though the very first vehicle powered by an internal combustion
engine was a motorcycle - by the name of Einspur - designed and
built by the German inventor Gottlieb Daimler in the early 1880s,
the first motorcycles began trickling onto European roads around
1987-98. It was the French makers who pushed the most in this regard,
trying to motorise the humble bicycle. The latter which also had
seen a major design upheaval for bicycles earlier were of the penny
farthing type - enormous impractical contraptions with a smallish
rear wheel and a large diameter front wheel which sported pedals.
Getting on and off was a chore in itself and so with the advent
of the 'safety bicycle' the potential to unleash the means of personal
mobility to the masses immediately manifested itself in great measure.
closest one got to IC-engined single-seaters was with tricycles
which had engines powering the front wheels. However the placement
of the engine left a lot to be desired, especially as the weight
high up on the front fork certainly made for dicey handling. This
was a fact established by the Czech firm of Laurin & Klement
who, in 1899, also made a motorcycle with a small engine mounted
high on the front fork and was in line with typical prevalent thought
as many bike makers sought to arrive at the definitive placement
of the powerplant in the frame. It was an era which saw bike makers
place engines in the wheels, under the seat and some even on subframes
projecting out behind the rear wheel.
The men behind Laurin & Klement shared their first names with
Vaclav Klement being the business manager and Vaclav Laurin the
engineer. The duo had joined hands in 1895 to establish a bicycle
firm in the town of Mlada Boleslav and motorising the bicycle fascinated
them in no time at all. Their first machine was eminently forgettable
but the duo had thought long and hard to perfect
the engine placement in the frame. Many credit the French Werner
brothers - wrongly I think - in determining the engine position
now universal for motorcycles but it was in fact Laurin & Klement
who gave the world the first integrated motorcycle, in 1901. The
prototype - shown on the right - was made in late 1900 and production
models began trickling into showrooms the next year. Sure the frame
of the L&K was indeed inspired by that of the safety bicycle
but it was now a specially constructed frame with the engine centrally
located, making for a well balanced machine. If that wasn't all,
Laurin & Klement was the first motorcycle maker in the world
to use magneto ignition, thus dispensing with the highly inconvenient,
open to the elements and also mighty dangerous hot tube system.
The magneto was chain driven from the crankshaft and mounted underneath
the engine protected by a loop of the frame. If that was not all,
the L&K bikes were the first to sport all controls on the handlebar.
In 1925 the firm merged with the giant Akciova Spolecnost which
later transformed itself into the car firm we all know as Skoda
but that is another story altogether.
L&K also made cars but after 1933 they ceased to be sold as
Laurin & Klement and today this name adorns the high end luxury
versions of the Skoda Octavia which we shall soon see here in India.
L&L made many motorcycles including vee-twins and in-line fours
plus also some unique models for the fair sex. However the firm
will be remembered forever for its pioneering work of 1900 which
set the course for the design of every motorcycle that came after