From Big Bang to suck-squeeze-bang-blow and beyond…

MOTOR CYCLING IS A MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION. I was bitten by the motor cycling bug at 16 and it has dominated many of my waking and some of my sleeping hours ever since. This website will not delve into the psychology of motor cycling. Nor will it seek to explain the obsession. It’s simply an attempt to to review the story of the motor cycle from the start.

Most histories date that start to 1885 when a petrol powered two-wheeler (with stabilizer wheels to make it rideable but let’s not quibble) was ridden, in Germany, by a brave teenager. But steam-powered two-wheelers were ridden in France and the USA nearly 20 years before.  They could not have been made without a range of materials, techniques and the people to develop them. From that perspective the motor cycle story started a couple of hundred thousand years after the Big Bang, so that’s where this timeline starts. It will end when I’m no longer capable of adding to it.

A note on the menu: The Timeline is  reasonably complete and illustrated from the Big Bang to 1927 although more stories surface all the time so it’s in a constant starte of flux. A fair amount of text is  in place up to the late 1930s with pics to follow and a few entries have been made for the fifties and sixties (because it’s the year I got my first bike I’ve got ahead of myself and have covered 1969 in some detail). cceatures, from touring tales and whimsical fiction to TT, six-day trials and show reports are attached to the relevant years.  Poetry (much better than it sounds)  and Artwork/Humour have their own page (Cartoons/Humour has expanded to include some lovely old motor cycle badges and illustrations). There’s a large and growing A-Z Gallimaufry of  biographies, marque histories forgotten slang and anything else that doesn’t fit in elsewhere. In the Illustrative Melange you’ll find a large and growing gallery of images which didn’t fit neatly into the main timeline. Think of it as a box of old photos discovered in an attic…fading images of long-dead motor cyclists, their families, their bikes—rummage to your heart’s content. Don’t miss Tales from The Motor Cycle, a fabulous history of motor cycling’s early days by Ixion—well worth reading for his style as well as his unique grasp of motor cycling history. While readers’ letters to the Blue ‘Un and Green ‘Un feature throughout the timeline I couldn’t resist lumping some of the best under the imaginative heading Letters to the Editor. Many, indeed most, of the pics in the Melange were supplied by my French chum Francois, who is a regular contributor the the Leicester Phoenix MCC’s site lpmcc.net (one of my favourite sites and a must for anyone with a yen for touring and rallies). These contributions include Images of Yesteryear, a wonderful series of themed photo-essays which Francois and site editor Ben kindly allowed me to reproduce here. Where would I be without mates? My Aussie chum Murray, whose site A-Z of Motorcycles is an unending source of delight, has produced timelines featuring many of the greatest bikes of all time. Like Francois he’s allowed me to include them here as Murray’s Timelines where you’ll also find a link to his A-Z and, more recently, a six-volume 1,000-page ‘flip book’ which offers an astonishing cornucopia of Auusie motor cycling history, club characters, yarns of pioneering rides through the bush, reviews of restored bikes and…for goodness sake fgo ind out for yourself’. You’re in for a treat.

A note on language: Spelling and usage changes over time; in the early 20th century handlebars were handle-bars, motorcycles were motor cycles (or motor bicycles or just bicycles), carburettors were carburetters, the ACU was the A.C.U. (née A.C.C.) and motor cycle magazines were sprinkled with latin and french. As far as house style goes, I’m making it up as I go along. The use of English has changed over the decades, the obssesion has not, and that’s what counts. I’m British, as are most of my motor cycles, and much of the source material. If  this has led to an Anglocentric bias (and let it be admitted that these islands have had an extraordinary influence on the history of the motor cycle) the rest of the planet certainly hasn’t been ignored. As the story draws nearer to the present  the emphasis of the timeline will, of course, reflect the decline of the British industry and the rise of what were once called the Axis powers and latterly the Far East (there’s that Anglocentricsm again. I wonder if enthusiasts in that part of the world refer to Europe as the Far West?).

An apology: Motor cycling…it’s a big story. What am I saying, it’s an impossibly huge story. With that in mind, the typography on this website would make a comp wince and design has cheerfully been abandoned in favour of content. Informed readers will, no doubt, find factual errors as well as typos and, no doubt, prejudices. I fear, to quote Douglas Adams, “it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate”.  Corrections, coments and material for additions are welcomed via motorcycletimeline@gmail.com. In conclusion, an apology for the lack of an index. Identifying themes and patterns is a temptation for any obsessive but that is not the role of this timeline. I think of it as a warehouse which I will never be able to fill (but there’s a word-search function if you really must follow themes).

There’s a blog on the site where you’ll find updates on the latest posts. Enjoy.

Dave Richmond
Isle of Wight, October 2022


This poem, which dates from 1910, says it all.

Would you like to go a-touring in a manner most alluring,
Here and there,
And employ your well-earned leisure in obtaining health and pleasure
Would you care to go a-flitting, on your saddle calmly sitting
At your ease,
Through the lively crowded highways or the lovely leafy byways
As you please?
Would you like to ride serenely, and enjoy the motion keenly
Of your steed,
Over hills and crests and ridges, under aqueducts and bridges
At full speed?
If you would, try motor biking; ’twill be greatly to your liking.
‘Twill indeed!
There’s no sport that’s more beguiling when the sun is softly smiling,
Or ablaze,
For its joys are keen and many, and within the reach of any
Therefore, if you’ve never tried it, buy a motor bike and ride it,
We advise,
And your voice you’ll soon be raising, and the pastime loudly praising
To the skies
(A word is quite sufficient to the wise.)

“Would you like to go a-touring in a manner most alluring, Here and there?”