Founded in 1689 to produce muskets for the Swedish Army, motorcycle production began in 1903 which makes Husqvarna Motorcycles one of the world’s oldest manufacturers with uninterrupted production. 

 

Husqvarna Motorcycles continues to innovate and excel with an impressive range of models and technical leadership. Over a dozen high-tech, class-leading motorcycles are not only tackling the enduro, motocross, supermoto and dual-sport production segments head-on, but also re-imagining the street and travel segments.

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IN THE BEGINNING: A Look Back at the First 10 Years of Iconic Motorcycle Brands

The 1900s witnessed the birth of an era defined by speed, freedom, and a lust for race wins, as the ‘Big 4’ Japanese manufacturers and the two biggest modern European manufacturers were born.

This feature delves into the first years of the six motorcycle companies that would become household names and spawn champions on tracks of asphalt and dirt: Yamaha, Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki, Husqvarna, and KTM.

Husqvarna 1903: From Rifles to Motorcycles

A true pioneer, the Husqvarna name boasts a longer history than the other companies on this list. Founded in 1689 in Sweden, the company initially produced weaponry and tools – hence the use of a gun sight as a logo.

In 1903, they unveiled their first motorcycle, a motorized bicycle with a clip-on engine. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s and for decades beyond, Husqvarna established itself as a leader in off-road motorcycles, winning numerous championships and establishing its reputation for ruggedness and performance.

The early days of Honda

Honda 1947: Rising from the Ashes

Soichiro Honda, a brilliant engineer, founded the Honda Technical Research Institute in 1946. Post-war Japan faced an economic crisis, and Honda saw potential in creating small, affordable motorcycles to fill the transportation gap.

In 1947, Honda unveiled the A-Type, a motorized bicycle powered by a surplus 50cc engine from wartime aircraft. This innovative design, combining affordability with practicality, laid the foundation for Honda’s future success.

Kawasaki 1949: From Aircraft to Asphalt

Kawasaki’s history stretches back to 1896, initially focused on shipbuilding and rolling stock. After World War II, with aircraft production banned in Japan, Kawasaki diversified.

In 1961, they entered the motorcycle market with the Kawasaki B8 which was nicknamed the Red Tank and had a two-stroke 123 cc Kawasaki rotary inlet valve cast iron engine and competed in the Japanese motocross championships.

The 250cc A1 and 500cc H1 Mach III followed in 1967 and 1969 respectively.  

Suzuki 1954: From Looms to Two Wheels

Suzuki’s story began in 1909 when Michio Suzuki established the Suzuki Loom Works. After World War II, like Honda, Suzuki saw an opportunity in motorcycles.

Their first foray, the two-stroke 36cc Power Free, in 1952, was a motorized bicycle similar to Honda’s A-Type. In 1954 the company changed its name to Suzuki Motor co., Ltd and followed that up in 1955 by releasing the Colleda COX, a licensed copy of a German two-stroke design, that marked their true entry into the motorcycle market.

KTM 1953: From Bicycles to Motocross Dominance

KTM, another European brand with a rich history, began in 1934 as a bicycle repair shop in Austria. It ventured into motorcycles in 1951 with the R100, a 100cc two-stroke model.

In 1953 the company took on the name Kronreif, Trunkenpolz, Mattighofen’ (KTM) with a staff of 20 employees.

Focusing on lightweight, agile machines, KTM quickly gained a foothold in the burgeoning motocross scene. By the mid-1950s, they were already racking up victories in European motocross championships, laying the foundation for their future dominance in off-road racing.

From 1970 KTM ceased sourcing engines from Sachs and began manufacturing its own.

Yamaha 1955: From Pianos to Power

Though Yamaha’s motorcycle story began in 1955, its roots lie in musical instruments. Founded in 1887 by Torakusu Yamaha, the company initially focused on pianos and wind instruments.

However, by the mid-1950s, Japan was experiencing a motorcycle boom. Yamaha, recognizing this shift, decided to leverage its engineering expertise and entered the two-wheeled market in 1955 with the YA-1, nicknamed “The Red Dragonfly,”.


This 125cc two-stroke motorcycle, inspired by the German DKW RT-125, marked the beginning of a legendary journey.

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