13,800,000,000 years ago
BIG BANG! After which nothing of interest to motorcyclists happened for the first 10 -36 seconds, at which point gravity separated from the other three fundamental forces (electromagnetism, weak nuclear and strong nuclear). Gravity is a Good Thing because it allows motor cycles to accelerate instead of floating about aimlessly. It also means it hurts when you fall off or drop a crankshaft on your foot, assuming you haven’t evolved enough to wear steelies.
THE UNIVERSE calmed down enough (to 3,000° kelvinfor hydrogen and helium atoms to form. Again, a Good Thing. No hydrogen, no hydrocarbons. No hydrocarbons, no petrol, oil, plastic or, come to that, water.
VAST CLOUDS of hydrogen coalesced into the first stars: fusion reactors that convert hydrogen into helium. so, for the first time, there was light, even if no-one said, “Let there be”. Stars convert helium into carbon and oxygen which are essential for, among other things, petrol, welding and motor cyclists. Stars more than five times the size of ours also produce heavier elements like iron, nickel, chromium, aluminium and copper. When the biggest stars die they don’t f-f-fade away, they explode as supernovae, blowing all those useful elements in all directions. As every hippy knows, “We’re all made of star stuff, man,” and so are our bikes. Or, as the late lamented Christopher Hitchens put it, we’re all made of nuclear waste.
THE G2V STAR we call ‘the sun’, one of more than 100 million G2s in our galaxy, fired up. The Earth was among the planets formed from the leftover bits, giving us somewhere to ride motor cycles as well as providing everything needed to build them. Matchless riders might appreciate the whimsy that they ride their G2s under the light of a G2.
THE FIRST life appeared. Some forms of life would become the raw material for a range of fuels; other forms of life would invent, make and ride motorcycles. So life, clearly, is a Good Thing.
THE FIRST animals evolved but showed no inclination to build even the most primitive motorcycles. So, passing swiftly on,
MAMMALS APPEARED and this was clearly A Good Thing because mammals design, and indeed ride, motor cycles.
PLANTS AND animals that lived in the ocean died and sank to the bottom to be covered in mud, sand, and other mineral deposits. Their sacrifice gave us the hydrocarbons from which we get lubes and fuel, so let’s be grateful.
HAIRY ANTHROPOIDS climbed down from the trees, made tools and left the forest to migrate across the open savannas in search of a Harley dealer.
HOM SAP arrived on the scene with brains big enough to start the long climb from banging rocks together to building Beezas, Panthers and a range of lesser motor cycles, including Triumphs.
OUR ANCESTORS took their time, but fermented beverages were being drunk by this time, as were the people who drank them. It’s been suggested that beer might have preceded bread as a staple, which shows they had their priorities right. By the way, pigs were first domesticated about 9,000BCE but the first bread wasn’t made until about 2,000BCE which is a bloody long wait for a bacon sandwich. And still no sign of brown sauce.
FIRST USE of wrought, naturally occurring copper. Then someone noticed that when copper is hammered it gets harder.
CLEVER CHAPS started building roads. They used stone to pave streets in Ur (in what is now Iraq); in a swamp in Glastonbury (in what is now Glastonbury) they used lumps of wood.
COPPER WAS extracted from Malachite and Azurite. This was the birth of metallurgy which would be jolly useful when the time came to build motor cycles.
ALUMINIUM COMPOUNDS were used in Persia (Iran to you, sonny) to make stronger clay pots. In Egypt and Babylon they were used in fabric dyes and cosmetics. No-one sussed that these compounds could be refined into aluminium, but they had no bikes so it didn’t matter.
THE WHEEL first rolled in Mesopotamia, a historical region of Western Asia between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, starting a transport obsession that shows no sign of abating. Archaeologists reckon that wheels were used to turn pots for about 300 years before anyone got round to using them for chariots. The earliest known depiction of a wheeled vehicle (a four-axle wagon) on a clay pot excavated in southern Poland. Two-wheelers, as we know, came much later, proving that motor cycles are more evolved than cars.
WRITING WAS writ in Sumer, paving the way for motorcycle handbooks, roadsigns and cafe menus.
GLASS WAS produced in Egypt and Mesopotamia, leading to bulbs and bike shop windows. Also, after 6,500 years, beer drinkers could have proper pint pots to replace their clapped out stone bowls.
IRON TOOLS were used in Egypt; in Syria and Turkey tin and copper were used to make bronze, as used on Rudge Ulster heads.
THE DISTILLATION techniques developed in China were just the ticket for extracting fuel, lubes and, praise be, Bushmill’s Black Label.
BUTTONS WERE in use in India, keeping the draughts out of riding gear until zips came along.
PAVED ROADS were built, in the Indus Valley, which would certainly have been A Good Thing had there been such a thing as the Indus Valley MCC. But, as far as is known, there wasn’t.
BABYLONIANS MADE maps on clay tablets which was all very well, but would they fit into your tank bag, that’s the question.
EARLIEST KNOWN use of steel, at a site in Anatolia. Nowadays this is Turkish territory but way back when it was home to Hittites, Lydians and Phrygians, none of whom showed the slightest interest in motor cycling. This might well be why they’re no longer about.
IRON WAS being made in India, so they’ve had plenty of time to stockpile supplies. Some sensible chaps in Madras later put it to good use in Royal Enfields.
SPOKED WHEELS were being used on chariots on the steppes to the east of the Ural River.
HOMER’S ILLIAD includes a tale that Vulcan, blacksmith by appointment to the gods, knocked together 20 trikes in a single day “which, wondrous to tell, instinct with spirit rolled from place to place, around the blest abodes – self-moved, obedient to the beck of gods”. Company vehicles for deities, there’s a perk.
HYDRAULLIC POWER was in use in China, but not for motorcycle disc brakes.
CAST IRON was in use in China, but not for motorcycle cylinder heads.
‘WOOTZ’ STEEL was invented in India.
LEVERS WERE described by Archimedes, though they were in use long before. They’re put to a variety of uses in motor cycles; not least the levers that help us lock up our brakes when sufficiently alarmed.
THE ODOMETER was invented to measure mileage, (probably) by Archimedes, leading to the speedometer, which led in turn to speeding tickets.
THE WHEELBARROW was developed by the Chinese as a secret weapon and is still the transport of last resort to get that wrecked bike home.
HEREO OF Alexandria described the aeolipile, a rotating ball spun by steam jets. It produced little power and had no practical application, but was the first device known to been moved by steam pressure. I once had a boss like that.
ROLLER BEARINGS were in use by the Roman navy and it’s a pity BSA didn’t make more use of them for the mains of A10s although you can now get a conversion kit, which is either evolution in action, too little too late, or both.