Athletics and Recreation

The history of Motorcycle Racing | Full Documentary | Part 1 of 5

The history of Motorcycle Racing | Full Documentary | Part 1 of 5

When watching the latest Moto GP race on your
tablet, it might be difficult to grasp that spectators of the 1907 Isle of man TT were
equally excited as you, when watching so called Touring motorcycles swoosh by at 38 mph. So to enlighten younger riders, and maybe
make older generations a bit nostalgic, I created this documentary on motorcycle racing.As
far as I have been able to find, a documentary covering the full history of motorcycle racing
has never been made before. In 1885 engineer Gottlieb Daimler and Engine
designer Wilhelm Maybach created what was arguably the first internal combustion engine
motorcycle, called the Daimler Petroleum Reitwagen, or Riding car in English. The original design had a belt drive and a
twist grip on the handlebars, which was used to both apply power, by twisting the grip
one way, and engine brake, by twisting the grip the other way. Both combustion engine and manufacturing technology
developed fast, and in 1894 two steam engine engineers named Heinrich and Wilhelm Hildebrand
teamed up with inventor Alois Wolfmüller to create the worlds first production motorcycle,
called Hildebrand and Wolfmüller. This was also the first invention to actually
be called a motorcycle, or motorrad in German. The term also explains the thought behind
the invention: take a motor and attach it to a bicycle, voila: Motorcycle. Because it was so simple to assemble your
own motor-cycle, their popularity grew exponentially across the globe, and in 1896 Excelsior Motor
company of Warwickshire, England, began production of their first motorcycle available for the
public. Just two years later, in 1898, the first production
motorcycle in the US was built by Charles Metz, from his factory in Waltham Massachusetts. That same year Peugeot Motorcycles presented
their first motorcycle at the Paris motor show. France was also the place where the very first
documented and official motorcycle races were held. The development of motorcycle racing largely
coincided with the development of car sports, with a class for motorcycles in so called
reliability motor contests, or town-to-town road races. These types of races would soon be run in
the US, Australia and across Europe. The town to town events were often epic in
scale, such as the 559 mile 1902 Paris to Vienna race. With 60 controls as well as Flagmen through
out the 559 mile track, and chartered trains for spectators to follow the race. The race started at 3.30 am South east of
Paris, with 137 cars, tricycles and motorcycles. One spectator describes the scene: “by thousands
of cyclists in endless procession, with their coloured Chinese lanterns dancing to and fro
to the accompaniment of songs, shouts, horns, bells, exhaust whistles and the wail of the
siren so much beloved by the Gallic heart”. The town to town races shared a lot of elements
with modern day motorsports such as Rally raid, Endurance racing, Enduro and Road racing. In 1901 English bicycle maker Royal Enfield
introduced its first motorcycle, with a 239cc engine mounted up front and driving the rear
wheel through a belt. Triumph and Norton introduced their first
motorcycles in 1902 to compete with Royal Enfield as well as Peugeot. Over on the other side of the Atlantic ocean,
in Middletown, Conneticut, George M. Hendee and Oscar Hedström teamed to build the first
Indian motorcycle in 1901, called the Indian Single, with 1.75 hp. That same year William S. Harley and his childhood
friend Arthur Davidson realized their first prototype Motorcycle, which they called the
Harley-Davidson. They updated this prototype several times,
with the final version having a 405cc engine and a loop frame. The first recorded run with this motorcycle
is from 1904, where Edward Hildebrand placed 4th in the races at a Milwaukee State fair
park. This race was most likely held around a repurposed
horse racing oval. These types of races were common in the US
and Australia, and you guessed it, this was the beginnings of the sports Long Track, Flat
Track and Speedway. Up until 1902 motorcycles were not very successful
against cars and tricycles, but this would change with the Werner Brothers Motobicyclette,
made by Michel and Eugnene Werner in Paris. It had a 216 cc, four stroke, single cylinder
engine and pedals. One of the first ever speeding tickets given
to a motorcyclist was given to a rider on a Werner Brothers bike. The ticket was made out to Alfred nipper,
on the 13th of September, 1902. The Officer wrote: “Then being the driver
of a certain carriage (to wit a motorcycle) on a certain highway there situate called
Bristol Road unlawfully did ride the same furiously thereon so as then to endanger the
lives and limbs of passengers on the said highway”. Mr. Nipper was fined Seven Shillings and six
pence for this motoring offense. As the motorcycle industry grew across the
globe more people got access to motorcycles, which led to more town races being arranged
by locals wanting to put their own and their assembled motorcycles abilities to the test. Eventually it all went out of control, since
races were staged over long stretches of regular roads, which wasn’t always shut down for
the event. This turned out to be very dangerous, so dangerous
in fact, that European governments decided to collectively ban town to town racing after
the 1903 Paris-Madrid event. Which left three spectators and five racers
dead. Soon similar measures were taken in Australia
and the US, but the public was still hungry for more motorcycle racing. Which made entrepreneurs & organizers look
