A Tale of Two Wheels

cropped-copart-newbury-0714-1.jpgThe world of motorcycle enthusiasts is certainly a unique one. There’s something quite addictive and thrilling about riding a motorcycle, and a huge part of its enduring appeal is often described as the sense of freedom it offers.

More important to many motorcyclists however, is how they consider themselves as part of a community, and many enjoy attending the related social activities, clubs and rallies.

Although the USA is traditionally considered the home of motorcycles, popularity is continuing to grow in the UK. According to Statista, the number of licensed motorcycles in Great Britain grew from 953.7 thousand in 2000 to 1.3 million in 2017, an increase of 28%. .

In this article, we look back at the history of the motorcycle, and reveal some of today’s favourites amongst UK riders.

“The Father of the Motorcycle”


Image source: Wikipedia.org (03/08/2018)

There was plenty of worldwide experimentation and invention happening with bikes in the late 1800’s, but most widely recognised as the world’s first internal combustion, pertroleum fuelled motorcycle was the Daimler Reitwagen.

It was designed and built by the German inventors Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach in 1885, and Daimler is often referred to as “the father of the motorcycle” because of this invention.

The original Reitwagen was destroyed in a fire in 1903, but several replicas exist in collections at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, the Deutsches Museum in Munich, the Honda Collection Hall at the Twin Ring Motegi facility in Japan, and the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in Ohio.

Ground-breaking Germany

In the early period of motorcycle history, many producers of bicycles adapted their designs to accommodate the new internal-combustion engine. As the engines became more powerful and designs outgrew the bicycle origins, the number of motorcycle producers increased. At the turn of the 20th century the first major mass-production firms emerged.

In 1894 Hildebrand & Wolfmüller became the first series production motorcycle, and the first to be officially called a “motorcycle”. Only 800 were ever produced, and with a 1488cc engine it could hit a top speed of 30 miles an hour.

Hugo Wilson, editor of Motorcycle News Classic department, said: “The engines of the Hildebrand & Wolfmüller were very big – the equivalent now would be something like the Kawasaki Zr1400, which goes up to about 186mph. Speeds of 30mph were certainly unheard of at the time though, so in that sense it was ground-breaking.”

Onwards and Upwards in UK/USA

In the decade from the late 1880s, plenty of motorcycle designs and machines continued to emerge, particularly in Germany and in England, and soon spread to America. The first production motorcycle in the US was the Orient-Aster, built by Charles Metz in 1898 at his factory in Massachusetts.

Around the same time in 1898, English bicycle-maker Triumph decided to extend its focus to include motorcycles, and by 1902 the company had produced its first motorcycle—a bicycle fitted with a Belgian-built engine.

A year later it was the largest motorcycle-manufacturer, with an annual production of over 500 units. Other British firms included Norton and Birmingham Small Arms Company who began motorcycle production in 1902 and 1910, respectively.

War Hero on Wheels


Image source: Motorbiketimes.com (03/08/2018)

The importance of motorbikes during the Great War is often overlooked. Bikes were often used for mounted infantry, scouts, patrol, despatch and courier duties, ammunition carriers, medical supply carriers and casualty evacuation, sometimes being converted into ambulance type vehicles.

The versatility of these machines meant they could play a more significant role in the logistics of the war than cars and were most commonly used for the role of messenger. Because of the unreliability of communications technology during the war years, the motorbike’s speed meant that orders, reports and maps could be transferred between units quickly.

Triumph motorcycles were a favourite during the war. It has been estimated that around 30,000 Model H Roadsters were supplied to the Allies, with 20,000 going to UK troops. This ‘Trusty Triumph’ featured a side-valve, four-stroke, 550cc engine and was a favourite of the UK military. This is particularly amazing fact because Triumph had only two factories at the time – one in Coventry and the other in Nuremburg, Germany – which must have caused a real conflict of interest at the time!

