A motorcycle (also called a motorbike, bike, or cycle) is a single-track, engine-powered, two-wheeled motor vehicle. Motorcycles vary considerably depending on the task for which they are designed, such as long distance travel, navigating congested urban traffic, cruising, sport and racing, or off-road conditions.
Motorcycles are one of the most affordable forms of motorised transport in many parts of the world and, for most of the world’s population, they are also the most common type of motor vehicle. There are around 200 million motorcycles (including mopeds, motor scooters and other powered two and three-wheelers) in use worldwide, or about 33 motorcycles per 1000 people. This compares to around 590 million cars, or about 91 per 1000 people. Most of the motorcycles, 58%, are in the developing countries of Asia—Southern and Eastern Asia, and the Asia Pacific countries, excluding Japan—while 33% of the cars (195 million) are concentrated in the United States and Japan. As of 2002, India with an estimated 37 million motorcycles/mopeds was home to the largest number of motorised two wheelers in the world. China came a close second with 34 million motorcycles/mopeds.
The first internal combustion, petroleum fueled motorcycle was the Petroleum Reitwagen. It was designed and built by the German inventors Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach in Bad Cannstatt, Germany in 1885. This vehicle was unlike either the safety bicycles or the boneshaker bicycles of the era in that it had zero degrees of steering axis angle and no fork offset, and thus did not use the principles of bicycle and motorcycle dynamics developed nearly 70 years earlier. Instead, it relied on two outrigger wheels to remain upright while turning. The inventors called their invention the Reitwagen (“riding car”). It was designed as an expedient testbed for their new engine, rather than a true prototype vehicle. Many authorities who exclude steam powered, electric or diesel two-wheelers from the definition of a motorcycle, credit the Daimler Reitwagen as the world’s first motorcycle.
If a two-wheeled vehicle with steam propulsion is considered a motorcycle, then the first was the French Michaux-Perreaux steam bicycle of 1868. This was followed by the American Roper steam velocipede of 1869, built by Sylvester Howard Roper of Roxbury, Massachusetts. Roper demonstrated his machine at fairs and circuses in the eastern U.S. in 1867, and built a total of 10 examples.