. It’s famous Desmodromic Valve gear, (where the valves were closed by the camshaft rather than springs), was introduced in 1956 on its racers. Cagiva, under the Castiglioni brothers bought over Ducati in 1985 and seen through the development of their all conquering World Superbike, the 916


The year was 1901 – George Hendee and Oscar Hedstrom began production in Springfield, Massachusetts of Indian Motorcycles. Production in 1907 of V-Twin machines established them as the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the world. These were high quality machines with twistgrip controls. In 1914 Indian were the first motorcycles available with an electric starter. Its two famous models, the Scout and the Chief were produced in 1920 and 1922 respectively. Charles B. Franklin, Dublin born and Trinity educated, designed the first Scout which was such a success it was scaled up to become the Chief.


Austrian Johann Puch produced his first motorcycle in 1903, his company soon becoming the country’s leading motorcycle manufacturer. Production continued from 1923 with its split-single design, which formed the basis for the majority of Puch motorcycles for the following 50 years. Production ended in Austria in 1987 when the Italian company Piaggio took over the marque.


Suzuki, with its background in the manufacturing of above all things weaving machinery, brought out its first motorcycle, a36cc, 2-stroke in 1952. In 1972 they introduced the world to their ‘Kettle’, a 750cc, 2-stroke triple. The RE5 was introduced in the early 1970’s. This was powered by a rotary engine and although smooth and powerful, proved to be also thirsty and unreliable.


The three crossed tuning forks indicate Yamaha’s heritage in the manufacturing of musical instruments. They began production of motorcycles in 1954 and competed in their first TT in 1961, where between then and 1968 they accumulated five World Championships. In the 1970’s they led suspension technology by their development of cantilever suspension. They also were the first to produce 5-Valve cylinder heads and exhaust valve control.

By Tony Toner, BeepBeep.ie Motoring Correspondent.

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