American Motorcyclist July 2018
One Ticket To Motorcycling Paradise
By Joe Boyce
Ever have a few days open and have a “use it or lose it” airline ticket burning a hole in your pocket?
I found a great way to take advantage of that situation with a recent blitz trip from my home in Albuquerque, N.M., to the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in Pickerington, Ohio, and, then, the Barber Motorsports Museum in Birmingham, Ala.
It’s a pilgrimage I have always wanted to take and one I would recommend to anyone who loves motorcycles and their history.
The two museums are quite different and complement each other nicely, and I was able to find flights that let me see both in two days. It’s just a little too far for a quick ride, and I enjoy dirt riding much more than highway slogging—no offense to those who can punch out the miles.
AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame
Since I was solo, I had time to linger and study bikes in the design and engineering section, followed by dirt track bikes, motocross and specialty bikes, and that was just a quarter of the place.
It took about three laps and five hours for me to get my fill.
The dirt trackers section brought back memories of seeing Kenny Roberts win the amateur race at Oklahoma City in 1971 and his kindness to this wide-eyed kid in the pits.
Each display has a brief history and key info, which, combined with the info from the website, makes for an in-depth picture of the people and bikes that make up American motorcycle history.
My favorite bike was the 1968 Penton 125 Six-Day in the International Six Days Enduro display. The Penton is on loan to the museum by John Born.
It was fun to track how early water cooling, mono shocks, shaft drives, telescoping forks and other technical achievements came into being. Those guys in the early 1900s were amazing.
The International Six Days Enduro-winning team’s bikes were a great special exhibit. But every bike, brand and rider had a unique tale.
For history and stories, aka tradition, this is the place.
Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum
A quick flight to Alabama and Barber Motorsports Museum was next up.
This museum is huge, the biggest in the United States, with more than 1,400 bikes.
There’s a race track outside, and part of the museum is dedicated to Lotus cars, which is also part of Barber’s heritage.
I challenge any true motorcyclist to walk in and not drop their jaw.
They have some of the rarest, weirdest bikes, along with samples of every era and genre.
The museum leans towards street and race bikes, but it has an incredible number of bikes from the turn of the 20th century to recent models.
Every bike is restored and displayed expertly. If you want to feel inadequate about your garage, this is the place. I didn’t see a drop of oil during the whole tour, even under the three-story bike tower.
Ever heard of a 1950s Zimmer? Emil Zimmerman cast the metal himself, with a rotary valve engine. How about 1920s A.B.C.—front and rear suspension, drum brakes, multi-plate clutch? Or a 1920s Scott with water cooling, oil injection and more than 50 patents?
Of course, there are also the usual plethora of Harleys, Indians and BMWs and a sampling of many brands I never knew existed.
There are so many pristine examples, it’s obvious Mr. Barber loves bikes very much and a lot of time, talent and money has been invested here.
If you like motorcycles at all and appreciate history, technology or stories of people who made a difference in our sport, you need to see both these museums.
It’s a great way to induce smiles and try to get a motorcycle hangover.
Joe Boyce is an AMA Life Member from Albuquerque, N.M.