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November 10, 1885 – The first motorcycle ride

On this day in 1885, the first test ride of what is often considered the first modern motorcycle, the Daimler Reitwagen (“riding car”), occurred. At the controls was 17-year-old Paul Daimler, son of the bike’s inventor, Gottlieb Daimler. This journey effectively made Paul the world’s first biker. 

Gottlieb and Wilhelm Maybach designed the motorcycle, the first example powered by a gasoline internal combustion engine. Multiple motorcycles built before this utilized steam power. This included the Perreaux and Roper, dating as early as 1867, and the 1884 Copeland. The other significance of the Daimler Reitwagen is that this was the forerunner of all vehicles, land, sea or air, to use an engine of this type, however, it was not the first. More on that in a minute.

Above: Daimler Reitwagen replica Top: Daimler Reitwagen replica. By Wladyslaw, CC BY-SA 2.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11824471

Some aren’t so quick to claim this as the first motorcycle, as certain criteria gives skeptics something to chat about. One problem oft cited is its pair of balance wheels, which actually gave the Reitwagen four wheels. Dubbed auxiliary stabilizers, the wheels are justified, due to the unploymed principles of rake and trail in the build. Another consideration is Enrico Bernardi’s 1882 one-cylinder petrol powered tricycle, the Motrice Pia. This is the vehicle many historians point to as the first ever internal combustion vehicle. While it had three wheels, some call it the first motorcycle.

Blueprints for the Reitwagen

Reitwagen Engine & Fate

In any case, the Reitwagen had a 264-cubic-centimetre single-cylinder four-stroke engine mounted on rubber blocks. It featured two iron tread wooden wheels and a pair of spring-loaded outrigger wheels for balance.The first ride was an interesting excursion for Paul. He traveled 3.1–7.5 mph during his trip from Cannstatt to Untertürkheim, Germany. Along the way his seat caught fire due to the hot tube ignition located directly beneath it. Despite a few improvements, Daimler paused the project in 1886 in favor of pursuing four wheel vehicles. A fire destroyed the original creation in 1903, but several replicas exist today.

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