“Make sure you wear your helmet when you go for a ride on your motor-velocipede!”
“Veloci what?! “
Good thing that word did not catch on. A velocipede was an early name for a bicycle. It comes from the Latin veloc meaning “quick” plus the word ped meaning “foot.”
The Michaux-Perreaux steam velocipede was built in 1867. A small Louis-Guillaume Perreaux commercial steam engine was attached to a Pierre Michaux manufactured iron-framed pedal bicycle or velocipede. This was considered by some to be the world’s first motorcycle. Only one was manufactured. In 1884, Louis-Guillaume Perreaux created a tricycle version that zoomed along at a high speed of 18 mph.
Sylvester H. Roper was also said to have invented the steam velocipede in that same year in Boston. In 1896, he got the speed up to an astonishing (for the time) 40 mph. Unfortunately, he suffered heart failure while riding it and died.
From Riding Carriage to Motor Cycle
German inventors, Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach built the first petroleum-powered motorcycle in 1885. They called their invention the reitwagen meaning a two-wheeled “riding carriage.”
Can you imagine saying, “I was really rippin’ it up on my reitwagen last night?!”
E.J. Pennington demonstrated a motorcycle of his own design in Milwaukee in 1895. Pennington claimed his machine was capable of a speed of 58 mph and is credited with inventing the term “motor cycle” to describe his machine. (Now there’s a name that might stick!)
In 1902, English bicycle maker Triumph, produced its first motorcycle. It was a bicycle fitted with a single-cylinder 2.25 bhp Belgian Minerva engine attached to the down tube of a bicycle frame. In 1903, Triumph motorcycle sales topped 500. Click here to see a picture of the Triumph Roadster.
Twenty-one year old William S. Harley teamed up with his friend 20-year old Arthur Davidson, in 1903, to make available to the public the first production Harley-Davidson® motorcycle. The bike was built to be a racer, with a 3-1/8 inch bore and 3-1/2 inch stroke. The factory in which they worked was a 10 x 15-foot wooden shed with the words “Harley-Davidson Motor Company” crudely scrawled on the door. Arthur’s brother Walter later joined their efforts. Click here to see a picture of this historic bike.
Evolution of Motorcycle Gear
Around the same time motorcycles were becoming popular, the brown leather flight jackets worn by aviators and members of the military, commonly called “bomber jackets,” were prized for their comfort and durability.
In 1913, two brothers, the sons of Russian immigrants Irving and Jack Schott, started making raincoats in a basement on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which were then sold by street peddlers. We guess you could say that these were the first motorcycle jacket door-to-door salesmen.
In 1928, the Schotts designed and produced their first leather motorcycle jacket. Retailing for $5.50 at a Long Island Harley Davidson distributor, the “Perfecto,” as it was called, was a symbol of the excitement, adventure and danger that fueled the fascination with motorcycles.
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