1896 Roper Steam Bike
This project got its start when Pete Gagan showed up at my shop with his (freshly purchased) steam bike. It
was built by Bob Jorgensen, of Memphis, who has since passed away. Bob had a very small shop, I'm told, but
loved to tinker. His passion was steam, and this was the first of two steam bikes he built. It was the summer
of '05, and I had barely started the Excelsior project, but figured it was okay to have another project on the
side. I didn't really know what I was getting into. I had never had anything steam. Yes, there would be a lot
of fabrication, but nothing too technical, I told myself... Bob did a good job on the steam part, but you can
clearly see the frame is a modified woman's 10-speed, and a cheap one at that.
The bike that started the whole project.
This is a photo of the real bike, built by Sylvester Roper. He built many things powered by steam. The story
says he rode his steam bike to his steam boat, transferred the coals, cruised the waters for a few hours,
came back, transferred more coals, and then rode home! This was the world's first motorcycle in reality,
but has yet to be recognized as such. Sylvester died on this bike attempting a speed record when he had a
heart attack at 77 years of age. This bike is missing its mahogany cladding and foot-pegs, but is otherwise
complete. I planned on building three bikes, and Pete wanted a better frame for his steamer.
This is where Dick Winger enters the picture. Pete had a steam bike, and he didn't... so, he ordered RS001.
(Roper steamer number one.) Due to my in-experience with steam, my initial estimate on both time AND labour
was grossly inadequate. Sorry, Dick. The whole project was a learning experience for both of us. I know Dick
learned a lot of patience! He talked about cost overruns, and every so often would say, "ka-ching... ka-ching!"
He also talked to Bob Jorgensen, and got him to send plans for the steam engine. The scale is 1:1, but no
mention of critical dimensions, or what metals to use. I didn't want to build the engine; I already had the
Excelsior motor to contend with, so it got sub-contracted out.
I made a full scale drawing of the bike, and it's in the background behind these frame parts. I wanted to be
able to unbolt the boiler from the frame; the boiler would be a stressed member.
These are the top head tube lugs, made from three pieces of steel, and brazed together to look like a casting.
They hold a very nice set of angled roller bearings designed for a mountain bike.
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