Motorcycles (also called motorbikes) are  single-track, two-wheeled motor vehicle. Motorcycles vary considerably depending on the task for which they are designed, such as long distance travel, navigating congested urban traffic, cruising, sport and racing, or off-road riding.

Motorcycles are one of the most affordable forms of motorised transport in many parts of the world and, for most of the world's population, they are also the most common type of motor vehicle. There are around 200 million motorcycles in use worldwide, or about 33 motorcycles per 1000 people.

Most of the motorcycles, 58%, are in the developing countries of Asia—Southern and Eastern Asia, and the Asia Pacific countries, excluding Japan—while 33% of the cars (195 million) are concentrated in the United States and Japan. In 2002, India with an estimated 37 million motorcycles/mopeds was home to the largest number of motorised two wheelers in the world. China came a close second with 34 million motorcycles.

History of Motorcycles

The first internal combustion, petroleum fueled motorcycle was the Petroleum Reitwagen. It was designed and built by the German inventors Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach in Bad Cannstatt, Germany in 1885. These motorcycles were unlike either the safety bicycles or the bone shaker bicycles of the era in that they had zero degrees of steering axis angle and no fork offset, and thus did not use the principles of bicycle and motorcycle dynamics developed nearly 70 years earlier. Instead, these first motorcycles  relied on two outrigger wheels to remain upright while turning. The inventors called their invention the Reitwagen ("riding car"). It was designed as an expedient test bed for their new engine, rather than a true prototype vehicle.

If two-wheeled vehicles with steam propulsion are considered motorcycles, then the first was the French Michaux-Perreaux steam bicycle of 1868. This was followed by the American Roper steam velocipede of 1869, built by Sylvester Howard Roper of Roxbury, Massachusetts. Roper demonstrated his motorcycles at fairs and circuses in the eastern U.S. in 1867, and built a total of 10 examples.

In 1894, Hildebrand & Wolfmüller built the first series production motorcycles, and the first to be called a motorcycle.  In the early period of motorcycle history, many producers of bicycles adapted their designs to accommodate the new internal combustion engine. As the engines became more powerful and designs outgrew the bicycle origins, the number of motorcycle producers also increased.

Until World War I, the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world was Indian, producing over 20,000 bikes per year. By 1920, this honour went to Harley-Davidson, with their motorcycles being sold by dealers in 67 countries.

After World War II, the BSA Group became the largest producer of motorcycles in the world, producing up to 75,000 bikes per year in the 1950s.The German company NSU held the position of largest manufacturer of motorcycles from 1955 until the 1970s.

In the 1950s, streamlining began to play an increasing part in the development of racing motorcycles and the "dustbin fairing" held out the possibility of radical changes to motorcycle design. NSU and Moto Guzzi were in the vanguard of this development both producing very radical designs well ahead of their time. NSU produced the most advanced design, but after the deaths of four NSU riders in the 1954–1956 seasons, they abandoned further development and quit Grand Prix motorcycle racing. Moto Guzzi produced competitive race machines, and by 1957 nearly all the Grand Prix races were being won by streamlined machines. The following year, 1958, full enclosure fairings were banned from racing by the FIM in the light of the safety concerns.

From the 1960s through the 1990s, small two-stroke motorcycles were popular worldwide, partly as a result of East German Walter Kaaden's engine work in the 1950s.

Today, the motorcycle industry is mainly dominated by Japanese companies such as Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha, although Harley-Davidson and BMW continue to be popular and supply considerable markets. Other major manufacturers include Piaggio group of Italy, KTM, Triumph and Ducati.

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. An 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.


The ADRs define Motorcycles as either:-

MOPED – A 2-wheeled motor vehicle, not being a power-assisted pedal cycle, with an engine cylinder capacity not exceeding 50 ml and a ‘Maximum Motorcycle Speed‘ not exceeding 50 km/h; or a 2-wheeled motor vehicle with a power source other than a piston engine and a ‘Maximum Motorcycle Speed‘ not exceeding 50 km/h


MOTORCYCLE – A 2-wheeled motor vehicle with an engine cylinder capacity exceeding 50 ml or a ‘Maximum Motorcycle Speed‘ exceeding 50 km/h.


Generally, if a motorcycle has been imported by a major manufacturer, it cannot be imported by anyone else under the SEVS scheme.

Importing Motorcycles into Australia

Motorcycles can be imported in Australia, usually without restriction on numbers. However, if the model is not listed on the SEVS register, motorcycles must comply with all applicable current Australian Design Rules (ADRs), irrespective of the date of manufacture. So, for example,  1990 year model motorcycles need to meet all current (2010) ADRs. Usually noise requirements are the most difficult as these have become progressively more stringent over time. Owners generally like their motorcycles LOUD – the authorities like motorcycles to be quiet.

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