There is some debate on what was the first motorcycle built.
Some claim that Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Mayback produced one in 1885, however if a two wheeled steam propulsion vehicle is considered a motorcycle, then the first one may well have been American, as one such manchine was built in 1867 by Sylvester Roper.
The first motorcycle available for purchase was in 1894 and was a Hildebrand & Wolf Muller. Until World War One, the largest motorcycle manufacturer was Indian, but by 1920, the honour had transferred to Harley Davidson. In 1927, DKW took over the title of largest manufacturer.
After World War Two, BSA became the largest producer, producing upto 75000 bikes each year in the fifties. NSU then took the title from 1955 until the seventies.
In the fifties, streamlining began to play a big part of the development of racing bikes, and the fairing held out the possibility of radical changes to the bike design. NSU and Moto-Guzzi were in the vanguard of this development, both produced radical designs, which were ahead of their time. NSU produced the most advanced design, but following the death of four riders in the 54-56 seasons, they abandoned further development and quit Grand Prix racing.
Moto-Guzzi produced competitive race machines and by 1957, streamlined machines were winning nearly all of the GP races. In 1958, full enclosure fairings were banned from racing by the FIM due to safety concerns.
From the sixties through to the ninties, small 2 stoke motorbikes were popular, partly because of Walter Kaaden’s engine work in the fifties.
Today, the Japanese mostly dominate the motorbike industry, although Harley and BMW continue to be popular and supply considerable markets, other manufacturers are starting to become popular.