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1896 Roper Replica

February 27, 2015

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:

4668bc480a61[1]roper 018

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.

stbike1aroper 002

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.roper 004

  roper 006

 roper 007The burner box would be filled with coal, but coke or charcoal will also work. The boiler cannot be seen, but is above, hidden inside the wood. And the plated water tank is atop that.


roper 009

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.

roper 013Water filler, pressure gage and hand pump.


roper 025 

roper 022 

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.


roper 024
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.


roper 031

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!


chip perry coburn bensen and the roper

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.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. February 27, 2015 2:11 pm

    Fascinating! Thanks Pete!

  2. February 27, 2015 2:43 pm

    Bravo! Nice recreation ,the amount of work to do this type of replica is amazing,,,God is in the details, thanks pete

  3. February 27, 2015 3:08 pm

    A much nicer replica than other’s I’ve seen…Roper rode his all over Boston, regularly making the trip from his home in Roxbury to the Boston Yacht Club, where he’d refill with coal and water, and head home…presumably after a beer. I did a bunch of research on this machine a few years ago:

  4. Lloyd Gloekler permalink
    February 27, 2015 3:40 pm

    There is a great “Pete’s Garage” video on uTube of the replica running.

    • February 27, 2015 4:01 pm

      There are also some other videos of that replica being ridden before Pete bought it. It is a good one, but this new Spanish one just might be even better.

  5. Lewis Meyer permalink
    February 27, 2015 3:46 pm

    It’s a great looking piece, but I’d really like to see it go.

    The real challenge with steam is the boiler. It’s easy to build a steam engine that will turn over on compressed air, it’s a much bigger challenge to build a boiler that produces enough steam to move itself and a vehicle along. I hope we’ll find out.

    • February 27, 2015 4:02 pm

      Agreed, I’m anxious to see it being ridden. Several replicas like this have been built over the years (at least 3-4 that I know of) and some have worked fine. But a bike is for riding, just as a sandwich is for eating. Hopefully we see it being ridden soon.

  6. Alex Schmidt 01 permalink
    February 28, 2015 2:24 am

    Hello Pete, this looked all very familiar, maybe you’ve never seen this site:

    Check out his Excelsior replica too!! Cheers, Lex

    • February 28, 2015 11:09 am

      Hi Lex. That is Pete Gagan’s bike. It was originally built by a steam motor guy in the midwest, around a modern bicycle maybe a dozen years ago. Pete bought it and he and Paul Brodie updated it with period items from 1896 so it looked more correct to Roper’s bike. There is also another replica made in the USA, and also at least one made in Australia few years ago too. But I’m really happy with the quality of this new Spanish bike. It looks outstanding.

  7. Ride old permalink
    March 9, 2015 2:55 pm

    I am sure that it doesn’t work. Any video, amy coment. I am almost sure that this bike has been made only to show in a private collection or a museum.

    • March 9, 2015 2:59 pm

      There is a video of it running on compressed air. But I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t run on charcoal and water. There have been several replicas of the Roper bike built just like this that have run. I saw Pete Gagan’s running 10 years ago at about 20mph.

      • Alex permalink
        March 10, 2015 1:43 am

        Well if you read Paul Brodies story about getting it running, it seems that compressed air is absolutely no substitute for steam! so think Ride Old is right about it not running. Cheers, Alex

      • March 10, 2015 7:21 am

        Agreed, it isn’t yet running on steam. But Gagan’s bike ran fine, as did Roper’s and the other replicas. Do you see something that is missing on this bike that would prevent it from running under its own steam?

  8. Jean Patrice permalink
    March 10, 2015 2:04 am

    Neither do I find any reason for that motorcycle work with charcoal and water. They only have shown a video of the engine connected to an air compressor. As our friend Lewis Meller says, the main challenge is the boiler and high temperature and pressure generated in it. In my opinion, it is a very nice bike flower vase.

    • March 10, 2015 7:23 am

      It does look nice, but that doesn’t prevent it from being ridden. 🙂

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