This motorcycle appearing in Russia is a delightful throwback to the technology of the 1860’s that would come to inspire steampunk. The uploader, Virtuoso, claims the bike was originally built in 1869, which would make it one of the first prototypes of the vehicle to ever exist.
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While there are competing claims for the first true motorcycle, this one is a Roper steam velocipede (or at least a very impressive re-creation). The famous bike was built by Sylvester H. Roper, of Roxbury, Massachusetts, who would show off his invention at various fairs and circuses.
The velocipede’s technology is old (and stored in the Smithsonian), but it used concepts still found in motorcycles today, like a twisting hand-throttle. It had a hand-operated water pump mounted on the left forward side of the boiler housing, while oscillating steam cylinders would pivot on each side of the frame. Piston valves for the cylinders were operated by eccentrics next to their cranks, and the feed-water pump was controlled by the left-cylinder crank. That sizable tubing at the base of the chimney would create exhaust steam, which provided the forced draft.
Virtuoso says that parts have been replaced, so it’s hard to know what’s authentic here and what’s not, although it would be shocking for a bike to be in continual operation for that long. Regardless of its true origins, its an impressive homage to the earliest days of motorcycling. Vintage style bikes referencing the 60’s are still in, although these days that’s most like a reference to the 1960’s, not the 1860s.
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