for alternative forms of racing. One entrepreneur in the UK, Hugh F. Locke
King, had the brilliant idea to build a purpose built motor racing circuit, which he called
Brooklands race track. Brooklands opened up in 1907, and was built
with uncoated concrete, because of the expenses of laying asphalt at the time. This led to a rather bumpy and dangerous ride,
but never-the-less motorcycle racing started at Brooklands in 1908 and the British Motorcycle
Racing Club – known as ‘Bemsee’ from its initials – was founded in 1909 around the Brooklands
track. Indianapolis businessman Carl G. Fisher had
been involved in automobile racing in France and had noticed how dangerous racing on roads
could be. He subsequently went to visit Brooklands race
track and got inspired by its banked layout. Fisher took this idea back to Indiana and
had Indianapolis Motor Speedway constructed in 1909. The track surface consisted of graded and
packed soil covered by taroid, and a final topping of crushed stone. The first motorsport event at the track consisted
of motorcycle races sanctioned by the Federation of American Motorcyclists (FAM), on August
14, 1909. The FAM, today called the American Motorcycle
Association (AMA), had been formed in 1903, by 93 motorcycle enthusiasts to organize motorcycle
activities. The event at Indianapolis was originally planned
as a two-day, 15-race program, but unsurprisingly ended before the first day was completed,
because of concerns over suitability of the taroid covered track surface for motorcycle
use. This led to the idea to use wood, just as
used in bicycle velodromes in Australia and Europe at the time, and the first so called
Motordome, built from 2by2 and 2by4 lumber was setup in Los Angeles. The sport called Board Track racing was born. The emphasis of the sport was on raw speed
with spectators as close to the action as possible. Board track racing grew exponentially in popularity
and was a very popular spectator sport from around 1909 in to the 1920s in the US. In 1915 a crowd of 80,000 people watched the
event in Chicago. Indian dominated the sport initially, but
got challenged by Harley Davidson. Which started an official racing department,
with William Ottaway as its first Assistant Engineer, reporting to William S. Harley. The team of racers they assembled was eventually
referred to as the “Wrecking crew”, because of their dominance in the sport. The speeds the racers could achieve on these
tracks went up to 100 miles per hour, quite fast considering the primitive tire technology
of the time. (The Wrecking crew included racers: Freddie
Ludlow, Ralph Hepburn, Albert “Shrimp” Burns, Otto Walker, Leslie Parkhurst, Joe
Wolters, Maldwyn Jones and Ray Weishaar.) Ray Weishaar helped popularize the nickname
‘hog’ in reference to Harley Davidson by carrying the team’s mascot, a small pig,
around on victory laps. Unfortunately the construction of the Motordomes
hadn’t been made with safety in mind, and crashes were frequent and horrific. Since the stands had been designed to be as
close to the action as possible, racers often slammed into the crowd when they crashed. On one particularly lethal day in 1912 between
four and six spectators, were killed along with Eddie Hasha and another rider in Newark,
New Jersey. These types of crashes led to the press starting
to call the motordromes “murderdomes”. Racing on closed down roads was still a viable
option, but the races needed to be organized with regulations and at least some safety
in mind. One of these forms of racing was started on
September 25, 1904, when the Motorcycle-Club de Fran ce organized the first official international
road race, in Dourdan, south-west of Paris. Including five nations, Austria, Denmark,
France, Germany and Great Britan. The race was held around a roughly 33 mile,
marked out course, which would be rounded 5 times. Disputes arose over the racing conditions
of this event, so the organizers decided to create the Federation Interionationale des
Clubs Motorcyclistes or FICM in 1904, to be the global sanctioning body of motorcycle
racing. Unfortunately this did not stop more controversies
from happening, with accusations of cheating and unclear rules in races following. So in 1906 on their way home from a race held
in Austria, Freddie Straight secretary of the Auto cycle club in Britan, Charlie and
Harry Collier from Matchless Motorcycles, a motorcycle manufacturers at the time, discussed
arranging a motorcycle race on the same Isle of man course being used for car races. The plan developed, and it was decided that
the race would have two classes, one for single cylinder machines and one for twin cylinder
machines. The organizers wanted the motorcycles to be
close to road-going vehicles, so that the race would be accessible to anyone who would
like to participate. So they introduced regulations for saddles,
pedals mudguards and exhaust silencers. And so, on 28th of may 1907 the first Isle
of man Tourist Trophy was held. The race was run in a time trial format, held
around what is now known as the St John’s Short Course, for 10 laps. The winner of the Single cylinder class was
Charlie Collier, riding on a 3.5 hp Matchless motorcycle, with an average speed of 38.21
mph. The twin cylinder class was won by Rem Fowler
on a 5 hp Norton motorcycle with a Peugeot engine, and an average speed of 36.21 mph. Fowler nearly gave up during the race, as
he suffered a number of problems with drive belts and spark plugs. He even crashed at nearly 60 mph due to a
tyre burst at the Devils Elbow. Upon getting up from the accident a spectator
