At its most basic, a motorcycle is a motorised form of personal transport that has two wheels, an engine, steering and somewhere to sit. The earliest bikes used small, external combustion engines to replace the pedals of traditional bicycles. These were powered by petrol, but later models switched to diesel and even electric motors. Today, we have a massive range of motorcycles to choose from.
There are street motorcycles designed for urban riding and tarmac roads, sport bikes for canyon carving and track racing, and cruisers for leisurely rides. There are also dual-sport and dirt bikes for off-road riding. Then there are scooters, which offer a very comfortable, upright riding position and a low seat height that make them ideal for city traffic and stop-and-go driving. And then there are off-road and racing motorcycles, which have higher seats, suspension, and engine power.
Most motorcycle accidents involve collisions with cars. This is because of the bike’s smaller size and lack of protection for the rider, which can cause the car driver to misjudge their speed. In addition, the small profile of a motorcycle creates an aerodynamic ‘drag’ that requires more power to overcome than a smooth, streamlined car design.
The image of the outlaw biker was popularised by cinema and the news media, especially after a 1947 riot at a Hollister California rally involving local bikers and police (though hard facts are often hard to come by). More recently, motorcycles have been associated with countercultural cool and rebellion as they were used by US “buffalo boys” in the 1950s and 1960s and British mods in the 1970s and 1980s.