The Velocipede rides again

Roper Motorcycle Drawing

Published on 5 June 2017 by Robert Drane

Footage of a recreation of a Roper Steam Velocipede, the very first design of motorcycle dating from 1867, has surfaced on YouTube and marks an amusing way to celebrate the machine’s 150th anniversary.


Built with a wooden frame and tyres, the original Velocipede was powered by a small steam engine below the seat and had a chimney to vent steam just behind it. Despite its primitive construction, it nevertheless thrilled crowds at circuses across the USA and an updated model that could “climb any hill and outrun any horse” was clocked at an impressive 40mph in 1896.

The ride is, as might be expected, uncomfortable on any but the flattest surfaces, the steam engine is less than practical to the modern eye and its reputation has suffered somewhat after its inventor died of a suspected heart attack while riding one at the age of 72. However, it still includes many features recognisable in today’s motorcycles including twistgrip throttle control, below-seat engine placement and the fundamental setup of the frame.

For more information about the Velocipede, click here to visit a profile by the Smithsonian.

What's the oldest bike you've ever seen or ridden? Tell us on our Facebook page.


Main image: Peter Liddiard