The Basics of Motorcycles


At their most basic, motorcycles have two wheels, a steering wheel and brakes, an engine, and somewhere for the rider to sit. They also have an axle and a chain or belt to drive them along.

Unlike bicycles, which are powered by pedaling, motorcycles are driven by engines that convert reciprocating motion into rotary motion to turn the wheels and propel the bike forward. A transmission system then transfers this motion to the rear wheel. The rider controls the bike by leaning into turns. The front wheel is usually controlled by telescopic forks, and the engine drives the rear wheel through either a chain or shaft. Depending on the design, other body parts are added for aesthetic or performance reasons.

Even at low speeds, most motorcycles can easily accelerate to over 60 mph. This is because the engine is smaller than in cars and the power-to-weight ratio is much higher. However, at high speeds, the engine becomes a major source of drag because it is exposed to the air and is not as smooth or as streamlined as a car’s engine and bodywork. This creates a force called “drag” that increases with the square of the speed, and requires four times as much power to overcome.

The mid-to-late 1940s saw a number of veterans returning from World War II who were enthusiastic about motorcycles. This caused a huge increase in motorcycle sales, and Honda began to rise up the ranks of the industry by reinventing the concept of a motorcycle away from gigantic, intimidating machines for tough guys and into small, friendly bikes that were easy for anyone to operate.