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Bike Life / Motorcycles: the best vehicles in the world

Bike Life / Motorcycles: the best vehicles in the world

The history of motor vehicles has always fascinated me. It’s unbelievable how quickly transportation technology progressed and helped this industry to reach our current level in just over 100 years, as in the 2000 years before that, there were only horses, donkeys, camels and elephants to carry us around.

Since their very humble beginnings, motorcycles have been a genius invention. Bicycles were already an incredible step forward compared to horses, but they were still quite energy-consuming and limited to easy terrain. Luckily for us the combustion engine came along and we got the motorcycle.

The father of modern motorcycling is considered to be Gottlieb Daimler a German engineer, pioneer of internal combustion engines. In 1885, together with another motorcycle designer named Wilhelm Maybach, he created the first petroleum-powered motorcycle, and since then, the advancement of the motorcycle industry has taken the two-wheeled world into new territories.

Daimler’s first motorcycle. Do you think users complained about handling wood? Photo: Dmitry Eagle Orlov/Shutterstock.com

There were others who had developed the concept of the bicycle by attaching a steam engine to the main chassis, but that idea never really took off.

Not long after, in 1894, the German manufacturer Hildebrand & Wolfmuller launched the first mass-produced combustion engine motorcycle with little success. But thanks to World War I, many companies moved into the war industry and began making motorcycles intended to replace horses in their roles of wartime communication and reconnaissance, and as a means of transport for the police. Harley-Davidson pioneered here, dedicating more than 50 percent of its production to war parts.

Many companies such as Piaggio, Ducati and MV Agusta that started producing parts for the war effort (aircraft, boats) shifted their production to motorcycles once hostilities ended. Meanwhile, Triumph built its Type H, considered by many to be ‘the first modern motorcycle’. It had no pedals and was equipped with a real 500cc four-stroke engine.

I believe that the effective use of motorcycles during the war made their advantages to the public very clear: motorcycles are fast, easy to operate and very convenient for moving one person from A to B.

No pedal assist and a four-stroke engine. The Triumph Type H paved the way for modern motorcycles. Photo: Ross Mahon/Shutterstock.com

Fast forward 40 years, motorcycle design and technology have made a quantum leap forward. During the 1950s, streamlining became an increasingly important part of motorcycle design. In 1957 NSU and Moto Guzzi were at the forefront of this development. Their different yet striking designs would change the way we think about motorcycles forever. However, after several riders were injured while racing these radical machines, both companies abandoned their respective innovations.

In the 1960s and 1970s European manufacturers lost their lead and instead the motorcycle industry was dominated by motorcycles produced in Asia. Japanese bikes outperformed the competition in almost every way. As a result, European and American brands have had to re-evaluate their approach to every aspect of their business, and much of the us-versus-them attitude is a result of this era.

1990 began a new era of visual experimentation, adding a futuristic edge to the already sleek shapes of modern motorcycles. After the Ducati 916, all motorcycle brands have changed their designs and sharpened their fairing edges for a more aggressive, more modern look.

Bikes like the Kawasaki Z1 900 were faster, cheaper and more reliable than their established competitors. Photo: Sergey Kohl/Shutterstock.com

For the past 20 years, the industry has been ruled by motorcycle empires based mainly in India and China, although this development has been ignored by the West until recently. The ability of these countries to mass-produce everything has changed the price tag and availability of motorcycles in many markets, where they are now affordable transportation for people who in the past could only dream of owning a vehicle.

The percentage of bicycle ownership per capita has grown in proportion to the world population in recent years; currently there are about 600 million motorcycles in the world (mainly in Asia), compared to about one billion cars. For obvious reasons, motorcycles are more common in regions where the climate is favorable for their use. A bicycle makes more sense in Singapore than in Siberia.

Over the years, motorcycles have proven to be not only the fastest and cheapest means of personal transportation, but also the best way to get around the world. A motorcycle is not only a cheap way to avoid traffic and find a parking space in the city. Around the world, motorcycles are seen as the extreme expression of freedom and adventure – a status symbol. Motorcycles are cool, and unlike cars, they give their rider street cred. When you own a nice Porsche or Ferrari, no one assumes you’re tough — they say you overcompensate for, er, physical shortcomings. But it doesn’t matter if you are old, short, fat, poor, dirty and with torn clothes. Cycling makes you look cool. And the more grunge you look, the cooler you are. It’s the opposite of cars.

Long ignored by western media, companies like Hero are now making a big impact through their exports. Photo: Held

Motorcycles are the ultimate adrenaline rush, they have gone from steam engines to top speeds of over 200 mph. And yet they are still affordable, not only based on their purchase price, but also based on their ongoing operating costs. The Honda CT110 post bike can travel 100 kilometers on just 1.5 liters of fuel. While bigger bikes are more thirsty, you can find fuel pistons if you look around. The Honda NC750 can travel 38 kilometers on a liter of fuel (about 90 mpg!), while also acting as a practical commuter. And you’ll save money on ferry fares and bridge tolls, insurance and parking and taxes…you get the idea.

Today, motorcycles also “reconnect” with their non-motorized ancestors. Both bicycles and motorcycles are moving towards electric powertrains. This new trend (or perhaps evolution) is creating a new hybrid sector of vehicles, which can be used in many different ways, specialized for purposes from commuting to farm chores and everything in between.

Practical? Cool? Fast? There is no doubt that motorcycles are the ultimate form of transportation.