“The Hildebrand & Wolfmüller…world’s "first" motorcycle

I’m sure as I write this; many of you will exclaim, “The Hildebrand & Wolfmüller was NOT the first motorcycle…” And in a way you would be correct. But let me clarify what I mean by “Motorcycle.”

Many of you will possibly cite Gottlieb Daimler as the inventor of the motorcycle. Once again, you would be correct in aspect only. Mr. Daimler’s “boneshaker” motor bike was actually a hybrid motor driven bicycle. It sported a wooden frame, wood wheels, as well as wood outrigger wheels to steady the contraption (It’s to be noted, Daimler only accorded this frame to demonstrate his engine. (It is thought he never accepted it would be a working model.)

According to several sources, once Daimler revealed his “motorbike” to the world, De Dion-Bouton brought forth his version and then an American; E. R. Thomas revealed his motorcycle, also utilizing a bicycle frame for his chassis.

The ER Thomas deserves a write up of its own. I’ll get to that at a later date! There was also something known as the Motocyclette, designed by Felix Millet that was introduced one year prior to Hildebrand and Wolfmuller’s. Millet used an aviation style radial five cylinder engine, but this motorcycle never saw mass production.

Felix Millet Motorcycle

From 1868 to 1900 is considered the “invention” time period of the motorcycle.

The Hildebrand Brothers along with Alois Wolfmuler and his mechanic, Hans Geisenhof discarded the steam efforts in favor of developing a two stroke gasoline engine. It soon became clear, the larger four stroked engine would be the new wave of the future, so the Hildebrands and Wolfmuler as well as Hans Geisenhof were soon developing water cooled four strokes for their motorcycles.

The second period, titled “Time, Space and Speed,” runs from 1894 to 1919. It includes a 1489cc Hildebrand from 1894 that was the world’s first series production motorcycle.


The Hildebrand and Wolfmüller was the first mass produced TWO wheeled motor vehicle to be dubbed a “motorcycle.” Actually the Germans were the first to call it “motorrad”, meaning motorcycle in German, the word was now (1894) patented by Hildebrand and Wolfmüller.

So now you understand how this bike became known as the first “Motorcycle.” It was the first practical motorcycle to be put on to the market, and many were built in Germany and France up to 1896.

<img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3004/2983621804_6d8849bc3a.jpg"

The frame of the bicycle is formed of four horizontal tubes, between which the four-stroke (1488cc) two-cylinder, water cooled engine is mounted. The down tubes of the frame serve as a lubricating oil reserve.

1894 First Motorcycle - replica

The machine weighs 115 lb and top speed was 28 MPH. Wolfmüller patented this design (Patent No. 78553, January, 20 1894).

1894 First Motorcycle - replica

The Hildebrand and Wolfmüller had no clutch. Power was delivered to the rear wheel via locomotive-style pushrods which were linked directly to the engine’s pistons. The solid rear wheel was used as a flywheel. The pushrods were returned by the force generated from two large rubber straps – one on each side of the motorcycle.

It is said this motorcycle sported a price tag regarded as high end. This fact along with technical problems such as NO CLUTCH, hindered the popularity of this bike. The partnership between the Hildebrand’s and the Wolfmüller’s came to an end with financial failure the result. The factory closed in 1919.


8 comments on ““The Hildebrand & Wolfmüller…world’s "first" motorcycle”

  1. And just think about what roads they rode on.

  2. I agree.Damilers contraption was not a motorcyle.When the history of motorcycles first came into interest some writer looked for the first example and this he thought, was it. and the myth was created.I also agree that the wolf bike was the first production bike.the earliest I have heard of is Sylvester Ropers steam motorcycle produced in 1869.Long before the Damlier and Wolf.Before that, I once found a civil war article describing what sounds suspiciously like a motorcycle….perhaps a earlier Roper design?I never could find out anymore about it.But if true……the Idea of a engine between two wheels…..is an American invention.BTW Roper is also considered the first motorcycle fatality…..Had a heart attack while racing around a track in 1896 in boston…..At the age of 73

  3. Good story. I'd seen the H&W in a book I have but, never heard one. Interesting how it not only has a drive like a locomotive but sounds like a small one.

  4. That’s really cool. It sounds like a steam engine.I be proud to have one of those in my garage, however, it wouldn’t just sit there. I’d have to ride it.

  5. webster…I dare not think of the “roads” these motorbikes traversed…I dare say, they were bad enough, that at 28 miles per hour, you felt you were going to break your freaking neck!Big Daddy, Thank you! It’s nice to receive kudoos from guys in the know like yourself! I sifted through a lot of information on this bike. (I can’t believe the amount that’s written about this bike…fantastic information.) Some of the stuff I was reading appeared to be pure bunk and after much research I did find the real information that was correct and true. And thank you for the further info on Roper…also on the Civil War design. I think I might look into that further! Chris, coming from you, I am happy the research I did on this project pleased you. It’s good when “guys in the know” tell you “Youd done good!” Mr. Motorcycle…isn’t that sound amazing? I love this bike…and the fact it is like a little locomotive kind of goes with the previous story…don’t you think?

  6. Great article. Nice peak into motorcycling history!

  7. >Wiw Sounds like a locomotive train ^^

  8. >While some motorcycle shipping companies say they can ship your bike anywhere you’ll find once you get on the phone with them they don’t have the means to ship it safely, effectively and without bleeding your dry financially.

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D. Brent Miller

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