Steam in days gone by was used to power a multitude of different machinery, ships, railway, agriculture, manufacturing, but one of the more unusual was this Steam Power Motorcycle. Quite different to the early Harley’s and Indian’s.
Built by inventor Sylvester Roper , 1823 – 1896, Sylvester had a number of patents for his inventions including Hot Air Engine, Revolving Firearms, Knitting Machines, and well known for inventing the Shotgun Choke. It is said he built the worlds first motorcycle in 1868 which was steam power, and in 1863 had built a steam power carriage. His last steam power motorcycle was in 1896 and he died riding it in a speed trial, reportedly reaching a speed of 60mph, and he was the first motorcycle fatality in history.
This is the same motorcycle in this video, beautifully built in full working condition. Not only do you get a full description of the bike, but join the rider in a road run. Brakes were virtually non-existant, but if you were game enough there is an option of putting the steam engine into reverse! But first there is a 30 to 40 minute wait for it to get up a sufficient head or pressure of steam, a drawback with steam as it was never ‘instant’. It is quite surprising the number of bicycles and motorcycles that have been built for steam power particularly around the turn of the 19th century and into the early 1900’s, and I selected the video of this steam motorcycle as it was American made, so it fits in with the name of this website, and the quality of the description and presentation.
I had a bit to do with steam in my teens, left school at 15 and worked in a cheese factory for 4 years. In the last 2 years I would attend to the boiler if the boilerman was away. Didnt have a Boiler Ticket but quickly learnt what to do and when out of sheer necessity. To make cheddar cheese a constant supply of good steam was essential for heating the vats, provide a constant boiling water supply and for cleaning. If the boilerman got a bit slack and steam pressure fell off he was not a popular chappie as it could mean upsetting the cycle of making the cheese, and make for a late finishing day.
Many steam engines were of the double, triple or quadruple expansion type, where cylinder 1 was the high pressure one, the exhaust from it would then go to cylinder 2 and so on, each successive cylinder having a larger diameter piston with a longer stroke to counteract the lesser pressure each received.
1896 and on a run at 60 mph when Sylvester died. Great achievement, sad ending.
Special thanks to Petes Garage and Wikipedia. Photos are video screen shots.