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New Hope for Steam Power: Designing a Steam-Powered Motorcycle

Posted December 03, 2009 7:34 AM by Old_School

Now that I was at least reasonably certain that the design worked, it was time to start the next phase of the project. I could have built easily a second bench-test model that improved upon the first, but it's been my experience that interest in any new engine is rather limited when the designer presents only static load testing, power curves, and efficiency estimations without any real world testing.

Don't Try This at Home

I've seen this phenomenon in my own blog entries over the last few weeks, in the form of declining views and comments as my project progressed. (I can almost hear the collective yawns when I drone on about my measurement techniques or difficulties with material acquisition). So enough of that boring clinical stuff! Let's install the second engine into a vehicle. Not just any vehicle, however, but the most thoroughly impractical platform for a steam engine possible: a motorcycle.

Before I get a barrage of messages about how dangerous this is, I want to say up front that I am aware there is very little commercial potential for this kind of vehicle due to range limitations and the simple fact that I'm basically strapping a pressurized vessel (i.e., potential bomb) to an inherently unstable and unsafe vehicle. I have no intentions of making the prototype DMV-approved or actually riding it on public roads, and I am not suggesting that anyone actually copy my design. (For the love of God, don't try this at home!). So now that the disclaimer's out of the way, let's get to it, shall we?

Bartering for a Bike

The first step was to find a suitable donor bike. Because of my prior experience tinkering on vintage Japanese motorcycles, I wanted to use something that was close to my comfort zone: 1970s vintage, 250 to 650 displacement range, and no more than 400 pounds original weight. I hate the idea of cutting up or modifying a perfectly good machine, so I started scouring for a junkyard heap or written-off parts bike.

As luck would have it, while I was studying abroad one of my friends had purchased a wrecked Kawasaki KZ400 for its engine and gas tank in order to rebuild his own. Now he had a decently-straight rolling frame(without wiring, seat, engine, battery, etc.) languishing in his garden shed. So I traded him a box of carburetors for the remains and became the proud owner of … a piece of junk. The frame was covered in yellow overspray, the remaining chrome was rusty, and the frame had a 3-degree kink, twisted shock absorber, and non-swinging swing arm as battle scars from the crash that retired it. What could possibly go wrong?

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#1

Re: New Hope for Steam Power: Designing a Steam-Powered Motorcycle

12/03/2009 12:34 PM
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Commentator

Join Date: Jul 2009
Location: Upstate New York
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#2
In reply to #1

Re: New Hope for Steam Power: Designing a Steam-Powered Motorcycle

01/06/2010 8:30 PM

Actually yeah, I've seen most of those already, but I always felt like they were never intended to be more than toys.

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Participant

Join Date: Jan 2010
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#3

Re: New Hope for Steam Power: Designing a Steam-Powered Motorcycle

01/22/2010 4:35 AM

I'm thinking of starting my own steam bike and the more I get in to it, the more realize I need help from experienced people. Old_School, what design did you use for your engine?

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Commentator

Join Date: Jul 2009
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#4
In reply to #3

Re: New Hope for Steam Power: Designing a Steam-Powered Motorcycle

01/22/2010 8:32 AM

I think its great that there are other people interested in starting this kind of project, and also find it a little funny that you consider me "experienced". I used a cylinder head of my own design, but everything south of that was manufactured by Honda, slightly modified with a 2-stroke style exhaust port to convert it to a uniflow design. There are a few valve types out there you can use, so do some research into old steam designs. They really knew their stuff back then, and alot of the tech only needs to be remade with new materials to be improved.

My advice to you is to estimate your approximate power output before beginning so everything else can be dimensioned appropriately. I made the mistake of building the engine first, and as a result I wound up using parts that were designed to handle 25 hp, but in reality are only developing 2-3 hp. This makes the bike incredibly inefficient.

Ultimately, your power is going to be determined by the feedpump you use, so do alot of research and select one with the right pressure and flow rate. If you aren't planning on using a recycling system for the water, you'll need something around 5 gallons per hour otherwise you'll work through a normal sized tank too fast. Learn to use Steam Tables, and everything else will be relatively easy. Rereading this post, I think I'd like to put it up as a blog entry at some point in the future, so thanks for posing the question. Good luck!

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