Motorcycles are motor vehicles steered by a handlebar from a saddle-style seat. They can be powered by gasoline, electric, or other sources, and are typically ridden on public roads. Some have plastic or fiber-glass shells to protect the rider from wind and debris, and also aid in aerodynamics.
A motorcycle can be used for recreation, transportation or competition. Its small size and low weight compared to other motor vehicles make it easy to maneuver and park, as well as provide good fuel economy. In many cultures, motorcycles have become a symbol of independence and freedom. Some riders form social groups or clubs based on location or motorcycle type. Others participate in motocross or other motorcycle racing.
The first modern motorcycles were developed in the 1880s by German inventors Gottlieb Daimler, Wilhelm Maybach and Nicolaus Otto. These early machines were more like bicycles with a gas engine than what we think of as a motorcycle today. Daimler later went on to create the automobile company that eventually became Mercedes-Benz.
As time passed, motorcycles gained in popularity, and manufacturers began producing them in quantity. By the turn of the 20th century, several brands had established themselves, including Royal Enfield, Triumph and Indian. Harley-Davidson was founded in 1903 by William Harley and Arthur Davidson out of their home workshop.
While a large part of the popularity and appeal of motorcycles is their ease of use, safety remains an important issue. Riders need to be trained in safe riding techniques, and they must always wear a helmet and protective clothing. A rider must also be aware of the actions of other road users, especially those in cars and trucks. New technologies are helping to keep motorcycles safer, such as anti-lock braking systems and inertial control units. Riders can also reduce the risk of a collision by pre-ride checklists that include checking oil levels, tires, headlights, and horns.