Chicago’s Rich Motorcycle History

Row of parked motorcycles in Chicago roads

Motorcycles have a fascinating history within the United States. If you’re a Chicago motorcycle enthusiast, learning about the sport’s extensive history within the city can give you a newfound appreciation for what motorcycling is today. 

Read on to learn more about Chicago’s rich motorcycle history. 

Chicago’s Motorcycle Origins

Chicago played an essential role in the initial development and popularity of motorcycles. Here are the steps that led motorcycling to become the widespread hobby it is today within the city:

Chicago’s Columbian Exposition & The Rise of Bicycles

Chicago’s unique location on Lake Michigan allowed supplies and manufacturing parts from all over the country to easily reach the city. In 1893, Chicago’s Columbian Exposition exhibited the newest inventions in transportation, including the “safety cycle,” which was an accessible version of a bicycle. 

Displaying these modern bicycles at the Columbian Exposition led to a widespread rise in bicycle usage throughout the city. At the same time, manufacturers were refining internal combustion engines. When an inventor outfitted a bicycle with a combustion engine, the first motorcycle was born. 

Early 1900s: Chicago Motorcycle Manufacturers

Within the next few years, motorcycle manufacturing companies began popping up throughout the U.S. Chicago soon followed suit, opening its first motorcycle company in 1902. By 1903, the city had five motorcycle companies. 

Many manufacturers first advertised motorcycles as a convenient way for farmers to get around their properties. Over time, these bikes evolved to serve as fast modes of transport for police officers trying to catch criminals. 

As one of the nation’s most prominent motorcycle headquarters at the time, Chicago played a significant role in bringing motorcycling to its current popularity. 

1904: The First Chicago Motorcycle Race 

Within just two years of opening its first motorcycle manufacturer, Chicago had enough motorcycles to host its first race. Around 2,000 people showed up for the 1904 race at Garfield Park, sparking the city’s racing age. 

The Mysterious 1916 Traub Motorcycle

We can’t discuss Chicago’s motorcycle history without bringing up the 1916 Traub motorcycle. 

In 1967, a Chicago plumber responded to a plumbing service call at a house in the Chicago suburbs. The plumber began tearing down the wall in the home to access the pipes, only to find something mysterious buried in the wall — an extremely rare motorcycle. 

This motorcycle, known today as the Traub motorcycle, is the only one of its kind. Researchers tracked down the former owners of the home, who revealed that their son had stolen the bike in 1917, presumably from its original creator. The son must have walled up the bicycle to hide his thievery from his family and the bike’s creator. 

However, the true mystery of the Traub motorcycle lies in its origins. Researchers have pinpointed Richard Traub, owner of a Chicago motorcycle shop, as the motorcycle’s creator. In 1907, Traub wrote a letter to “Motorcycle Illustrated” describing his homemade bike, which meets the specifications of the bike uncovered in our story. 

However, if the Traub motorcycle hails from the early 20th century, it was way ahead of its time. The bike’s engine has a 1,278 cc capacity, far outperforming the typical 500 or 750 ccs of the time. It also has a maximum speed of 85 miles per hour, well above its competitors. 

While the true origins of the Traub motorcycle are still a mystery, Chicago motorcyclists celebrate this story as a piece of the city’s biking history.

Chicago Motorcycling Today  

Today, Chicago is home to numerous motorcycle clubs, rallies, races, and events each year, making it a well-known hub of the hobby. If you’re a Chicago motorcyclist, you play a piece in Chicago’s motorcycle history and existing biker culture as well. 

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