1896 Roper Replica
The story of Sylvester Roper and his steam bikes is very well known. Click here for some of the story. He built several of the earliest steam powered two wheeled cycles (although a very great number of other steam vehicles of 3-4 wheels predated his by several decades). I’m not going to waste any time debating who built the first or what the definition of a motorized cycle is. Let’s see some images:
Recently a new replica of Roper’s last bike has been created in Huesca, Spain by Guillermo Ximeno with Manuel Parra and the team at Cometa Restauraciones.
Guillermo first started work two and a half years ago, and Cometa was able to display the bike for the first time this week at the ClassicAutoMadrid 2015. Manuel was kind enough to send over several photos and a description of the bike. Guillermo began with many original 1896 parts, including a Columbia Pope bicycle frame, seat, fork, handlebar and hubs. The team also sourced a period pressure gage, taps, valves, etc. so that the bike seems very authentic. Many parts were blacksmith and locksmith fabricated and also cast via the Galicia foundries.
The photos above show just how well the replica mirrors the original bike. Which is a point that we sometimes overlook. It is much more difficult to make an accurate replica of a machine, or a perfect restoration, than to build a one of a kind custom. Being correct or incorrect is very cut and dried with these bikes as the original must be replicated exactly or the photos will show obvious deviations. We should applaud the best efforts that result in such perfect reproductions.
The motor, valves, cranks and other bits are fully functional. Thus far it has been tested using compressed air, but the firebox has not yet been loaded with coal and burned. Cometa is eager to to that, but has the bike for sale and has chosen to let the new owner decide when to fire it up. The fire will lead to some oxidization, etc. that will slightly diminish the bike’s finishes, hence the wait. But OcchioLungo and our readers will of course want to see the machine being used! And hopefully soon we can share that.
The rear wheel is the crankshaft for the motor. The crank can be seen on the right end of the rear axle, with the connecting rods and valve timing rod linking to the motor. Materials are obviously brass, with some iron, steel and wood. Aluminum would have been useful, but wasn’t commonly available back then.
On the center left is a regulator to control the steam into the motor (it looks a lot like a steam whistle). The operating cable can be seen going upwards, eventually connecting to a lever on the right handlebar and the device operates much like a carb on an internal combustion motor.
Between the two knobs is a sight glass to show the water level. A simple footpeg is on the lower right.
The extension on the front forks was built when Roper found that the bike sat too low, and would high-center on rough terrain. The replica has the same extensions, rather than simply starting with revised frame/fork geometry.
Excellent work guys!
As a special addition to this article, here is a photo of the the real 1896 Roper, taken a few years ago with Chip Perry and Coburn Bensen. Thanks to Chip for sending it! Note the the exhaust pipe is set in the low position here. It can be moved up or down to affect how the exhaust gasses flow.