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Legendary Steve McQueen 1915 Cyclone motorcycle up for auction

One of the most exclusive motorcycles ever produced -- and that was formerly owned by Steve McQueen -- will be going under the hammer in March.

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
2 min read

Mecum Auctions

Minnesota-based motorcycle manufacturer Joerns Motor Manufacturing Company didn't last long -- just a few short years, from 1912 to 1917. during that time, though, the company managed to produce one of the most highly prized pieces of motorcycling history -- the Cyclone.

Because its production run was so short, very few of the original Cyclone motorcycles were made. The best estimates say around 300 were manufactured, with only six known to remain in existence today -- but they were absolutely beautiful pieces of engineering. In 1914, a Cyclone motorcycle broke the one-mile speed record previously held by Excelsior, coming in at 35 seconds.

The 1,000cc (61ci) V2 engine was a marvel. Designed by engineer Andrew Strand, it pioneered a number of technologies that continue to be used to this day. The overhead-cam valve train was an entirely new innovation, actuated by a single overhead camshaft per cylinder, each of which was driven by a bezel drive-shaft.

It boasted a horsepower of 45 -- 5,000 rpm -- and a top speed of around 111 mph, or 5,000 rpm. Most bikes at the time could only hit around half that.

The purpose of this high-speed beauty was a sport known as board track racing. This name was due to the tracks -- called motordromes -- on which the bicycles would race. They were made out of wooden planks, with the corners at steep angles. The races were a magnificent, though very dangerous, high speed spectacle. In their day, the Cyclones were at the absolute tip top of the game.

Board track racing c.1916. Public domain

The particular model up for auction, due to fall under the hammer at Mecum Auctions on March 20-21, isn't just one of the rarest motorcycles in existence, it was also part of the collection of actor Steve McQueen, who had a burning passion for motor racing, and owned an impressive stable of classic and exotic motor vehicles. Anything owned by McQueen is all but guaranteed to bring down the house, selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

It's also in beautiful condition, restored by the legendary Stephen Wright, widely considered the leading authority on pre-1916 motorcycles and author of several well regarded books on the history of motorcycles in America. His restorations are highly sought after.

Wright worked with McQueen for many years, restoring motorcycles while in the employ of McQueen's production company, Solar Productions.

After McQueen's death in 1984, the motorcycle was purchased by EJ Cole, who will be auctioning a massive collection of 225 vintage motorcycles in the March EJ Cole Collection 2015. The Cyclone is expected to bring in around $650,000-$750,000, which will make it one of the most expensive motorcycles ever sold.

You can read more about it here.

Mecum Auctions