Nineteen Zero One (1901)

I’m in awe of early motorcycle engineering. One of the first manufacturers, Indian Motocycle Manufacturing Company, began production in 1901. The beginning of vintage happens here in Springfield, Massachusetts, the original home of Indian Motocycles. The word “motocycle” was a common term that described any motorized transportarion regardless of the number of wheels. Indian made their “auto carriage” with 2 wheels; however,  they weren’t the first.

Mr. Daimler of Daimler-Benz fame is often credited with that accomplishment. But that credit isn’t uncontested. Often the debate hinges on the arrangement of the wheels, if the wheels are right in front of each other or in a side by side arrangement. Purists might argue that motorcycles are a single track vehicle and that even the outriggers on Dialmer’s “bone-crusher” machine disqualify it as the first motorcycle. 


 “Gottlieb Daimler (who later teamed up with Karl Benz to form the Daimler-Benz Corporation) is credited with building the first motorcycle in 1885, one wheel in the front and one in the back, although it had a smaller spring-loaded outrigger wheel on each side. It was constructed mostly of wood, with the wheels being of the iron-banded wooden-spoked wagon-type, definitely a “bone-crusher” chassis.
Daimler's wooden-framed

Daimler’s wooden-framed “bone crusher”


However, that is true only if you consider an internal combustion engine a prerequisite to qualify as a motorcycle, and with the recent influx of electric motorcycles the internal combustion engine requirement doesn’t seem to be as stringent as before. The Steam Velocipede by Sylvester Howard Roper in 1867 is the first powered two wheeled transportation.

1867 Roper Steam Velocipede replica

1867 Roper Steam Velocipede replica



Early motorcycles are fascinating in their ingenuity. Engineers all trying to figure out how to move two wheels. There wasn’t an established look or even functionality for any kind of automated transportation machine. Early cars didn’t have a gas pedal or brakes, motorcycles were much the same. Todays’ standard hand twist for gas and hand clutch with foot shifting combination were not a ubiquitous arrangement. For two wheels, V-Twin engines weren’t the established engineering or styling status quo, inline 4 cylinder engines weren’t really plausible. Barely more than a bicycle, Most early motorcycles were only one cylinder with minimal horsepower.
1901 Indian Prototype

1901 Indian Prototype


With the responsibility of mass production, Indian changed the engineering from making it work, to making it work reliably. They changed the paradigm from machining transportation, to marketing machined transportation. Marketing changed automated transportation from invention to product. Products have higher stress testing than inventions. Invention turns to innovation turns to refinement. Refinement is key to Vintage, while success leads to fame, leading to legend. Indian was the beginning of motorcycling as legend.


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