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. But no, 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 will 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. The motor cycle story started an extremely short time after the Big Bang, so that’s where this timeline starts.
Editorial note: This timeline is reasonably complete and illustrated from the Big Bang to 1914; text is also in place up to the late 1930s with pics to follow. Contemporary yarns, including touring tales, TT and six-day trial reports, fiction, even poetry and humour, have been uploaded with much more to come as the site grows. Features are attached to the relevant years. Text will then be added to the fifties, sixties and seventies as time allows. Material is being added to the A-Z of potted biographies, forgotten slang and so much more on a random basis. Direct quotes are taken from contemporary sources, particularly The Motor Cycle, where I was lucky enough to work at the end of its long and illustrious life.
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 stories were sprinkled with latin and french. I’m handling this by making it up as I go along.
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?).
It’s a big story. What am I saying, it’s an impossibly huge story The typography on this website would make a comp wince—that’s cheap software for you—but it’s all about the bikes, the riders and the designers. Informed readers will 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”. I will be setting up a comments page once I’ve learned how and will welcome corrections and additions.
There’s a blog attached to the site where you’ll find updates on what I’ve posted and where. Enjoy.
Isle of Wight, June 2019
A poem about the joys of motor cycling, circa 1910:
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.
There’s no sport that’s more beguiling when the sun is softly smiling,
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,
And your voice you’ll soon be raising, and the pastime loudly praising
To the skies
(A word is quite sufficient to the wise.)