[ moh-ter-sahy-kuhl ]


"a motor vehicle similar to a bicycle but way cooler, chiefly for one rider, aka. Biker but sometimes having two saddles or an attached sidecar for a passenger, aka. Pillion."

"The ultimate provider of freedom. The ultimate tool for cool… The Motorcycle."

At BeMoto, we are Bikers ourselves. We love all forms of motorcycles. Here are our own hand picked highlights of motorcycle history and the things that we believe are important and shape the world of biking that we know and love today.


Let's go back to the start...

The year is 1885 German inventors Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach designed and constructed the first “motorcycle” as a testbed for their new engine for motorcars. The inventors from Bad Cannstatt, Germany, could not have possibly known the legendary chain of events they were about to cause. Their invention - The Daimler Reitwagen was born…

Reitwagen which translates to “Riding Car” was never meant to be another kind of vehicle, just a tool, but nonetheless, as the worlds first two-wheeled, internal combustion powered vehicle, it is credited as the world’s first motorcycle.

If a two-wheeled vehicle with steam propulsion was considered a motorcycle, then the first motorcycle built would be considered to be the French Michaux-Perreaux steam velocipede. A patent application was filed for this invention in December 1868.

Interestingly it was actually constructed around the same time as the American Roper steam velocipede, built by Sylvester H. Roper Roxbury, Massachusetts who went on to build number of steam cycles in the 1800’s.

With the creative juices of inventors from all over the world now flowing, the race to become the “best motorcycle inventors” in the world was on, the starting grid was populated as follows:

Triumph Motorcycles, 1898

Royal Enfield, 1899

Indian, 1901

Norton, 1902

Harley Davidson, 1903

Birmingham Small Arms (BSA), 1910

The First TT

With motorcycles becoming engrained in society and the adrenaline filled enthusiasm that the bike world is now famous for was only just developing….The first Isle of Man TT race was held on Tuesday 28 May 1907. At the time it was known as the International Auto-Cycle Tourist Trophy.

Times were changing and the early inventors of motorcycles moved on to other inventions. Daimler and Roper both went on to develop automobiles leaving a clear path for the other manufacturers to flourish. By the beginning of World War 1 in 1914, Indian had grown to be the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world by bringing over 20,000 into the world per year.

During the First World War the backbone of British motorcycling, Triumph Motorcycles, supplied over 30,000 machines to allied forces. On the other side of the world, Harley Davidson devoted 50% of its production to producing military motorcycles. In the middle of the war Triumph released The Model H, which is widely considered the first “modern motorcycle”. It was a 500cc four-stroke, three geared, belt driven, well regarded machine that earned the nickname “Trusty Triumph”

With the war in the wing mirror Harley Davidson became the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world, no doubt due to its important role in the war-time effort. By 1920 they had a presence in 67 countries!

Chater-Lea claimed most of the attention from the motorcycle world during the 1920’s. Production halted during the war, but they returned to the market with a two-stroke and began reclaiming their stake in the market. They later gained notoriety through the introduction of the Blackburne engine, which became the first motorcycle engine to exceed 100 mph whilst only being 350cc and the marque becoming ever popular with TT riders. In 1921 BMW began producing engines for other manufacturers but didn’t produce their own motorcycles until 1923.

Start Senior TT 2010 IMG P0001185.jpg
By 11thmilestone at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

VW - The World's Largest Motorcycle Manufacturer!?

At the turn of 1930 German manufacturer DWK (Now VW Group) were the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer. Other dominant brands of the 30’s were:

  • AJS Motorcycles
  • Brough Superior
  • BSA
  • Harley Davidson
  • Matchless
  • Royal Enfield
  • Triumph
  • Vincent
  • During the 30’s Vincent had their TT Race model, the Comet Special. This beauty was conceptualised and built in Stevenage Hertfordshire. A unique feature of the machines at the time was the valve design. For their motors their developed the double valve guides, and they attached the forked rocker arm to a shoulder between the guides. This was done to eliminate side forces on the valve stem and ensure they could take advantage of the maximum valves under race conditions.

    As the murmurs of war rippled across the country, Norton put their patriotic weight behind the wartime effort. The Norton 16H was used as a solo motorcycle by the British and Canadian Military. The Royal Air Force fitted it with a sidecar as standard. The 633 being more powerful was supplied with a driven wheel on the sidecar. The sidecar was primarily a weapons platform and was essentially little more than an open box with a seat. The Norton machines were pitched head-to-head with the BMW R75 and the other notable bike of the war was the Harley Davidson WLA.

