Michaux-Perreaux steam velocipede

steam powered velocipede

The Michaux-Perreaux steam velocipede was a steam-powered moving machine. It looked like a motorcycle. It was a steam engine on a bicycle. Louis-Guillaume Perreaux made the steam engine, and Pierre Michaux made the bicycle.[1] It was made in France between 1867 and 1871. It is one of three moving machines that people say could be the first motorcycle. The two others are the Roper steam velocipede of 1867 or 1868 and the internal combustion engine Daimler Reitwagen of 1885.[1][2][3][4] Perreaux made the steam velocipede better over time. He had built a tricycle version by 1884.[5] The only Michaux-Perreaux steam velocipede made, on loan from the Musée de l'Île-de-France, Sceaux, was the first machine people saw when they went into the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum rotunda in the Art of the Motorcycle exhibition in New York in 1998.[6][7]

First motorcycle?


Not everyone agrees on which machine was the first motorcycle. Wtiter L. J. K. Setright said the simplest way to say what a motorcycle was was a bicycle with a heat engine. "If we accept this we must go on to admit that its prototype is unidentifiable, shrouded in the mists of industrial antiquity," meaning that this definition meant no one could say for sure which motorcycle was first.[2] Both the Michaux-Perreaux and Roper machines have also been said to be produced in the years 1867, 1868, and 1869.

Other people, such as Cycle World's Technical Editor Kevin Cameron, say neither of these two machines were the first motorcycles. They either say that a true motorcycle must use a gasoline internal combustion engine,[8] or that the first motorcycle must use the same technology as motorcycles that were good enough for people to make many of them. They say that "dead end" motorcycles do not count. These people say that Wilhelm Maybach and Gottlieb Daimler's 1885 Daimler Reitwagen was the first motorcycle.[4]

The first motorcycle that was mass-produced is easier to find. It was the 1,489 cc (90.9 cu in) liquid cooled four-stroke Hildebrand & Wolfmüller of 1894.[8][9][10] It was mass-produced, and sold commecially.

Definition of first motorcycle


The Oxford English Dictionary and other dictionaries say that motorcycles must have an internal combustion engine.[3][11][12] By this definition, the Michaux-Perreaux steam velocipede is not a motorcycle. For most of the 20th century, people thought this definition of "motorcycle" was good. But then electric motorcycles became more important.[4]

Some people say the Reitwagen was the first motorcycle because its power generator is like the power generators in almost all later motorcycles that worked well. Cameron said, "History follows things that succeed, not things that fail."[4] Writer Glynn Ker ignored the Michaux-Perraux altogether. Ker says the Daimler Reitwagen is, "the predecessor of all gasoline-driven vehicles on land, sea, or air."[4] He does not call it a true motorcycle, though, because it had to use two wheels that stuck out from the sides to keep from falling over, so it could not lean to the side the way modern motorcycles do.[4] Kerr also says that that the Reitwagen was not as well designed as other vehicles Daimler and Maybach made. Daimler and Maybach were not interested in motorcycles at the time. They wanted to use the Motorwagen to test their engine. After they had developed it, they worked on building a four wheeled stagecoach, a hot air balloon, and a boat instead.[4] David Burgess-Wise called the Daimler-Maybach test bed "a crude makeshift." He said, "as a bicycle, it was 20 years out of date."[13]


The Michaux velocipede had a straight downtube and a spoon brake.

L. J. K. Setright and David Burgess-Wise say that it was Pierre Michaux's son Ernest who first attached the engine to the velocipede.[2][13] Charles M. Falco says it was Louis-Guillaume Perreaux.[1] The Michaux-Perreaux machine was made out of one of the first pedal bicycles that sold well, a boneshaker. Michaux had been building over 400 of these bicycles per year since 1863.[14] The velocipede also used a single cylinder alcohol fueled Perreaux engine, which used twin flexible leather belt drives to the rear wheel.[15][16] They put a steam pressure gauge where the rider could see it, above the front wheel. They added a hand control so the rider could control the steam.[15] The base Michaux velocipede came with a spoon brake, but the steam version had no brakes.[15] The engine weighed 62 kg (137 lb), and the whole steam velocipede weighed 87–88 kg (192–194 lb).[1][6][17] In a June 14, 1871 version, Perreaux removed some cranks and pedals from the front wheel. There was an arched downtube instead of straight one to give the engine more space.[1] The steam velocipede worked. It did not have any commercial successors.[16][18]

