Steam-powered motorcycle rides to auction block

There will be over four hundred ways motorcycle enthusiasts can get biker bragging rights, with some rides at an upcoming auction taking the term of vintage to a whole new level.

A historic 1894 Roper Steam Motorcycle will be featured at Auctions America by RM’s debut Last Vegas sale, January 12 – 14, 2012 and is expected to set a new world record for a motorcycle sold at auction.

While the multi-day auction will feature an impressive docket of over 400 collector motorcycles, it’s the second of just two steam-powered motorcycles built by Sylvester Roper of Roxbury, Massachusetts expected to grab the limelight. Coming from arguably one of America’s first auto manufacturers, the 117-year-old motorcycle is regarded as one of the world’s oldest, predating early examples produced by Orient, Indian and Harley-Davidson.

“We’re delighted to have been selected to present this historic and pioneering 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.

Based on the frame of a Columbia bicycle, its revolutionary design features a compact rectangular boiler, burner and grate, and a small steam engine on the right side. A water tank was located directly over the boiler, from which a smoke vent exited at a rakish angle. All controls were located on the handlebars. In keeping with the true definition of a motorcycle, the Roper 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.

Following Roper’s passing in 1896, this historic motorcycle was sold by one of his heirs to a Long Island museum and after moving through a series of other museums, including America’s Circus City Museum and Bellm’s Cars of Yesterday, formed part of two prominent private collections.

The current owner acquired the historic motorcycle in 1996 and has seldom lent it for display, with its most recent showing at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in Pickerington, Ohio, where it helped to celebrate the induction of Sylvester Hayward Roper, America’s first motorcyclist.

The motorcycle will be shown in its original stove black livery. The motorcycle comes with an interesting history as well as the obvious firsts.

The Boston Daily Globe reports that the inventor of the steam powered motorcycle, Sylvester Roper took to the Charles River track in Greater Boston on June 1, 1896 to demonstrate the motorcycle’s speed and challenge some of the better racers of the time. He made three laps, the equivalent of one mile, with a total elapsed time of just over two minutes to set a new track record.

Unfortunately, it represented the last time he would ride the motorcycle. It was on this machine that Roper met his death, though not from any accident or failure of the cycle itself.

The Boston Globe reported that during a friendly race with cyclist Nat Butler at the Charles River track that same day, spectators “observed a strange pallor in the face of the aged rider before he appeared to lose control of the machine.” The Horseless Age said, “the aged inventor was stricken with heart disease, and fell lifeless from his wheel.” An inspection of the machine revealed that the steam had been turned off prior to the fall, which, by other accounts, was broken by nearby handlers who rushed out to Roper’s rescue.

“With the only other Roper motorcycle ever built on long-term display at the Smithsonian Institution, the upcoming sale of this example presents an exclusive, once-in-a-lifetime ownership opportunity for serious collectors. We anticipate strong interest in its sale,” Bator adds.

The famous Roper motorcycle leads a magnificent roster of an expected 400 collector motorcycles slated for Auctions America’s multi-day, dedicated motorcycle sale in Las Vegas. Additional notable entries include:

A rare 1911 Wagner Single, one of a select series of motorcycles from the Jerry DeMille Collection

An award-winning 1936 Harley-Davidson LE Knucklehead, the first year of the knucklehead and an AMCA 99-point Junior First Prize winner.

For those looking to add something unique to their motorcycle collection, or just enjoy the sights, Auctions America by RM’s debut Las Vegas Premier Motorcycle Auction will be held January 12 – 14, 2012 at the Rio All-Suite Hotel Casino, 3700 W. Flamingo Road, Las Vegas, Nevada.

In addition to the auction, the event will incorporate an exclusive motorcycle seminar on Saturday, January 14, featuring noted industry experts including Buzz Walneck, founder of Walneck’s Classic Cycle Trader; Doug Mitchell, noted motorcycle author; Mark Hoyer, editor of Cycle World magazine; and respected collector, Joe Bortz.

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