We have rounded up six of the most prolific bike manufacturers in the game to have a look at the first time they decided to slap an engine into a bike frame, and call it their own.
In 1954, Suzuki had its first crack at a fully fledged motorcycle with the Colleda. It was powered by a single-cylinder 90cc motor capable of four horsepower. At that time, the Japanese government decided that no license was needed for four-strokes under 90cc, which explains Suzuki’s choice of engine.
The Colleda featured a steel frame, telescopic front fork, shock absorbers and a spring-suspended seat. It had no turn signals, but it did have a headlight with a speedometer built in; a first for a Japanese motorcycle.
In many circles, the word Ducati represents the cutting-edge of motorcycle manufacturing, both on-track and on the road, but it took a fair bit of work to earn that reputation.
The first bike to ever wear a Ducati badge was built in 1946, and was known as the Cucciolo. The bike featured a 48cc four-stroke engine, two-speed gearing and produced almost two horsepower.
It was essentially a bicycle with an engine strapped to it, but it didn’t take long for Ducati to build on the Cucciolo and by 1950 it featured swingarm suspension, a telescopic fork, and was capable of travelling over 60km/h.
After WWII, Yamaha had a whole bunch of dilapidated musical instrument factories, and plenty of machine tools that were used for building aircrafts. The Japanese brand used the opportunity to start building motorcycles, and build motorcycles they did.
What separates the first-ever Yammy from the rest of the pack, is that it was mass produced from the get-go. From 1955 onwards, Yamaha built 200 of its YA-1 a month.
The bike was powered by a single-cylinder 123cc two-stroke engine that produced 5.5 horsepower. That was paired with a four-speed transmission with a kick start system, making it the first Japanese bike that could be started while still in gear
Before the Bavarian giant began building cars and motorcycles, BMW was an aircraft engine manufacturer. By 1921 the company was struggling, so it decided to build a motorcycle engine for another company known as Bavarian Airplane Works. The result was a 486cc boxer twin.
The guys at BMW must have got a taste for motorcycles, because they then decided to build a bike for themselves; the R32. BMW refined the boxer engine by pivoting the engine 90 degrees; this drastically helped cooling and made it much easier to mount the transmission.
Nowadays, BMW still use a similar engine configuration, so it must have been a good idea.
In the early 40s, Honda retrofitted military generators to bicycle frames to help soldiers travel more efficiently. But it wasn’t until 1949 that it released its first true motorcycle. The bike was known as the Model D, or Honda Dream in some parts.
The bike was equipped with a 98cc two-stroke engine that made three horsepower, enough grunt to push the Dream to 60km/h.
It’s been more than 100 years since the first Harley was built, a project conducted by three mates; Bill Harley the designer, Arthur Harley the fabricator, and Walter Davidson the builder. The bike used a 405cc single-cylinder engine with a single-speed transmission.
The boys intended to use the bike for racing, but it didn’t take long for punters to start knocking at Harley-Davidson HQ.