told him he led the class by 30 minutes and so he decided to continue and won the race. FICM was inactive from 1906 until 1912 due
to all the controversies. In 1912 it was reborn with ten countries involved,
Belgium, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, the US, Germany, Austria
and Switzerland. The first international racing event held
by the new FICM was the International Six Days Reliability Trial. These days this event is called the International
Six Days Enduro. In 1912 the course went on what was considered
to be regular roads, these days the very same roads are considered very much Off road. So it was essentially the first cross country
or rally raid form of racing. Another type of racing was the Scottish Six
Days Trial, which had been running since 1909. It is still running to this day and has the
same name. This form of competition is today still called
Motorcycle trials, which runs over hazard-strewn terrain divided into observed sections. The goal is to negotiate the sections without
losing points for touching the ground with any part of the body, the rider with the fewest
points wins. In 1911 Isle of man TT transferred to the
Snaefell Mountain Course with a 350cc Junior TT and a 500cc Senior TT race. The organization around the event had become
more professional and Grandstands were built for spectators. The new course had a at the time challenging
eight mile uphill climb, that forced the manufacturers to devise methods to get their low horse power
machines up the hill. The winning manufacturer of the 350cc race
was Humber Motorcycles with Percy J Evans behind the bars, with an average speed of
41.45 mph. The Humber had a 2 speed V-twin engine and
was thus able to cope well with the uphill climb. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd manufacturer standings
in the 500cc race went to American manufacturer Indian, denting British pride and prestige
from having dominated Road racing for some time. The Indian riders were AJ Moorhouse, CB Franklin
and Oliver Godfrey, who won the race. All of them British riders. Another form of organized racing conducted
at the time was Landspeed racing, with a very simple goal: trying to achieve the highest
average speed over a set distance, given a set number of runs. Landspeed racing was very popular in the US,
with one particularly famous racer being Glenn Curtiss. Curtiss built his own motorcycles to set speed
records, his most famous being a 4,410cc V-8 engine powered motorcycle. On January 24, 1907, he set the unofficial
land speed record of 136.36 mph, at Ormond Beach, Florida. This not only made him the fastest motorcyclist
in the world, but fastest person on earth in any motorized vehicle at the time. His record would stand for over 20 years. Curtiss was famous not only for his motorcycling
prowess but also within the aviation industry. Alexander Graham bell regarded him to be “the
greatest motor expert in the country”. Another form of organized racing during the
time was Hillclimbing, where riders compete against the clock to complete an uphill course. There are documents of hillclimb races as
early as 1897, in La Turbie, near Nice, France. This type of hillclimbing went over a longer
stretch of either paved or dirt roads, with the racer reaching the top in the shortest
amount of time being declared the winner. This type of racing got popular in the US
as well, with Mount Washington Hillclimb Auto Race being the first event in the country,
in 1904. Also called Climb to the Clouds it featured
dirt roads all the way to the top. Another such event was Pikes Peak international
hillclimb still running to this day. Often times the organizers of the hillclimb
events also arranged for stunt riders to come and perform various daring maneuvers for the
spectators, and so the sport of stunt riding was born. During this same time period, someone got
the brilliant idea to arrange Hillclimbs on very steep and short off-road courses. Initially the motorcycles used for these competitions
were relatively unmodified road going motorcycles. Racers would start to modify them by lowering
them and adding chains on the back wheel for maximum traction. A famous American hillclimber of the time
was Orie Steele who raced for Indian. Nations weren’t just competing on the race
track but unfortunately geopolitically as well, and in July of 1914 World War 1 broke
out. Because of this motorcycle production was
greatly ramped up to supply effective communications to front line troops. Messengers on horses were replaced by dispatch
riders on motorcycles carrying messages, performing reconnaissance and acting as military police. Harley Davidson devoted 50% of its factory
output towards military contracts by the end of the war. All of the previous racing and now the war
put pressure on the manufacturers to improve their technology rapidly. This led to the first motorcycle which did
not have pedals, the 1915 Triumph Type H. It had a 550cc side valve four stroke engine,
with a three speed gearbox and belt transmission. This is considered by many to be the first
modern motorcycle. Triumph ended up selling more than 30,000
of the Type H model during the war, being nicknamed Trusty Triumph. Many soldiers saw their first motorcycles
during the war and would take up motorcycling as a hobby after the war was over, motorcycle
racing was here to stay. Based on the advice that I got from some friends,
I decided to make this documentary into a 5 part series. The second part is going to cover the basic
technology that was invented in the late 1800s moving all the way up to WW2. Thank you guys for watching, and as always
… see you next time!

