Motorcycle Timeline

This motorcycle timeline is constantly evolving and the page is as much yours as it is ours, and we would truly appreciate any additions and/or corrections you might like to contribute. So please feel free to contact us.

There doesn't really appear to be a clear cut decision about who invented the first motorcycle and instead, it appears that similar ideas occurred to a variety of engineers around the same time and they all came up with pretty much similar products.

So let’s take a look at the motorcycle timeline and see what we discover along the way. I’ll try to keep it as short as possible for you and I’ll restrict the timeline to the internal combustion engine and will ignore such oddities as steam driven motorcycles as they didn’t really succeed in the evolution of the modern motorcycle.



  • First Matchless motorcycle produced using a JAP V-twin engine.
  • Bicycle makers Royal Enfield introduced its first motorcycle. This 239cc engine was mounted at the front of the machine and drove the rear wheel via a belt drive similar to the later Harley Davidson motorcycles


  • First Norton motorcycles produced using bought in engines from a variety of manufacturers.
  • Bicycle makers Triumph introduced its first motorcycle which was not much more than a bicycle fitted with a Belgian engine. Believe it or not, this first Triumph motorcycle sold to over 500 customers!
  • First Ariel motorcycle produced.
  • The first Harley Davidson motorcycles appeared on the USA scene. Needless to say, this was one of the most important dates in the world of motorcycle history.
1902 Triumph 1902 Harley Davidson


  • BSA made their first experimental motorcycle


  • The Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company was formed and their first model was the diamond framed Indian single with an engine from the Aurora Engine Company in Illinois. Right from the start, the company used their famous trademark red colour that is still in use today. Sales of the various Indian motorcycles rose from around 500 in 1903 to 32000 in 1913. Incidentally, the Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company was the largest motorcycle manufacturer until 1914 when that crown was taken over by Harley Davidson.
1904 Indian



  • First wholly BSA motorcycles produced.


  • The first police motorcycle patrol by the California Police Dept


  • The first Brough Superior motorcycle was introduced. These machines quickly became known as the Rolls Royce of motorcycles. Approximately 3050 Brough Superiors were made between 1919 and 1940. T.E. Lawrence also known as Lawrence of Arabia owned 7 of these magnificent machines during his lifetime. Model variants were known as SS100, SS80 & SS680 and the V-Twin engines were provided by JAP & Matchless.
1920 Brough Superior MK1 1925 Brough Superior SS1000

1931 Brough Superior


  • BMW introduced their first model with the shaft drive horizontally opposed ‘boxer’ engine. BMW still use this same layout almost 90 years later.




  • The first Vincent HRD motorcycle was launched. This machine was fitted with a JAP single cylinder engine and still exists today in Australia.


  • First 1000 cc Ariel Square Four and Ariel Red Hunter introduced.
  • Matchless introduce the 400 cc vee twin Silver Arrow.
1932 Ariel Red Hunter 1938 Ariel Red Hunter
Ariel Square 4 1000 Matchless Silver Arrow


  • Matchless motorcycles buy the AJS motorcycle company.
  • Matchless introduce the V four 593 cc Silver Hawk. This machine was a huge leap forward in technology at the time.
Matchless Silver Hawk


  • Phil Vincent and Phil Irving design the 500cc single cylinder OHV engine designated the Meteor engine and was fitted to the Vincent Comet motorcycle. These machines were the first to have the Series A designation. This engine produced 26 bhp (19 kW) @ 5300 rpm and was capable of 90 mph.


  • Vincent produce the Series A Rapide motorcycle with a V-twin 998cc engine. This engine produced 45 bhp (34 kW) @ 5500 rpm and was capable of 110 mph.
1939 Vincent Rapide Series A


  • Joe Petrali set a new world land speed record of 136.183 MPH on a modified 1000 cc OHV Harley Davidson Motorcycle.
  • (until 1950) BSA alone supplied 126000 BSA M20 motorcycles to the British armed forces. In this same time period, many other British motorcycle manufacturers also supplied a wide variety of motorcycles to the British military. Royal Enfield for example supplied them with a large but unknown number of lightweight 125 cc machines that could be airdropped.


  • Harley Davidson introduce the model FL


  • Motor scooter manufacturer Piaggio introduced its first Vespa motor scooter. These machines quickly became extremely popular in the UK & Europe but did not catch on in the USA.
  • Vincent introduce the Series B Rapide model.
1946 Piaggio Vespa 1947 Vincent Rapide Series B


  • Honda was officially founded in Japan.
  • Harley Davidson FL & EL get the redesigned panhead engine to replace their earlier knucklehead engines.
  • Vincent introduce the Series C Black Shadow and the racing model Black Lightning models. These machines were capable of 125 mph +.
1950 Vincent Black Shadow Series C


  • BSA launched it’s first A10 Golden Flash 650 cc model.
  • Vincent motorcycle company drop HRD from their name.
  • The Harley Davidson Hydra-Glide appears. Similar to the FL and sharing many parts with it, this machine had a completely new front end.
  • Norton develop the featherbed frame for the Isle of Man TT Races and also introduce the 500 cc twin cylinder Norton Dominator, sometimes known as the model 7. This machine shared it’s frame with the earlier ES2 model.
BSA Golden Flash Norton Dominator Model 7


  • BSA motorcycles purchased the Triumph motorcycle company and became the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world claiming ‘one in four’ motorcycles sold were from them.
  • First Velocette LE 150 cc single cylinder two stroke produced. These machines became workhorse of the British Police motorcyclists for many years.
1953 Velocette LE


  • Ducati moved into the manufacture of larger motorcycles with its 65TS.
  • Royal Enfield Motorcycles introduce the 692cc Super Meteor
1957 Royal Enfield Super Meteor


  • The Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company closed and the Indian name was taken over by British motorcycle manufacturer Royal Enfield.


