This authentically restored bicycle, manufactured by the Geneva Bicycle and Steam Carriage Co. in Geneva Ohio, is fitted with a steam engine built on the design of Lucius Copeland, who built his first steam vehicle based on a Star high wheeled bicycle in 1886. It will travel at 12 miles per hour, although maintaining a head of steam at that speed is difficult. Steam was never very successful on two wheelers, and a short ride on this one will show why. The Geneva is currently travelling the world as part of the Guggenhiem Museum’s “Art of the Motorcycle” exhibit. The boiler is of solid copper, and is of the “drop tube” variety. It has vertical fire tubes, and the drop tubes are filled with water. The burner is fueled by naphtha, and operates similar to a Coleman camp stove. There are two feed pumps, one manual, and one mechanical that runs off the engine. The engine is a single cylinder, double acting, slide valve type running on 100 to 120 psi of steam. The boiler hangs on one side of the front wheel, while the 1 gallon water tank and engine balance the other side. Drive is by friction pulley to the front wheel.

Impressions from the Saddle
Lighting a naphtha burner in a closed firebox is a tricky business. After filling the water tank, and pumping enough water into the boiler to raise the level sufficiently in the water glass, the burner is pre-heated with a propane torch. This is a bit simpler than using oil soaked rags on fire, which would likely have been the choice 100 years ago. Once the burner is roaring, (often after singeing eyebrows, etc.,) it takes about 5 minutes to raise 100 psi of steam on the gauge. At this time, the throttle is opened slightly, and you pedal the bike forward. The engine purges itself of hot water, wet steam, oil and so forth, which blows up the stack in to your face. As hotter steam appears, the engine gets down to work, and you chuff along merrily with a sound similar to a steam locomotive. Cruising speed is equal to a gentle pedal on a bicycle, and hill climbing is impossible without “LPA”, or light pedal assistance. There’s a lot to do during this sedate travel. The water glass must be kept at the same level, requiring opening and closing the feed water bypass valve, and the pressure gauge requires constant attention, as too much throttle will use up the head of steam, and too much pressure will cause a nasty explosion. As water consumption is fairly high, it’s soon time to call it a day.

 

 



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A QuickTime sound clip of “The little bike that could”!

 

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