1894 Roper Steam may take record price in motorcycle auction

Publish Date: 
Oct 28, 2011

LAS VEGAS, Nev. - Auctioneers say they expect an historic 1894 Roper Steam Motorcycle to set a new world record price for a motorcycle sold at auction when it crosses the podium at Auctions America by RM's debut Las Vegas sale, Jan. 12 to 14.

The current world record for a motorcycle sold at auction is for a 1915 Cyclone Board Track Racer OHC, sold for $520,000 in 2008.

"We're delighted to have been selected to present this historic motorcycle at our inaugural Las Vegas sale in January. A significant piece of Americana, it is arguably one of the world's most important motorcycles,”" says Glenn Bator, head of Auctions America by RM's Vintage Motorcycle Division.

The 117-year-old motorcycle is regarded as one of the world's oldest, predating early examples produced by Orient, Indian and Harley-Davidson. It is the second of only two steam-powered motorcycles built by Sylvester Roper of Roxbury, Mass., one of the first auto manufacturers in the United States.

Based on the frame of a Columbia bicycle, the Roper Steam Motorcycle's design features a compact rectangular boiler, burner and grate, and a small steam engine on the right side. A water tank is mounted directly over the boiler, from which a smoke vent exits at a rakish angle. All controls are on the handlebars. In keeping with the true definition of a motorcycle, it was completed without pedals.

In addition to its pioneering design, the Roper Steam Motorcycle boasts a remarkable provenance from 1894, including a known, unbroken history from new. Regularly used by Roper, it averaged a record speed of 40 miles per hour on the Dorchester Road in Boston for a measured mile in May 1896.