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Romancing motorbikes

Although two-wheeled steam-powered units were attempted in France and America around 1867, the first commercial production of two-wheeled petrol-powered units began in 1894 by Hildebrand & Wolfmüller – the first to be called a motorcycle.


In the 21st century, the motorcycle industry is mainly dominated by Chinese and Japanese manufacturers. In addition to the large capacity motorcycles, there is a large market in smaller capacity (less than 300 cc) motorcycles, mostly concentrated in Asian and African countries and produced in China and India.

A Japanese example is the 1958 Honda Super Cub, which went on to become the biggest selling vehicle of all time, with its 60 millionth unit produced in April 2008. Today, this area is dominated by mostly Indian companies with Hero MotoCorp emerging as the world’s largest manufacturer of two wheelers. Its Splendor model has sold more than 8.5 million to date. Other major producers are Bajaj and TVS Motors.

Motorcycle design varies greatly to suit a range of different purposes: Long distance travel, commuting, cruising, sport including racing, and off-road riding. Motorcycles are mainly a luxury good in the developed world, where they are used mostly for recreation and as a lifestyle accessory or a symbol of personal identity – being cool or macho! In developing countries, motorcycles are overwhelmingly utilitarian due to lower prices and greater fuel economy.

Global sales

Motorcycles are one of the most affordable forms of motorised transport and, for most of the world’s population, they are also the most common type of motor vehicle ownership. About 200 million motorcycles, including mopeds, motor scooters, motorised bicycles, and other powered two and three-wheelers, are in use worldwide, or about 35 motorcycles per 1000 people. In comparison, there are around 600 million cars in the world, or about 91 per 1000 people. While Honda alone sells about 18 million motorcycles of all types – street, dual-sport, off-road and scooter – globally each year, annual sales in USA are stuck at less than 500,000 units for the past several years. Most motorcycles, 60 per cent, are in the developing countries of Asian – Southern and Eastern Asia, and the Asia Pacific countries, excluding Japan – while 30 per cent of cars, 195 million, are concentrated in the USA and Japan. The annual US motorcycle sale, for all types – street, dual-sport, off-road and scooter – seems to be stuck at less than 500,000 units.

By Louis Rumao, US Correspondent

(Full text in PTA August/September issue)

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