In the early 1900s, when traditions held tight, a different kind of adventure was roaring to life: women on motorcycles.
These vintage photos aren’t just snapshots; they’re windows into a time when women embraced the thrill of the open road despite societal norms.
Back then, motorcycles weren’t just transportation; they were symbols of freedom. These images aren’t about bikes; they’re about women claiming their space in a world that often told them where they belonged.
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.
Many of the nineteenth-century inventors who worked on early motorcycles often moved on to other inventions. Daimler and Roper, for example, both went on to develop automobiles.
At the turn of the 20th century, the first major mass-production firms emerged.
In 1901 English quadricycle- and bicycle-maker Royal Enfield introduced its first motorcycle, with a 239 cc engine mounted in the front and driving the rear wheel through a belt.
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.
In 1901 the Indian Motocycle Manufacturing Company, which had been founded by two former bicycle-racers, designed the so-called “diamond framed” Indian Single, whose engine was built by the Aurora Firm in Illinois per Indian’s specifications.
The Single was made available in the deep blue. Indian’s production was up to over 500 bikes by 1902, and would rise to 32,000, its best ever, in 1913.
During this period, experimentation and innovation were driven by the popular new sport of motorcycle racing, with its powerful incentive to produce tough, fast, reliable machines.
These enhancements quickly found their way to the public’s machines.
During the First World War, motorbike production was greatly ramped up for the war effort to supply effective communications with front line troops.
Messengers on horses were replaced with dispatch riders on motorcycles carrying messages, performing reconnaissance personnel and acting as military police.
American company Harley-Davidson was devoting over 50% of its factory output toward military contracts by the end of the war.
The British company Triumph Motorcycles sold more than 30,000 of its Triumph Type H model to allied forces during the war.
With the rear wheel driven by a belt, the Model H was fitted with a 499 cc air-cooled four-stroke single-cylinder engine. It was also the first Triumph not to be fitted with pedals, so was a true motorcycle.
By 1920, Harley-Davidson became the largest manufacturer, with their motorcycles being sold by dealers in 67 countries.
By the late 1920s or early 1930s, DKW in Germany took over as the largest manufacturer.
BMW motorcycles came on the scene in 1923 with a shaft drive and an opposed-twin or “boxer” engine enclosed with the transmission in a single aluminum housing.
By 1931, Indian and Harley-Davidson were the only two American manufacturers producing commercial motorcycles.
This two-company rivalry in the United States remained until 1953, when the Indian Motorcycle factory in Springfield, Massachusetts closed and Royal Enfield took over the Indian name.
There were over 80 different makes of motorcycle available in Britain in the 1930s, from the familiar marques like Norton, Triumph, and AJS to the obscure, with names like New Gerrard, NUT, SOS, Chell, and Whitwood.
(Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons / Pinterest / Flickr / Reddit).