Designed to ride
WARREN, OHIO, JAN. 5—For 19 years the National Packard Museum in Warren, Ohio, has been hosting an annual motorcycle exhibit. The museum is dedicated to preserving the Packard legacy, recognizing Packard’s influence on transportation and industrial history and educating current and future generations. That’s where the bikes come in. The exhibit runs from January 5 through May 18, a perfect time to give northeasterners a reason to visit the museum.
The volunteer committee has assembled an array of unique bikes that are “Designed to Ride.” The exhibit, featuring over 30 bikes, runs the gambit from off-road bikes to replica movie bikes and is sure to stir nostalgia in anyone over the age of 50. The bikes are tastefully displayed amongst some of the museum’s prominent, permanent residents: the Packards, making a visit a double feature!
This year, the committee has designed a booklet to complement the exhibit, describing each bike and its unique story. But you just can’t beat the chance to talk to the owners. That’s what’s so great about preview night. The first owner I connected with during my preview visit was Larry “Rabbit” Smith. Rabbit’s travels on the bike he was exhibiting carried him through his time as a reporter for Cycle News and owner of Northeast Ohio Motorcycle News. Rabbit and his ’64 XLCH Sporty have ridden in all but five states during their time together! Some of that riding has included both off-road racing and road racing though Rabbit said he raced like he was “going out for milk!” He recalls the repairs and upgrades to his bike with amazing clarity and if there was ever a pair that were designed to ride, it was Rabbit and his Sportster. Thanks to the 2 Wheeled Power Hour’s host Larry Ward for introducing me to Rabbit.
At the other end of the exhibit hall there is a precise replica of the ‘68 Sportster from the television show Then Came Bronson. This example is owned by Tom Hansen. Then Came Bronson was a 26-episode television show in 1969-70 featuring the exploits of Jim Bronson (portrayed by Michael Parks) and a Sportster that looked just like Tom’s. This bike represents Tom’s third replica Bronson Bike. Unlike the character Jim Bronson, who was mostly going it alone, Bronson enthusiasts tend to travel in packs. Bill Gibson and Greg Patnik, who also have Bronson replica bikes, accompanied Tom.
I’ve known Bill and Greg for more than 10 years and it was a pleasure to meet Tom. Their passion for Then Came Bronson isn’t limited to just perfectly recreating the bike. They continue to ride and retrace the locations featured in the television series. For more on their exploits and a better understanding of how a television show can change your life, visit their website www.jimbronson.com.
I’m not often starstruck, but what a great surprise to have had the opportunity to meet John Penton at the exhibit! He is an AMA Hall of Famer and was perhaps the most influential person in establishing off-road riding in the United States during the ‘60s and ‘70s. He was also the namesake of the Penton motorcycle (produced by KTM) and the man behind the Hi-Point boot and apparel company. The Penton name is synonymous with the International Six Days Enduro (ISDE) events and Enduro championships. Four Penton motorcycles are featured in the Packard exhibit along with one 1962 BMW R27 originally owned campaigned by Penton at the International Six Days Trials (ISDT). He and the BMW were featured on the cover of Cycle World back in ‘62 and the bike was subsequently featured in the movie The John Penton Story after being found and meticulously restored by Jeff Borer. Penton is a pleasant, sharp and engaging 93 years young.
American iron at the exhibit includes the 1948 Harley-Davidson Servi-Car owned by the National Packard Museum, a ’46 Indian Chief with fully valanced fenders owned by Bill Wining, a ’75 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide owned by Gene Quinn and a ’79 Harley FXE with sidecar owned by Garrett Robinson. These classics are the perfect way to teach younger riders what it was like back in the day. Unless, of course, back in the day you were riding a ’67 JC Penney Golden Pinto like the one owned by Bob Wentzle! And let’s be honest, who wasn’t riding that or something very close to it at some point in the past?
Other off-road memories were brought back by the ’77 Honda ATC 90, ’69 Yamaha DTI and the ’74 Honda CR125 Elsinore. I’ve never owned a Greeves, but the Griffon 250 on display represents the name well. That Greeves was ridden by “Professor” Gary Bailey and appears as raced. Bailey was riding this bike at Saddleback on July 4, 1969, when he became the first American to beat the Europeans at motocross.
There are plenty of classic British bikes to take in at the exhibit. Jack Cape’s ’51 Vincent Black Lighting sits proudly in front of a classic black ’37 Packard and together they are simply stunning. John Robertson’s ’54 Triumph Trophy, The Baxter’s ’68 Triumph Trophy, Jerry Young’s ’67 Triumph Cub, George Paisley’s ’72 500 Daytona and Bill Wining’s ’69 Bonneville represent the Triumph brand very well. Bill Alford’s ’47 Royal Enfield “Flying Flea” rounds out the British invasion.
In addition to the ’62 BMW/ R27, there is a ’62 R60/2 owned by Joseph Baird, a ’76 R90S owned by Kevin Hillyard and a’55 R25/3 owned by Kathleen Baird. Other unique bikes include Norm Smith’s 1915 Smith Motor Wheel. This is exactly what it sounds like, a small, gas-powered wheel that gets added to a bicycle to power it. Add to those a ’55 Cushman with sidecar owned by Tom Brasko, a ’78 Yamaha X650 Storm owned by Al Novecky, a ’91 Aprilia Climber Trials bike owned by Ryan Young, and a 2012 Sherco 300 trials bike owned by Quin Wentzel.
The Designed to Ride exhibit is open through May 18. Get there before April 14 and enjoy the Corvettes of the Valley exhibit too! To plan your visit contact the National Packard Museum at 330.394.1899 or visit them online at www.packardmuseum.org. Hours are Tuesday-Saturday noon-5:00 p.m. and Sunday 1:00-5:00 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and holidays.