    ZweiRadMuseumNSU Vincent Comet.JPG
    By Joachim Köhler", CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

    The war is over

    Towards the end of the war (1944) Piaggio released the Paperino, this was the very machine that gave the iconic stance of the Piaggio and Vespa scooters which were first launched in 1946.

    Another interesting story from the end of the war involves a lawyer and self taught engineer from Turin. Aldo Farinelli began working on the concept of a 4-stroke “clip-on” engine for cycles. He initially worked with a firm called Siata who were based in Turin to make the engine a reality. The Cucciollo (little puppy), so named because of its yapping sound, became very popular post war. The demand far outweighed production and this led Farinelli to seek a new manufacturing partner. A well-known manufacturer of appliances ended up working with the inventor, little did they know it would be the start of something very special, who was the manufacturer?? Ducati!

    Sticking with this story for a moment to bridge us into the 1950’s and on to 1952 where Ducati had produced the 200,000th Cucciolo. This adventure led to Ducati produce their first full vehicle, the Cucciolo T3. Effectively a moped, this became the platform upon which several models were built and was a crucial springboard to Ducati’s early success. They went on to create a number of pure motorcycles, of which the 65TL was one, their first luxury motorcycle. Their pedigree evolved at an impressive rate during the 50’s with the 98 series of motorcycles, even though they were considered “expensive” for their day at £178 or sub £5,000 in today’s money. It’s worth a mention that also in 1952 Suzuki entered the market with an engine powered cycle which would be the foundation for their motorcycle development throughout the decade.

    Nifty Fifties

    The 50’s saw some interesting competition between British manufacturers, the Norton Dominator was developed to go toe-to-toe with the Triumph Speed Twin, and was designed by an engineer that worked on the… yep, you guessed it, the Triumph Speed Twin.

    Triumph were seeing a lot of success with the legendary Thunderbird and their first guise of a Triumph Tiger, which couldn’t look more different than how today’s Tiger turned out, but it did become Triumph’s fastest production motorcycle at the time.

    Internationally the motorcycle market was thriving with innovation.

    In Germany, BMW had to start afresh following the war, and they did so gallantly, releasing numerous models throughout the 50’s including the third version of the R51, the R67 and the R69. All impressive machines in their day. In the mid 50’s Honda released a 250cc the C71 Dream which evolved through the 50’s to their 305cc C76 and C77 were the first larger-capacity motorcycles that they mass exported. The tail end of the 50’s saw Suzuki produce a 125cc motorcycle with an electric start.

    Triumph 6T 650 cc Thunderbird 1950.jpg
    By Yesterdays Antique Motorcycles - CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

    Swinging Sixties

    The 60’s begin with big headlines for Suzuki who opened their new assembly line. They also made a bullish effort with motorcycle competitions. They entered the Grand Prix under the name Colleda and placed 15th, 16th and 18th in the Isle of Man TT. Just 3 years later they were responsible for the first Japanese rider, Mitsuo Itoh, to win the TT.

    1963 was also the year that Kawasaki Motorcycle Co was formed. The Kawasaki name was first used on aircraft as the brand of a manufacturing company called Merguro. The engineers developed a four-stroke engine for small cars before their attention was turned to motorcycles (thank goodness!). By 1965 Kawasaki were exporting numerous models to compete with Honda and Suzuki. By 1968, their attention was monopolised by enduro styled motorcycles for the American market. One of these models was the Kawasaki H1.

    The 60’s is regarded as the decade that “changed motorcycling forever”. The motorcycle was no longer a working vehicle, it was in the 60’s when motorcycles became status symbols. The The motorcycle was the accessory of a style icon, associated with the kings and queens of cool, and an essential prop in Hollywood. The market was being impacted positively by the availability of the efficiently engineered and far more affordable Japanese machines. Suzuki, Kawasaki and Honda were making real waves. Waves that were crashing straight into the margins of BMW.

    The Triumph Bonneville was the icon of the British Motorcycle market at the time and the scooter scene was rife. As a result of the Mod subculture the U.K became the second largest market for Vespa. The impact of their iconic scooters was such that even the great Salvador Dali customised one in 1962. BSA & Norton were not exempt from feeling the pressures of the rising popularity of the Japanese brands, and the fanatic Vespa following.

    The Seventies Baby!

    Into the 70’s and enter the Kawasaki Z1, A Zed of the game (get it?)….

    A 903 cc motorcycle that was originally destined for release in the late 60’s, was finally put into production in 1972 as the most powerful Japanese (4-cylinder) 4-stroke ever to enter the market.

    That year Z1 set the world FIM and AMA record for 24-hour endurance racing record in Daytona.

