Just about everybody knows that Ford was the first to make production cars, but very few people know the name of the motorcycle company that produced history's first production "Motor Cycle". Joel Pennington was credited with coming up with name term "Motor Cycle" back in 1890, yet he has very little to do with the first production motorcycle. Sylvestor Roper's steam velocipedes built between 1868 and 1892 were never intended for production and were built for nothing more than experiments. It wasn't until May of 1895 did that the first production motorcycle get introduced to the world...the H & W Motor Cycle or properly know as the Hildebrand & Wolfmuller Motor Cycle.
Hildebrand & Wolfmuller Motor Cycle was designed by Alois Wolfmuller and Hans Geisenhof of Langsberg and was originally patented on January 20, 1894, patent number #78553. After patenting the invention the two are believed to have teamed up with a company that was owned by Henry and Wilhelm Hildebrand. Hildebrand was said to have been a bicycle company that also had attempted to invent a steam powered bicycle. After the failure of the steam powered bicycle adventure they took on the challenge of producing Alois Wolfmuller and Hans Geisenhof invention.
Many of the features of Hildebrand & Wolfmuller motorcycle still exist today on your modern day motorcycle. The throttle control was on the right hand grip as it today. While the placement of the front brake lever was located on the right side of the handlebars the brake itself was different than todays advanced braking system. When you pulled the brake it operated a spoon like braking system that is similar to today's bicycles. Pulling the brake did not only apply the front brake, it also closed off the throttle. Foot pegs and fenders where also put on this very fist production motorcycle.
The motorcycle was well thought out for its time, the tubing was not only for structure but it also was the first motorcycle to use the tubes for oil...know that's something that should interest a Buell rider who likely didn't know their oil system was actually part of the design of the first production motorcycle. The water cooled engine had the water reservoir built into the back fender giving the back fender almost a box like look. The water reserve was similar to Edward Bultler's Petroleum Cycle of 1891...again although his bike was built prior it was not a production motorcycle. The H & W Motor Cycle was the first motorcycle to use pneumatic tires which were made by Dunlop. The rear wheel was a solid 22 wheel.
The H & W Motorcycle had a 1498cc Benzine engine that produced a top speed of 24 mph. The fuel tank which was located between the motorcycles front down tubes could hold up to 12 hours of worth of fuel. The engine was designed with two large cylinders, one on each side of the frame. Each one using a connecting rod that was linked to a spindle on the rear 22 inch tire. The use of elastic straps helped with the return stroke.
Starting the motorcycle was one of the biggest downfalls of the motorcycle. You would begin starting the motorcycle by partially filling a reservoir with benzine or gasoline, then things got interesting from there. You would open the ignition door, which would automatically close off the air supply tubes, and light it with an alcoholic torch! When the tubes became red hot it would put tension on the rubber bands and at that point you would move the motorcycle forward until and explosion occurs! Yes I did say an explosion occurs! When the explosion occurred since there was no clutch on the motorcycle impulse power was immediately provided to the back wheel, so yes you could ride away (not sure if you had a choice).
With having the only motorcycle on the market they looked like they were destined for success. They entered there motorcycle in the 62 mile Italian road trials, in which they were quite successful at. They then decided to enter the motorcycles into the Paris-Bordeaux-Parris rally in June of 1895. This appears to be the turning point for the company, in the 732 mile race the hot-tube ignition system became apparent, this went hand in hand with the immediate power sent to the rear wheel once the bike started. Although they had made approximately 800 motorcycles, they were selling the motorcycle for less than the cost of making the motorcycle. That coupled with customer complaints about the ignition system and impulse power eventually pushed both of the companies into bankruptcy in 1897...just before the motorcycle revelation took off.