Reader Comments

  1. I appreciate all the time and effort you put into this video. But it seems your channel keeps switching on what it’s tryna be and I don’t mind but it affects how many views you get and how much it grows.

  2. I applaud your history series. It is important to understand where we started, it gives us a real appreciation the developments and people who laid the foundation of motorcycling. Tremendous effort on your part is appreciated and recognized by true motorcyclists.

  3. This is amazing! Love it! Me and my mom are obsessed with MotoGP and I'm trying to get more in to the history of it. Keep it up!

  4. This is great, Mikael. What a fantastic undertaking it is for you to make this documentary. I'm looking forward to watching the next chapters.

  5. I hope there will be some collaborative effort to make this into a bluray at some point with all five parts. It would also be cool if you could get some interviews to add in too, from people who helped make motorcycle racing what it is today. That would probably be very difficult, but cool nonetheless! Great video, can't wait for the rest.

  6. Very interesting video, looking forward to the next one. Hopefully you will include the history of Husqvarna motorcycles too 🙂

  7. Excellent, simply excellent.
    I started watching this but my quickshifter kit arrived at my door one minute into the show. Yet I couldn't stop watching it. Now it's off to the shed.

  8. Id love to see the people who raced bikes way back then to see what modern bikes do, i bet theyd be blown away

  9. That was outstanding. Thanks so much for putting this together. Looking forward to the next chapter. I think you may have a future in documentaries.

  10. Thank you so much for all your effort in researching all of this incredible interesting information, this was so incredibly interesting especially I've been motorcycle and Rider since I was about 10 years old, I am 60 and I am still love the ride, looking forward to the next four instalments…
    keep the rubber down, cheers…

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