A few months ago, in these pages, I waxed eloquent about Dale Walksler and his Wheels Through Time Museum. More recently, I wrote about the Women in Powersports mixer I attended the night before the International Motorcycle Show in New York City opened. Strangely enough, as different as these two topics seem—other than the motorcycle commonality—they have juxtaposed in my mind and given me a new direction in my thirst for more moto life experiences.
Some of us women at the mixer were chatting about road trips when I mentioned my visits to Wheels Through Time via the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of the best and most famous roads in the country for motorcyclists. A few minutes later, the event’s facilitator, Nick Gray, approached me and said something like, “I heard you talking about going to a motorcycle museum. Is this something you do a lot?” I responded in the affirmative, telling him about some of my trips to other moto museums. That’s when he asked me if I could talk about these visits with the other women in attendance later that evening.
I finally agreed to talk about my experiences, but I didn’t want to just stand there and recite, “I went here and saw these bikes and then I went somewhere else and saw more bikes,” so I got all introspective and asked myself what these places meant to me. Of course it was nothing complex; basically, as a motorcyclist, a moto aficionado, I’m the perfect consumer for these museums, all of which have the mission to educate and preserve the history of motorcycling, as well as to insure its future. It’s not just the machines itself, as interesting as they are. It’s what they represent: the lifestyle and the culture each artifact portrays, the stories about where the bikes have been and the people that rode them. I like to imagine myself in whatever era is being exhibited, say, racing a Peashooter to compete in a hill climb or tooling down a dirt road on an old EL or riding a Scout 101 inside the Wall of Death. It’s a great escape from present-day stress and a wonderful way to stretch one’s imagination.
I don’t know when the first public motorcycle museum came into being (anyone want to stake that claim?), but I do know that many Harley-Davidson dealerships have their own longtime collections of antiques. Some of those I’ve visited include the museum inside the former Mike’s Famous (now Rommel H-D) in New Castle, Delaware, 1st Capital H-D in York, Pennsylvania, which thankfully retained Laugerman’s H-D small vintage collection when they took over the dealership, and the vintage display at Boswell’s Music City H-D in Nashville, Tennessee.
I’ve seen mainstream museums that include permanent motorcycle exhibits, such as the Esta Manthos Indian Motorcycle Collection at the Springfield Museums. Manthos was the co-founder and president of the former Indian Motorcycle Museum located on Hendee Street in Springfield, Massachusetts. The Glenn H. Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport, New York, has a collection of vintage motorcycles, including several Curtiss models. The Pioneer Auto Show in Murdo, South Dakota, also contains a decent-sized motorcycle exhibit, including one of Elvis Presley’s bikes… for real! And the crew from American Pickers has been known to stop by and haggle over items in their unique collection.
Then there are the museums that present limited-run motorcycle exhibits. The first that comes to mind is the renowned exhibition “The Art of the Motorcycle” that ran at the esteemed Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City for three months in 1998, attracting the largest crowds ever to attend an exhibit there. Another example was the tony 2004 “Designs Through Time” exhibit at the Albany Institute of History and Art in Albany, New York, well worth the 300-mile round-trip journey. A friendlier, more inclusive exhibit was held at Morris Museum in my own county of residence. “On the Road: 100 Years of Motorcycles in America” was a great experience because of the welcoming staff and the fun of seeing a lot of my friends’ bikes on loan for the exhibit.
My favorite museums to visit, though, besides Wheels Through Time, are places like Bill’s Old Bike Barn in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, the antique showroom at Nick’s Custom Cycles in Williamstown, New Jersey, Motorcyclepedia in Newburgh, New York, and of course the fabulous Harley-Davidson Museum and the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum, as well as the National Motorcycle Museum which I visited for the first time as Thunder Press contributor Missi Shoemaker and I took the long way home from Sturgis last summer.
There are so many more motorcycle museums I want to see, and my quest is to ride to as many as I can in 2019 and beyond. The Evel Knievel Museum in Topeka, Kansas, is one that’s at the top of my list, and there are others like the AMA Motorcycle Museum (I’m embarrassed that I haven’t been there yet), Tintic Motorcycle Museum in Eureka, Utah, Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum in Birmingham, Alabama, Cyclemos Motorcycle Museum in Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee, Twisted Oz Motorcycle Museum in Augusta, Kansas, Lone Star Motorcycle Museum in Vanderpool, Texas, and too many more to list here.
When I expressed my desire on a women’s motorcycle touring page to go on this sort of a tour, I was asked if I’d blog about my journeys, so I know there’s a lot of interest out there. If you’ve got any suggestions of motorcycle museums to add to my itinerary, just let me know. I can’t wait to begin.