When was the first motorcycle produced? (Part 2)

After much prolonged debate, the majority of experts unanimously agree that: "The Reitwagen, manufactured in Germany in 1885, is the world's first motorcycle."


The idea of motorcycles seems to have been in the minds of many engineers and inventors, especially in Europe, after the inventions of steam engines (James Watt), electric motors (Michael Faraday), bicycles, and internal combustion engines (Etienne Lenoir), etc. in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

After much debate, most experts agree that the “Reitwagen” built in Germany in 1885 was the world’s first motorcycle.

The Birth of the Reitwagen

Daimler and Maybach installed a “pendulum clock” on a wooden bicycle, creating the first motorcycle and named it the Reitwagen or Einspur. In 1885, Daimler submitted a patent and a year later, he was granted a patent for his Reitwagen.

The First Motorcycle When? (P.2) autodaily-lichsuxemay2-(4).jpgThe Reitwagen and Daimler

The Reitwagen was made of a wooden frame, wooden wheels lined with steel on the outside, handlebars, and a saddle. Two small wheels acted as stabilizers, similar to training wheels on a child’s bicycle. The T-shaped handlebars leaned back and were made of steel. The seat was a curved metal plate wrapped in leather and placed directly on top of the engine. The Reitwagen weighed 90 kg, had a 264cc cylinder capacity, and used gasoline or kerosene as fuel. The rear-wheel drive system used a sprocket and belt mechanism. The Reitwagen could reach a maximum speed of 12 km/h.

The Reitwagen had to be started before mounting and operating. To start the engine, a small flame was lit under the hot pipe and the engine was turned a few times using a hand crank. After about a minute of successful engine operation, the rider would sit on the saddle and engage the transmission control to start the motorcycle.

The First Motorcycle When? (P.2) Untitled-1-1.jpgThe Reitwagen weighed 90 kg, had a 264cc cylinder capacity, and used gasoline or kerosene as fuel.

Since there was no clutch, changing speeds involved the rider adjusting the belt pulleys for the chosen speed (similar to the gear system on bicycles today). There were two available speeds, 6 or 12 km/h, depending on the pulleys selected.

Daimler’s son, Paul, 17 years old, became the first motorcycle rider on November 10, 1885, when he rode the Reitwagen from Cannstatt to Untertürkheim and back (about 10 km) at a speed of 12 km/h. With the road conditions at that time, the Reitwagen hardly had a comfortable journey. However, the biggest problem encountered was the heat generated by the engine under the saddle.

Arguments Slowly Resolved

Using a broad definition for a motorcycle, there were two steam-powered two-wheelers, one built in France by Louis-Guillame Perreaux and Pierre Michaux in 1868, and another built in the United States by Sylvester Roper shortly afterward, which he demonstrated at fairs and circuses in various places. With a sufficient definition for a motorcycle being two wheels and an internal combustion engine, the Reitwagen, built in Germany by Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach in 1885, was the world’s first motorcycle, its appearance inaugurating a history of development for over a hundred years.

The First Motorcycle When? (P.2) autodaily-lichsuxemay2-(1).jpgDaimler and Maybach

There has been a debate over defining the first motorcycle invention, with some arguing that two wheels and a steam engine must be considered, even though they were not developed, but their emergence sparked future innovations, while others emphasize the importance of an internal combustion engine. Most experts agree that the “Reitwagen” built in Germany in 1885 was the world’s first motorcycle.

The First Motorcycle When? (P.2) autodaily-lichsuxemay-(6).jpgHildebrand & Wolfmüller “Motorrad” – the first mass-produced motorcycle

However, the Reitwagen was just an experimental result in the development project of Daimler and Maybach’s 4-stroke internal combustion engine, so it was not commercially produced. The first mass-produced motorcycle was the Hildebrand & Wolfmüller “Motorrad” (or H&W Motorrad) developed in collaboration between Henry and Wilhelm Hildebrand, Alois Wolfmüller, and Hans Geisenhof. It was patented in January 1894 in Germany. The motorcycle had a 4-stroke engine that used gasoline, with two parallel cylinders and a capacity of 1489cc, producing 2.5 horsepower at 240 rpm, and water-cooled. It could reach a speed of about 45 km/h. This was also the first time the term “Motorrad” (meaning motorcycle in German) was used. The H&W Motorrad was manufactured in Munich and its production rights were transferred to France under the name “The Pétrolette.”

Compiled by Thảo Anh (TTTĐ)