ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The History Of Motorized Bicycles

Updated on November 20, 2009
Sylvester Howard Roper's 1868 steam powered bicycle gave a whole new meaning to steamed buns.
Sylvester Howard Roper's 1868 steam powered bicycle gave a whole new meaning to steamed buns.
The Daimler Maybach Reitwagen
The Daimler Maybach Reitwagen
Pierre Lallement's 1866 Patent drawing for a pedal bike.
Pierre Lallement's 1866 Patent drawing for a pedal bike.
Baron Von Drais' whatevertheheckitis...
Baron Von Drais' whatevertheheckitis...
Pennington's patent. Try running this bike at 60 mph! Yikes!
Pennington's patent. Try running this bike at 60 mph! Yikes!

Bicycles were first originated Baron von Drais by 1817 when he invented the first two axle, single tracked machine which looked remarkably like a modern bicycle except that it had no pedals. The propulsion was provided by the feet which walked on the ground normally... so it was more than a rolling butt rest than a true bicycle.

It was not until 1866 when pedals were applied to the front wheel (still no pedals to a chain running the rear wheel) and the first true bicycle of sorts made its debut, as patented by Pierre Lallement. These bicycles came to be known as Bonecrushers as they used wooden wagon wheels with iron bands instead of tires. Combine this with the rutted, bumpy roads of the era, and it is easy to see why the name was apropos.

The first person to have the idea that this bicycle should not be powered by human legs but by an engine was an American inventor named Sylvester Howard Roper. He built his first motorized bicycle in 1868 and begam demonstrating it at fairs and circuses around the eastern United States. Interestingly enough, Mr. Roper's motor on a bicycle was not a gasoline engine, but a steam engine! With only water vapour it had very low emissions... so it was the first green motorcycle!

However, the honor of being named the creator of the first "real" motorcycle goes to a pair of inventors in Bad Cannstatt (currently in Stuttgart). Wilhelm Maybach and Gottlieb Daimler did not only give their surnames to some outrageously luxurious and expensive current motor cars, but they built the very first bicycle which was powered by an engine running on a petroleum product in 1885. They named their creation the Reitwagen or riding carriage.

Fortunately a couple of years later John Dunlop invented the pneumatic tire and the chain drive which allowed bicycles, motorized or not, to no longer look and ride like leftover props from The Flintstones.

It was not until 1895 when American inventor E.J. Pennington built his own vehicle in Milwaukee that these contraptions lost the name of motorized bicycles and became true "motocycles" or "motorcycles." Pennington's machine could hit nearly 60 mph, and hit must have been the operative term as by any modern standards, it is effectively impossible to ride.

It was in the same year that American tinkerer Ogden Bolton Jr. got a patent for a bicycle powered by a battery. The DC hub motor was mounted inside the rear wheel, had no gears, and sucked 100 Amps from a 10 volt battery which likely could hold a charge about as long as I can hold a flat run... after a huge Italian meal.

Today, there are a huge number of different motorized bicycles available, whether they are sold directly from the manufacturer as turn key ready to go models, or as kits that allow you to add the motor to your own existing bicycle. These vehicles are generally run on gasoline or electric power, with the latter gaining steadily in popularity with the technological improvements in NiMH NiCd, and Li-ion batteries which are superceding the older lead acid batteries. Some of these bicycles even utilize advanced technology such as regenerative braking. There are a handful of fuel cell powered bicycles on the market but they are rare and extremely expensive.

This Hub answers the request by my bud nicomp: "Since when did people start putting motors on perfectly good bicycles?"


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Ogden Bolton was English and and had recently owned a steel mill in Canton, Ohio. He was mechanical engineer.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I did not know that bit of history really 1868. I am a MBc myself and that was cool to hear how far back MBc goes wether it was steame or petroleum still pretty cooltoo me

    • Hal Licino profile imageAUTHOR

      Hal Licino 

      8 years ago from Toronto

      Thanks for the info and say hi to the Baron for me! :)

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Small point, the Baron referred to his vehicle as his "Laufmaschine" (running machine) and it was the French that labeled it La Draisienne...



    • Hal Licino profile imageAUTHOR

      Hal Licino 

      9 years ago from Toronto

      nicomp: Yes, Ogden was famous as he was the first to Bolt On Junior. :) Yes, the Reitwagen is a neuraminidase mutated subvariant. The Baron's thingymabob was actually called the Draisine. The Baron von Drais was also the author of Draisin In The Sun, and the inventor of Draisin Bran. :)

      ethel smith: Can you imagine what they would be like with wooden wheels and iron strips for tires? OUCH! :)

    • ethel smith profile image

      Ethel Smith 

      9 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Those old bikes look so funny and uncomfortable

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 

      9 years ago from Ohio, USA

      "Ogden Bolton Jr." ? What else was there for him to do beside hide in his basement and build stuff?

      "The Daimler Maybach Reitwagen" ??? Isn't that an H1N1 variant?

      "Baron Von Drais' whatevertheheckitis... "???? Now yer just makin' this stuff up!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)