Today’s Top Rides

Today the Japanese manufacturers, Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha dominate the large motorcycle industry, although Harley Davidson still maintains a high degree of popularity, particularly in the United States.

Overall Honda was the most prominent and successful motorcycle brand in the UK from 2014 to 2016 with 20,495 units sold in 2016

We thought we’d look at some of the most popular bikes in the UK, according to top motorcycle insurer, Bennetts:

SUZUKI GSF 600 N BANDIT (1995-2007)


Image source: Bennetts.com (03/08/2018)

The original Bandit was so successful it lived on through two further reincarnations to 2012 (although from 2007 it was a 650) and spawned a whole new class of budget middleweight sports bike. It has been described as being straightforward, easy, versatile and brilliant value for money.

HONDA CBF 125 (2009-2015)


Image source: Bennetts.com (03/08/2018)

Another simple and straightforward bike is the Honda CBF which also benefits from more modern styling and contemporary equipment such as a front disc brake and alloy wheels. Impressively cheap and hugely economical (capable of 100+mpg) the CBF was unsurprisingly very popular. The CBF has since been replaced by the CB125F.

YAMAHA YBR125 (2005-2016)


Image source: Bennetts.com (03/08/2018)

Launched as Yamaha’s rival to Honda’s CBF125, this bike mirrored most of its rivals’ specification and abilities. The YBR has often been described as basic and unexciting but it’s also light, easy to ride and provides cost-effective travel – hence its popularity. It was replaced in 2017 by Yamaha’s updated YS125.



Image source: Bennetts.com (03/08/2018)

The super- fast Blackbird was designed at the height of the ‘speed wars’ between the Japanese manufacturers in the mid-to-late ‘90s. Its amazing aerodynamics helped it to reach speeds over 170mph. It has a reputation for outstanding build quality and finish, which is why so many are still on the roads today.

We hope you’ve found this article interesting and informative, and that all you motorcycle enthusiasts enjoy spending the rest of this amazing summer weather out and about on two wheels!


Purvis, B. (2018). The GS is still King of the Sales Charts but what else is hot? And what’s not?. Available: https://www.bennetts.co.uk/bikesocial/news-and-views/news/2018/april/motorcycle-sales-figures-2017-investigated. Last accessed 03/08/2018.

Sourced from http://www.statista.com. (2018). Number of motorcycles and cars registered in Great Britain (UK) between 2000 and 2017.Available: https://www.statista.com/statistics/312594/motorcycle-and-car-registrations-in-the-united-kingdom/. Last accessed 03/08/2018.

Sourced from http://www.statista.com. (2018). Number of motorcycles sold in the United Kingdom (UK) in 2014 to 2017. Available: https://www.statista.com/statistics/312532/motorcycle-brands-sold-in-the-united-kingdom/. Last accessed 03/08/2018.

West, P. (2017). Top 10 most popular bikes in the UK. Available: https://www.bennetts.co.uk/bikesocial/news-and-views/features/bikes/top-10-most-popular-bikes-in-the-uk. Last accessed 03/08/2018.

Goran, D. (2016). The first motorcycle was built in 1885 and it was called Reitwagen or “Riding Car“. Available: https://www.thevintagenews.com/2016/03/20/distinct-native-american-footprints-found-tucson-arizona/. Last accessed 03/08/2018.

Sourced from http://www.bennetts.co.uk. (2015). Used bike special: Honda Super Blackbird. Available: https://www.bennetts.co.uk/bikesocial/reviews/bikes/honda/used-bike-special-honda-super-blackbird. Last accessed 03/08/2018.

McCrystal, H. (2014). The motorbikes of World War One. Available: http://www.motorbiketimes.com/news/people/human-interest/the-motorbikes-of-world-war-one-$21384101.htm. Last accessed 03/08/2018.

Sourced from http://www.telegraph.co.uk. (2010). One of world’s first motorbikes for sale. Available: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/motoring/news/6993893/One-of-worlds-first-motorbikes-for-sale.html. Last accessed 03/08/2018.

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