    For us this is a decade of iconic joy, many of the models born have been redesigned and revived over the years, clearly cemented in biking history, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

    The Honda CB750, although it was released in 1969, it’s hay day wasn’t until the 70’s and it was the fastest production motorcycle of the time. The Moto Guzzi V7 Le Mans based bike has retained its classic styling even to today.

    The Benelli Sei (Six) so named as it was the first production motorcycle with 6 cylinders and a whopping 6 tip exhaust! The Triumph Hurricane became the first “Cruiser” in 1972 and began a league of its own. It was initially conceived as a BSA Rocket Three but released as the Hurricane. Nice to see they recycled the Rocket Three concept many years later.

    Back to Kwak and the H2 Mach IV was brought to market as the fastest accelerating bike available. The Yamaha YZ250 was one of the most popular scramblers of its time and held its own in stiff competition when it came to the dirt bike scene.

    1975 saw the first Honda Goldwing, and wow, it was a lot smaller back then. This bike is credited with being the first touring bike actually built for distance and comfort.

    The BMW 1000RS the first production bike to have a full fairing, its practicality secured its reputation as a working bike.

    Other iconic machines that claimed a stake in the 70’s were the Harley Davidson XLCR, the first homologation of the sportster (XL) and cross-bred with a Café Racer (CR). The timeless Suzuki GS750 and the Honda CBX1000

    Honda Gold Wing GL1000 1975 Barber.jpg
    By Silosarg, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

    Decade of the Ninja?

    The 1980’s were the decade of the Ninja (for the purposes of this article anyways) with 11 models bearing the Ninja name being manufactured. Ranging from 250cc - 1000cc in size, our favourite is Ninja 600R.

    Kawasaki GPZ900R Ninja 01.jpg
    By Reg Mckenna. CC BY 2.0, Link

    Decade of excitement.

    1980 was an interesting year with the first BMW GS being born. The R 80 G/S which was the first large displacement multisport bike on the market. It was fitted with a 797.5 cc BMW Type 247 flat-twin (airhead) engine.The bike gained popularity with adventure-seeking travellers after having won the Paris-Dakar rally a number of times. This is also where the aftermarket parts market for motorcycles really began.

    Lord Alexander Hesketh had been scheming the creation of a new brand of motorcycle for years and approached Westlake in 1977 about the proposed development of a big V-twin. Hesketh Motorcycles was brought to life in 1981 with a purpose built factory that produced the Hesketh V1000 in Daventry. Production began in 1981 and a machine that was designed by the same genius that later fathomed the Triumph Rocket III, entered the market. Sadly this epic foundation was not to be the platform for success as the machine suffered several problems. Hesketh was liquidated in1983 with Lord Hesketh buying most of the assets.

    Hesketh cropped.JPG
    By Mike Schinkel - File:1982 Hesketh V1000 01.jpg, CC BY 2.0, Link

    1983 saw Honda introducing the Shadow series of motorcycles in an attempt to bring some competition to the American cruiser market with the VT500c and VT750 models coming to life.

    The Kawasaki Vulcan 750 Series, launched in 1985 and powered by a V-Twin engine, this was an iconic machine set to be largely unspoilt for 20 odd years of production as later models only had minor changes.

    The Honda VFR750 was introduced in 1985 bringing a full fairing and added comfort which went down really well at the time.

    The Ducati Paso was introduced in 1986 and named in honour of Renzo Pasolini. This was a bike that Ducati wanted to fight the intense Japanese competition that was rife at the time. They intended to win the battle with technical prowess and innovative design. That intention, sadly never came to fruition.

    The Ducati 851 launched 2 years later saw more success however. The Yamaha FZR100 was pure sass. Oh and it was released in 1987 with a top speed of 155mph. Perhaps the reason that “Fazers” are so popular today. The GSXR had been a thing since 1984 with the release of the GSX-R400. By 1989 however, the “Gixxer” moniker gained its first, second R! The GSX-R400R was born with inverted forks, a new aluminium frame and a 4-into-1 exhaust.

    Nineties Bikes

    The Norton F1 offered in only black and gold with a 588cc twin rotor Wankel engine opened the 1990 motorcycle market with interesting masterpieces. The Harley Davidson Fat Boy which was a V-Twin softail cruiser originally designed by Willie G. Davidson as a prototype for Daytona Bike Week became a reality in 1990. The same year saw the Suzuki DR650 launched. A model that has been a core part of the Suzuki offering for over 2 decades. Our Ninja (Kawasaki ZX-11) claimed the fastest production bike early in the decade putting out 145 bhp and 106.8 Nm of torque. It featured ram air induction for the first time on any production bike, ever!. Just sticking on the topic of fast machines for a moment, the Britten V1000 race bike caught the biking headlines in 1991 because of the tenacity and genius of one young man, John Britten. He built the machine at home in his garden and the result was a breathtaking V1000 superbike.

