Five Important Facts About American Motorbike History That Real Riders Should Know


Every nation in the globe believes that its own motorcycle industry is the most significant in the motorcycle world, and many of those assertions have some merit but fall short of being absolute. Although America has a very unique motorcycling history of its own, gossip, speculation, and inaccuracy frequently replace reality and the truth.

That’s not to suggest that the history of American motorcycles is dull or unrelated to the history of motorcycles worldwide. In this article, we’ll try to dispel some popular misconceptions and celebrate a lengthy and illustrious past so you may wow your friends!

1. Harley Wasn’t The First American Motorcycle Manufacturer

Many people think that Harley-Davidson was the first American motorcycle manufacturer because it is the only firm that has been producing motorcycles continuously from its founding in 1903. Indian Motorcycles was really founded two years prior to Harley-Davidson, although even they weren’t the first acknowledged American manufacturer. That honor goes to The Orient, a Massachusetts-based company established in 1899.

Though we are deprived of any further innovations he may have achieved, a certain Sylvester Roper created a two-wheel steam-powered “velocipede” in 1968 with a coal-fired boiler between the wheels. Roper was killed in 1896 while demonstrating a later design of what would eventually become known as motorcycles.

  • William S. Harley, Arthur, and Walter Davidson created Harley-Davidson.
  • It took them two years to build the first motorcycle, and when the single-cylinder engine proved to be insufficiently powerful, they discarded it and started over.
  • The company began selling engines to do-it-yourselfers in 1905, and later that year, it began selling its own fully assembled motorcycles.

2. Indian Was The Manufacturer That First Made the V-Twin Popular

Again, because the 45° V-Twin engine is one of Harley-Davidson’s defining characteristics, people often assume that the firm originated the configuration or was the first American motorcycle manufacturer to employ it. These presumptions are false.

Pioneer pilot and serial inventor Glenn Curtiss created the first American V-Twin engine, which was installed in the Hercules motorcycle. For its racing motorcycles, Indian debuted its own V-Twin in 1904; a production model followed in 1906. Even though Harley-Davidson’s first V-Twin didn’t debut until 1909, American motorbikes and V-Twin engines would forever be connected after that.

  • George M. Hendee established the Hendee Manufacturing Company in 1897 to produce bicycles, which became the “Indian Motorcycle Co.”
  • In 1901, Indian developed its first motorcycle from start to finish.
  • Irwin “Cannonball” Baker rode an Indian across America in 1914, setting a record of 11 days, 12 hours, and 10 minutes, from San Diego to New York.

3. The Four Cylinder Engine Was Popular For A Time

The Pierce Four motorcycle debuted in 1909 when Percy Pierce, the son of George Pierce, a well-known maker of autos and motorcycles, brought a Belgian FN motorbike with a longitudinal four-cylinder engine back to America in 1908. Following that, four-cylinder motorcycles were for sale from Ace, Cleveland, Gerhart, Henderson, Indian, and Militaire.

A Henderson inline-four driven by Carl Stevens Clancy would go down in history books in 1912 when, in 1913, Clancy became the first person to ride a motorcycle around the globe. The 1942 Indian Four was the final four-cylinder motorcycle made in the United States.

4. After The Great Depression, Only Two Motorcycle Manufacturers Were Left

There were literally hundreds of American motorcycle manufacturers between the turn of the 20th century and the Great Depression in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Some of them survived for only a few months, while others endured for much longer, adding to the rich history of the American motorbike. Nonetheless, the Great Depression was to have a disastrous impact on business, with Harley-Davidson and Indian being the two manufacturers that would mostly escape unharmed. After declaring bankruptcy, Indian closed its doors in 1953. The name was resurrected sometimes, most notably by Polaris in 2011, while Harley-Davidson managed to survive and carry on with production despite a number of dangerous financial difficulties.

Competition helps the breed and serves as a powerful advertisement for producers who are eager to get orders, and the fledgling American motorbike industry welcomed competition wholeheartedly. Board track racing, which took place on small but sharply banked tracks made entirely of wood and drew the best riders and machines as well as sizable crowds, was the popular sport in the 1910s and 1920s.

However, it was extremely risky; in addition to bloodshed, there was a lot of oil spilled due to the outdated, fast, and unstable motorcycles of the time. Ultimately, growing speeds that had an impact on track maintenance costs, the Great Depression’s consequences, and the caliber of racing were what brought the sport to an end. In the history of American racing, it was a heroic time.


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