Monday, 31 October 2011

1894 Roper Motorbike Aims at World Auction Record

1894 Roper Motorbike Aims at World Auction Record

I wrote almost two years ago about the auction of a rare example of what is generally considered to be the world's first motorcycle - the 1894 Hildebrand & Wolfmüller.  Now one of the few remaining examples of its main competitor at the time is about to be auctioned off; a similar machine which used a different propulsion system that would eventually bow to the superior internal combustion engine - the Roper Steam-Propelled Bicycle.

If contemporary accounts are anything to go by it would seem that the Roper was more than a match for any petrol-powered motorised bicycle of the time.  Forty miles an hour in 1894 was not to be sniffed at, and it must have been quite a thrill puffing along at such a speed atop such a contraption.  Too much of a thrill for its elderly inventor, it would seem, considering what eventually happened to him(!).  One wonders if the technology could ever have been refined enough to make it practicable.  As it turned out, though, in the end internal combustion won the day and steam power ceased to be used in such small configurations.

So rare is this early pseudo-motorbike that the auction house involved can't seem to agree on a reserve price, referencing a contemporaneous steam-powered car that recently sold for $4.2million (£2.6m) and the current holder of the record for the world's most expensive motorcycle - a 1915 petrol-powered Cyclone that went for $502,000 (£313k) three years ago.  It may well be, therefore, that we are about to witness the world's first $1,000,000+ motorcycle (if it can be argued that a steam-powered bicycle comes under the definition of a motorcycle).  Either way, an interesting piece of motoring history is about to change hands.

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