    Britten V1000.jpg
    By MikeSchinkel on, CC BY 2.0, Link

    1992 was a heck of a year with the CBR900RR Fireblade, BMW R1100RS Sport Tourer and the Aprilia RS125. The Triumph Tiger 900 captured the hearts and minds of adventure riders and Dakar enthusiasts in 1993. Meanwhile the YZF750 catches our eye from the same year as it was a property fit bike. There was a monstrous uproar with the Ducati Monster that year as it was an agile and sporty ride that surprised Ducati’s own test riders! BMW released their first ever chain driven bike the F650 (probably as Aprilia had a hand in designing it!). This was another bike that had proper solid foundations and served until the turn of the Millennium.

    1994 and the iconic Kawasaki Ninja ZX-9R in that beautiful green and purple and white colour scheme, paired with the pink and white model emblazoned on the side and tail. I mean god what were they thinking!? But then… it worked! Equally as unique, the KTM Duke 620 was the first attempt at a road bike by KTM and it was pretty sweet. A bike that actually, would still look awesome today. The Triumph Speed Triple brought a bitchslap to the Monster because it looked a little understated, it packed a surprise in the agility department, and had british reliability! Some could be forgiven for thinking the Yamaha TZM150 took some of its design inspiration from the Ninja but that forgiven, it was a solid lightweight bike.

    There was a leap in motorcycle development in the mid 90’s, perhaps as people were scared that the millennium bug, striking at midnight on the start of the new millennium, was soon to be the end of the world…

    Leading the way in the style department again it was the Ninja, this time the ZX-6R in full punch-in-the-face-green (clarification needed on the true colour name). On the bigger bike front the Honda Blackbird (CBR1100XX) was built to challenge the like-sized ZX-11 Ninja. By 1997 things were getting really interesting. The Bimota V Due, Triumph T595 Daytona in spanking bright yellow as a nod to Lotus who helped to design it, the Honda Firestorm and whispers of the Aprilia RSV Mille, all created a buzz in the biking scene that year. It also created a lot of confusion as superbike fans were confused what to buy and when to buy it with the orgy of sex machines coming off the production line.

    In 1998 The Suzuki TL1000R was a racing fiend that performed “ok” at WSBK and was short lived. That said some of our Busa fans will be rubbing their eyes in recognition of that phat ass and tank combo.

    Suzuki TL1000R.jpg
    By RubSub, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

    Ohhh you beauty! The YZF00F from Yamaha was (and is) a highly admired machine on the dirt-bike scene. Can’t really say any more about that. It’s a beauty, we all know why. Saving the best til last for 1999, the R1, 150BHP and light as a feather (in that day and age anyway). A very clean and aggressive looking beast that turned heads and has lifelong admirers.

    Closing out the 90’s in bike infamy were the Suzuki SV650 which still serves today, The Yamaha R6 - little bro to the R1, the Ducati 998, the noisy Suzuki Hayabusa and the legendary race homologation YZF-R7 “OW02” hit the market in that year. The R7 was to replace the ageing YZF750 but with only 500 ever produced they became like rocking horse poo… very hard to find. At BeMoto we are very fortunate however, we have one in our multi bike garage!!

    BeMoto Motorcycle Insurance R7

    Some Noughty Machines

    Surprise surprise, the clocks just hit 00:01 and… nothing happened!

    Triumph launched the first Bonneville for 15 years in 2000 and it was well received by the international bike market. The Honda CRF series of four-stroke off-road bikes. The CRF450R positioned itself as a centrepin in the motocross community for most of the 00’s. Buell introduced the Blast which was an entry-level motorcycle to attract newcomers to the biking world. Design was simple but it lead on ease of operation and maintenance. It had an automatically tensioned belt drive, self-adjusting hydraulic valve lifters, and a carburettor with an automatic choke! Shame some of these features are not around now for us non tinkerers!!

    2002 saw the release of the much loved V-Strom a dual-sport / adventure machine. Many a picture of a V-Power (Strom translated) can be seen over the interweb.

    V-strom 1000.jpg
    By Peter Gordon. CC BY 2.0, Link

    2005 and the introduction of the Bernelli Tornado Tre 900 RS proved an exceptionally popular machine on looks alone. This was the third Tornado Tre model in as many years but this one packed a punch in the eye looks wise, and a punch in the pants performance wise!

    Benelli Tornado 900 Tre Novecento.JPG
    By Piero, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link