Motorcycles originated as "safety bicycles" that offered benefits in braking, ease of getting on and getting off, and steadiness. The more important qualities of this safety bike included spoked front and rear wheels of approximately the same size; a rear, chain-driven wheel; a front chain-wheel that was approximately two times larger than the rear sprocket; a body with a low center of gravity; and front-end direct steering. These components continue to a part of the motorcycle's on-going history.
It was an American, Sylvester Howard Roper, who invented the first two-cylinder, coal powered, steam-engine motorcycle in 1867. However, it was in 1869 that the first attempts to produce motor driven bicycles were made. These vehicles were steam powered and run either by leather drive belts or levers attached to a crank on the drive wheel. An example was the Roper Steam Velocipede. Near this time, Gottlieb Daimler began manufacturing a new engine invented by engineer Nicolaus Otto. Otto's 1876 invention was the first four-stroke internal-combustion engine.
In 1885, Gottlieb Daimler designed the first actual motorcycle that could feasibly be used daily by the public. It included the whole cycle: frame, wheels, and an internal combustion engine. To become fully functional and dependable, the motorcycle would still need reliable power, a dependable frame, pneumatic tires, and roller chains. These additional components were necessary in order to produce reliable two wheeled transportation that could be mass produced and sold to a discerning public.
Many of the early inventors of motorcycles went on to create other inventions, such as Daimler and Roper who both developed automobiles. However, other inventors, such as William Harley and his counterparts, the Davidsons brothers, continued to develop motorcycles as other entrepreneurs began the start-up of such motorcycle companies as Excelsior, Pierce, Merkel, Indian, Thor, and Schickel. William Harley, Arthur Davidson and his brother Walter Davidson launched the Harley-Davidson Motor Company in 1903. Today, there are over seventy foreign and domestic motorcycle companies. Among the most popular are Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Harley-Davidson, Suzuki, BMW, Buell, Moto Guzzi, and Aprilla.