We have used Escherichia coli as a model system to investigate the initiation of biofilm formation. Here, we demonstrate that E. coli forms biofilms on multiple abiotic surfaces in a nutrient-dependent fashion. In addition, we have isolated insertion mutations that render this organism defective in biofilm formation. One-half of these mutations was found to perturb normal flagellar function. Using defined fli, flh, mot and che alleles, we show that motility, but not chemotaxis, is critical for normal biofilm formation. Microscopic analyses of these mutants suggest that motility is important for both initial interaction with the surface and for movement along the surface. In addition, we present evidence that type I pili (harbouring the mannose-specific adhesin, FimH) are required for initial surface attachment and that mannose inhibits normal attachment. In light of the observations presented here, a working model is discussed that describes the roles of both motility and type I pili in biofilm development.