Q: What is a Motorcycle?

December 17, 2013 12:53 PM

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A motorcycle is a 2-wheel -- and occasionally, 3-wheel -- engine-powered vehicle. Various types of motorcycles are available on the market for different purposes, including cruising, long-distance traveling, racing, and off-roading. Motorcycles are a popular transportation choice in many areas of the world.

In 1868, the first steam-propelled 2-wheel vehicle was designed in France. The velocipede was followed the next year by an American version. The first series motorbike was produced in 1894. It was also the first 2-wheel vehicle to carry the name "motorcycle." The Petroleum Reitwagen was the first petroleum-fueled, internal-combustion motorcycle. It was designed in Germany in 1885. Two outrigger wheels were used to keep the vehicle upright during turns. The inventors of the Reitwagen designed it as a type of test for a new engine. Early motorcycle designs were often based on bicycle designs that had simply been adapted to include an internal-combustion engine. The number of companies producing motorcycles increased as engines became increasingly powerful. Indian was the largest motorcycle producer in the world until World War I. Harley-Davidson scooped up the honor by 1920 when it began to sell motorcycles in 67 countries.

There are three primary types of motorcycles: off-road, street and dual-purpose. There are also many different subsets within each of these three categories that can be used for a wide array of purposes. Motorcycles included in the street bike category include scooters, sport bikes, cruisers and mopeds. Off-road motorcycles include motocross dirt bikes. These bikes are typically not street legal. Dual-purpose bikes are designed to be capable off-road but also include specific features that allow them to be street legal. Motorcycles typically feature an aluminum or steel frame, disc brakes, and a front fork that carries the front wheel. Other body parts may be included for performance or aesthetic purposes. A gasoline-powered engine is usually comprised of one to four cylinders, although some motorcycles may have up to eight cylinders. This is combined with a manual sequential transmission. The swing-arm-mounted rear wheel is driven by a belt, driveshaft or chain. Various types of motorcycle designs feature different dynamics that affect how the vehicle will perform in different conditions.

The fuel economy of a motorcycle can vary significantly based on riding style and engine displacement. On the low end, a motorcycle might get approximately 30 mpg. Some motorcycle designs achieve much higher fuel economy. Motorcycles do tend to offer good fuel economy because of their high power-to-weight ratio and smaller engine size.

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