The motorcycle is a simple vehicle that has become so much more than a method of transport. It’s woven into popular culture, sport, and of course the highest standards of engineering and technology. For some, they are a lifelong passion, representing the thrill of speed and the open road.
Any debate about which are the most iconic models will always be subjective, but here’s an attempt to list some of the most influential makes and models of all time.
The Daimler Reitwagen
The Reitwagen (translated as ‘riding wagon’) is generally recognised as the first motorcycle ever built in Bad Cannstatt, Germany, in 1885 by Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach. It is the first example of a gasoline internal combustion engine motorcycle, and paved the way for the development of the motor car.
It technically had four wheels as it has two small stabilisers in addition to the two full sized wheels. The vehicle was test driven by Daimler’s 17 year old son Paul over a distance of about 12 km. Unfortunately the hot tube ignition was positioned under the seat, and it caught fire during the journey. Some design adjustments were made over the following months.
Brough Superior SS100
By 1925, the motorcycle was established as a popular method of transport as road networks and engineering technology improved. The Brough Superior SS100 was one of the first models built especially for sporting purposes, and could reach speeds of up to 100mph. It was built by George Brough in 1925 in Nottingham.
Brough was an accomplished motorcycle racer himself, and he would custom build his bikes to client’s specifications, and personally test ride them himself. The SS100s retailed at £170 and were advertised as the “Rolls-Royce of motorcycles”. A touring model was also made in 1925 which was known as the Alpine Grand Sport.
The BMW R12 was manufactured between 1935 and 1942, with an estimated 36,000 bikes produced. The R12 was presented alongside the R17 at the German Automobile Exhibition in Berlin in 1935, and featured innovative hydraulically dampened telescopic forks, which is still widely used to control the front wheel of the bike.
Furthermore, these models featured twin cylinder boxer engines and were extremely reliable. This made them ideal for military purposes, and an original camouflage version can be seen in the Museum of Military History in Vienna.
Honda Super Cub
The Honda Super Cub is unarguably the most popular motorcycle of all time, with over 100 million manufactured to date. In fact, it has never stopped rolling off the production line since the first model was made back in 1958, making it the most widely produced vehicle ever.
It was a huge success in America thanks to its simple but effective advertising slogan, “You meet the nicest people on a Honda.”
No discussion about iconic motorcycles could pass without a quick mention of the Harley Davidson. First manufactured in Milwaukee, US, in the early 1900s, these bikes are firmly woven into the history and popular and sporting culture of the country.
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