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Most agree the first motorcycle ever made was the Daimler Reitwagen. This bike was first ridden by the maker’s son, Paul Daimler, in 1885. While this might be the first bike, it wasn’t the first motorcycle made for production. In some ways, we might argue that distinction makes all the difference. With that in mind, the first production motorcycle was the 1894 Hildebrand & Wolfmüller Motorcycle. 

The first production motorcycle photographed from the front
Hildebrand & Wolfmüller Motorcycle | Images courtesy of Bonhams

Hildebrand & Wolfmüller made the first motorcycle for production, and its rare

According to Silodrome, very few examples of the Hildebrand & Wolfmüller Motorcycle are left in the universe. While some rest in private collections, The Science Museum in London and the Henry Ford in Detroit have one. Hell, we even have one here at the Barber Motorcycle Museum in Leeds, Alabama. 

This bike did come after the Reitwagen, but it was officially the first series production motorcycle ever made. In fact, not only that, but this was the first vehicle that used the name “motorcycle” (or “motorrad” in the original German) to describe it. It is believed that 2,000 examples were built. 

This motorcycle was a failure

Hildebrand & Wolfmüller Motorcycle profile
Hildebrand & Wolfmüller Motorcycle | Images courtesy of Bonhams

The H&W motorcycle was a wonderfully complex machine that proved very popular in its time despite its high price and abject engineering failures. This bike changed automotive production forever and pioneered some bizarre and unique design features, like a fender that doubled as a water tank and an oil-in-frame design. 

The first production motorcycle was born in the hands and minds of brothers Heinrich and Wilhelm Hildebrand. These two were steam engine makers before teaming up with Alois Wolfmüller. Despite their history, few steam engine designs made it to the first motorcycle. 

The Hildebrand & Wolfmüller Motorcycle engine was mounted low under the frame, using connecting rods from each cylinder that could directly power the rear wheel. I am about as far from being an engineer as I am from being an elephant, so just trust me when I say this gasoline engine was pretty odd. There was no ignition. To start the bike, a rider had to push it, running alongside the bike until the engine fired. 

How much power did the first motorcycle make? 

Although the four-stroke gasoline engine only made 2.5 hp, it used a surprisingly enormous engine with a displacement of 1.5 liters or 1,489cc. Despite the H&W motorcycle having a top speed of 28 mph, it took 2nd and 3rd place in a combined car/motorcycle race in Italy from Turin to Asti and back; Wolfmüller himself was piloting the bike that came in second place.

How much is a Hildebrand & Wolfmüller Motorcycle worth today? 

The first motorcycle made for production, the Hildebrand & Wolfmüller Motorcycle nameplate
Hildebrand & Wolfmüller Motorcycle | Images courtesy of Bonhams

The bike you see pictured here is not just old; it may well be the oldest surviving example of the Hildebrand & Wolfmüller Motorcycle. It was made in 1894 during an early series of production. It is currently up for sale by its owner, a Spanish collector named Carlos Garriga. This bike is said to be in spectacularly original condition. The bike is set to cross the stage at Bonhams on February 1st in Paris. The estimated price is said to be between $119,500 – $184,500.