Motorcycles

 

A motorcycle (or motorbike) is a two-wheeled vehicle powered by an engine. The wheels are in-line, and at higher speed the motorcycle remains upright and stable by virtue of gyroscopic forces; at lower speeds continual readjustment of the steering by the rider gives stability. The rider sits astride the vehicle on a seat, with hands on a set of handlebars which are used to steer the motorcycle, in conjunction with the riders weight shift through their feet which are supported on a set of "footpegs" or "pegs" which stick out from the frame.

Motorcycle Companies
The earliest experiments with powered bicycles in the second half of the 19th century were carried out in Germany and France, using first steam and then town gas. The first petroleum powered two wheeled vehicle was built by Gottlieb Daimler near Stuttgart in 1885. It took until 1894 for the first motorbicycles to go on sale; the term “motor cycle” was invented in America by Milwaukee engineer E J Pennington who began selling a bike of his own design in 1895.

The first decade of the 20th century was dominated by British and American manufacturers. Royal Enfield and Triumph in England, and Harley-Davidson and the Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company in America began to produce motorbikes in larger numbers. Motor bike racing began and police departments in the USA formed motorcycle sections. In the 1920s DKW and BMW entered the market and a decade later Norton and AJS came along.

The Second World War saw a dramatic increase in the market, as armies realised the potential of the motorcycle for military use. The British weapons manufacturer, the Birmingham Small Arms Company, introduced the BSA range of bikes, and at one time, following their take-over of Triumph, was the largest motorcycle producer in the world.

In the 1940s it was the turn of Italian designers to lead the way with Moto Guzzi and the Vespa, but in the 1970s Japanese makers took over the market and Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha became the dominant marques all over the world. India and China have the most motorcycles on their roads, and in India the biggest manufacturer is now Hero MotoCorp.

Motorcycles and the Environment
In developing counties with low per capita incomes, motorcycles are often the only mode of private transport available to most people. For this reason the largest numbers of bikes in the world are in China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam. In western countries they may be the vehicle of choice as a way of beating congestion and parking problems, to save on fuel costs, or as a fashion statement.

Some countries recognise that motorcycles have a lesser effect on the environment than cars, and encourage their use: in central London, for example, motorbikes are exempt from the congestion charge, and in Australia and New Zealand riders do not have to pay for parking. One manufacturer has estimated that motorcycles have carbon emissions 113 gm/km lower than the average car, saving 65% of emissions. High-end bikes such as top models from Yamaha and Suzuki, and most BMWs, now have catalytic converters.
Motorbikes generally have better fuel economy than cars, and there are now several electric motorcycles in production with zero emissions. A number of governments, including EU member states and China have started to offer financial incentives for riders to switch to electric bikes.

Safety
In the UK figures show that motorcyclists are 75 times more likely to be killed or injured than car drivers, per kilometre travelled. Motorbikes make up just 1% of traffic, but account for 19% of road deaths. In developing countries where machine maintenance may be worse and helmets and protective clothing is often not worn, the comparison could be even worse. In developed countries there are organisations promoting motorcycle safety by educating the rider and also the motor car driver who may not be aware of bike safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration runs campaigns in the USA, as does BikeSafe in the UK, a police-led project in conjunction with the manufacturer Ducati. As well as raising awareness of the dangers facing bikers, these campaigns aim to improve the use of helmets and protective and high-visibility clothing. They also try to remind car drivers that they share the road with motorbikes which have the same rights as any vehicle.

Motorcycle Gangs
After the Second World War, Biker Clubs began to form in America, and these became the focus of films such as Marlon Brando’s The Wild One and, later, Motorpsycho, The Wild Angels and Easy Rider. Known as “outlaw motorcycle clubs” in the USA, or “Hell’s Angels” in some other countries, motorcycle gangs have become linked in people’s minds to crime and violence. While some groups in America, Canada and Australia are linked to organised crime, others are nowadays more likely to be involved in charity work, raising money for worthy causes or giving away toys to under-privileged children. However since the cultural aspects of dress and styles of motorbike are similar, it is not easy for the general public to tell the difference, leading to complaints of discrimination from non- criminal clubs.

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