  • Vincent motorcycles introduce the Series D, Black Knight (Rapide with a fairing), Black Prince (Black Shadow with a fairing) and Victor models. These machines were not very successful with the motorcycling public.
Vincent Black Knight Vincent Black Prince


  • Vincent motorcycles produced their last Vincent motorcycle and then went out of business.
  • (until early 1970s) NSU were the largest motorcycle manufacturing company.


  • First 500 cc single cylinder Velocette Venom launched
1961 Velocette Venom


  • BSA introduced the 650cc Super Rocket.
  • A Royal Enfield Super Meteor is used to test an early ABS system. Despite great success, the company decided there was no commercial value in fitting it to motorcycles!
  • The Harley Davidson FL gets a new frame and swinging arm and is re-designated the Duo-Glide.
BSA Super Rocket

Late 1950s

  • Kawasaki, Yamaha and Suzuki all introduced their first motorcycles to the world. This time was also the beginning of the end for the British motorcycle manufacturing industry.

Early 1960s

  • Ducati started producing the fastest 250 cc machine of the time with its Mach 1 model


  • BSA launched it’s first A10 Rocket Gold Star model.
  • Royal Enfield Motorcycles replace the Super Meteor with the Interceptor.
1963 Rocket Gold Star 1968 Royal Enfield Interceptor


  • Suzuki introduce the two stroke twin T Series range. 1963-1965 were all premix and 1966 onwards were auto oil injection.


  • The Harley Davidson Duo-Glide, formally the FL, gets an electric start and becomes the Electra-Glide.


  • Matchless motorcycles went out of business.
  • Laverda display their first large capacity, 650cc twin at the Earls Court Motorcycle Show.


  • The last Ariel motorcycle, an Ariel Arrow was produced before the company went out of business.
  • Norton introduced the first Norton Commando. Early models were 750cc and were designated the Interstate, Roadster and Fastback. These machines used the rubber mounting ‘isolastic’ system to cure vibration.
1973 Norton Commando


  • Laverda introduce their first 750cc twin.
  • Kawasaki introduce the three cylinder two stroke road rocket they designated the H1 Mach III 500cc.
  • Yamaha introduce the unit construction SOHC parallel twin cylinder XS650.


  • Laverda introduce their 750S & 750GT models.
  • Honda Motor Company introduced its first 750cc SOHC in line four cylinder motorcycle - designated the CB750 K1
  • BSA launched its Rocket 3 model.
1969 Laverda 750S


  • BMW motorcycles introduced its new /5 or slash five range such as the popular R75/5 touring motorcycle.
  • Honda introduce the CB175.
  • Honda became the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world.
  • Ducati introduced its first in line V-twin.
1971 Honda CB175 BMW R75/5


  • Suzuki introduce the three cylinder, ram air, two stroke GT range.
  • Suzuki introduce the three cylinder, water cooled GT750, commonly known as the flying kettle.


  • Kawasaki introduce the S2 250 triple.
  • Kawasaki introduce the in line four cylinder SOHC Z900 Z1.
  • Honda introduce the CB500 four to the UK, European and US markets.
  • The major British motorcycle manufacturing industry amalgamated to form Norton Villiers Triumph.
Honda CB500-4


  • Ducati introduced its first desmodramic valved machine, commonly known as the Desmo.
  • Yamaha launch the RD350 two stroke twin with autolube system.
  • First 850cc Norton Commando with electric start and left side gear change introduced


  • Honda launch the CB550 four model
Honda CB550-4


  • Honda introduce the first CB400–4.
  • Honda launch the GL1000 Gold Wing. The first of many variants.
1978 Honda Gold Wing GL1000 1975 Honda CB400-4


  • BMW introduced its R100RS touring motorcycle with full fairing.


  • The Harley Davidson FLT Tour-Glide appears.


  • Kawasaki introduce the GPz750 model


  • Harley Davidson introduce the Softail model.


  • Cagiva bought the Ducati motorcycle company.
  • Laverda motorcycles goes out of business.


  • BMW introduced the first ever motorcycle with anti lock brakes or ABS with its K100RS-SE and K1 motorcycles.
  • Kawasaki introduce the ZXR250.


  • Norton introduce the Norton Interpol rotary engine motorcycle


  • BSA motorcycles taken over by the newly formed BSA Regal Company


  • Harley Davidson introduce the Evolution engine


  • Dutch company EVA introduce the first ever commercially produced diesel powered motorcycle

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