Drawing of tricycle version, circa 1884

Only one of the original 1867–1871 machine was ever made,[6] but by 1884, Perreaux showed a tricycle version of his steam velocipede at the Industrial Exhibition on the Champs-Élysées, Paris.[5] It had two rear wheels, and the belt drove the front wheel. The alcohol-fueled engine had a bore and stroke like the original's, and developed a steam pressure of 3½ atm (250 kPa) in its 3 US qt (2.8 L) boiler. It could move as fast as 15–18 mph (24–29 km/h).[5] The water tanks had enough fuel for two to three hours of steam, so it could go 30–54 miles (48–87 km).[5]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Falco, Charles M.; Guggenheim Museum Staff (1998), "Issues in the Evolution of the Motorcycle", in Krens, Thomas; Drutt, Matthew (eds.), The Art of the Motorcycle, Harry N. Abrams, pp. 24–31, 98–101, ISBN 978-0-89207-207-1
    Michaux-Perreaux year 1868. Roper year 1869.
    {{citation}}: CS1 maint: postscript (link)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Setright, L.J.K. (1979). The Guinness Book of Motorcycling Facts and Feats. Guinness Superlatives. pp. 8–18. ISBN 978-0-85112-200-7.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Kresnak, Bill (2008), Motorcycling for Dummies, Hoboken, New Jersey: For Dummies, Wiley Publishing, p. 29, ISBN 978-0-470-24587-3
    Roper year 1869.
    {{citation}}: CS1 maint: postscript (link)
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 Kerr, Glynn (August 2008), "Design; The Conspiracy Theory", Motorcycle Consumer News, 39 (8), Irvine, California: 36–37, ISSN 1073-9408
    Roper year 1869.
    {{citation}}: CS1 maint: postscript (link)
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Knight, Edward Henry (1884). Knight's New Mechanical Dictionary: A Description of Tools, Instruments, Machines, Processes, and Engineering. With Indexical References to Technical Journals (1876-1880. Houghton, Mifflin. p. 922.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Falco, Charles M. (July 2003), "The Art and Materials Science of 190-mph Superbikes" (PDF), MRS Bulletin, 28 (7): 512–516, doi:10.1557/mrs2003.148, archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-03-06, retrieved 2011-01-29
    Michaux-Perreaux year 1867–1871.
    {{citation}}: CS1 maint: postscript (link)
  7. Vogel, Carol (3 August 1998), "Latest Biker Hangout? Guggenheim Ramp", The New York Times: A1, retrieved 21 December 2014
  8. 8.0 8.1 Brown, Roland (2005), The Ultimate History of Fast Motorcycles, Bath, England: Parragon, p. 6–7, ISBN 978-1-4054-5466-7
  9. Walker, Mick; Guggenheim Museum Staff (1998), Krens, Thomas; Drutt, Matthew (eds.), The Art of the Motorcycle, Harry N. Abrams, p. 103, ISBN 978-0-89207-207-1
  10. de Cet, Mirco (2001), The Complete Encyclopedia of Classic Motorcycles: informative text with over 750 color photographs (3rd ed.), Rebo, p. 121, ISBN 978-90-366-1497-9
  11. Long, Tony (30 August 2007). "Aug. 30, 1885: Daimler Gives World First 'True' Motorcycle". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028.
  12. "motorcycle, n.". Oxford English Dictionary Online. Oxford University Press. March 2009. 1. A two-wheeled motor-driven road vehicle, resembling a bicycle but powered by an internal-combustion engine; (now) spec. one with an engine capacity, top speed, or weight greater than that of a moped.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Burgess-Wise, David (1973), Historic Motor Cycles, Hamlyn, pp. 6–7, ISBN 978-0-600-34407-0
    Michaux-Perreaux year 1867. Roper year 1868.
    {{citation}}: CS1 maint: postscript (link)
  14. McNeil, Ian (2002). An Encyclopedia of the History of Technology. Taylor & Francis. p. 445. ISBN 978-0-203-19211-5.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Assoc, American Motorcyclist (1985). American Motorcyclist. American Motorcyclist Assoc. p. 42.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Caunter, C. F. (1955), The History and Development of Motorcycles; As illustrated by the collection of motorcycles in the Science Museum; Part I Historical Survey, London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, OCLC 11506035
    Michaux-Perreaux year 1869. Preserved in the Robert Grandseigne Collection in France ca. 1955.
    {{citation}}: CS1 maint: postscript (link)
  17. Brown, Roland (2004), History of the Motorcycle: From the first motorized bicycles to the powerful and sophisticated superbikes of today, Bath, England: Parragon, pp. 10–11, 14–15, ISBN 1-4054-3952-1
    Michaux-Perreaux patented 1868. Roper year 1869.
    {{citation}}: CS1 maint: postscript (link)
  18. Douglas-Scott-Montagu Montagu of Beaulieu, Baron Edward John Barrington; Georgano, G. N. (1976), Early Days on the Road: An Illustrated History 1819-1941, Michael Joseph, pp. 177–181, ISBN 978-0-7181-1310-0
    Michaux-Perreaux year 1869.
    {{citation}}: CS1 maint: postscript (link)