I have been told countless times that I had to visit the Barber Museum, but I’ve never been able to make the timing work. That changed last week as BMW invited me out to Alabama for the US press launch of the new S1000RR (story coming soon). The ride event was a day out on the track, but we also got dinner and an abbreviated tour of the museum. It’s almost criminal to only get an hour or so to explore the largest motorcycle museum in the world, but I brought my camera along and tried to capture some interesting bikes for you.
The basement houses Barber’s restoration department, where Jack says that 8-9 motorcycles and 4-5 cars are being worked on at any given point. This is just the left half, which is exclusively for bikes:
Recognize this? It’s a MTT Y2K Turbine Superbike, the first turbine-powered street legal motorcycle. Apparently it had been taken out for a spin earlier in the day. I’ve featured one for sale before, but it did not get any interest at an asking price of $114,000.
Also in the basement is a sculpture made of horns and, just for this photo, Dylan Code from California Superbike School. He would be one of the lead riders for the evaluation the next day.
The towers are 14 bikes tall. If you’re like me, your first question is not “what bikes are in the towers?” Instead, you want to know how they move bikes in and out. Jack told me that they use a fork lift to get bikes on to a scissor lift which can handle the first 12 levels, but it’s not tall enough for bikes 13 and 14. So Barber brings out a cherry picker for the top two bikes! Due to weight concerns, the top two motorcycles are lightweights like the Honda MB5.
Before we commit to going upstairs, let’s go back in time a little bit thanks to a history lesson from Mr. Goeptz: Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum started in 1988 as George Barber’s private collection. The museum was formally established as a 501(c)(3) in 1994, but it was an art exhibit in 1997 that got George thinking about the future.
When The Art of The Motorcycle premiered at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, 21 of the exhibited bikes were from the Barber collection (since then, George has acquired another 8 of the motorcycles that were in the show). The exhibit inspired George to create a new museum with a 2.38 mile racetrack in Birmingham, and the complex we know and love as Barber Motorsports Park opened in 2003. The track was opened to cars in June of 2003 and motorcycles in September later that year. In 2017, an expansion brought the museum’s total square footage to over a quarter of a million, but I thought the most stunning tidbit of information that Jack shared was that the collection “grows by 1 or 1 and a half bikes every week.”
We didn’t get to spend any time on the first floor, but I did catch the giant Morbidelli sign out of the corner of my eye. Jason Cormier recently shared an excellent tale about the Morbidelli V-8 here on Bike-urious, and it included some photos he took right at this museum.
This is the kind of photo that illustrates how mind-boggling the Barber museum is. I simply wanted a photo of the fascinating Bohmerland, but look at all the glory in the background! Bohmerland was a Czechoslovakian firm that built bikes between ’24 and ’39, and this 1925 example is said to be the oldest known model. All Bohmerlands were of one ‘model’, but with different wheelbases. Options included the 2 seat “Sport” (pictured here), the 3 seater “Touren”, or the 4 seater “Lang Touren” (Long Touring). The sidecar fits another two people, as well. The 600cc motor puts out 20 horsepower.
The Hiawatha Super Doodle Bug was built between ’46 and ’48 to compete with Cushman. As the latter were being distributed out of Sears, the Doodle Bugs were sold out of the now-defunct Gambles retail chains under the Hiawatha brand name. Approximately 40,000 were made in four production runs. The last run was the Super Doodle Bug, which was ‘Super’ because it got separate controls for the throttle and brake. This scoot was powered by a 1.5 horsepower kick start Briggs & Stratton engine. For more on the Doodle Bug, check out Yesterday’s Rides – or get yourself over to Webster City, Iowa this September as that’s where they hold an annual Doodle Bug meet!
Some little scoots in the 60s had foldable handlebars, but very few could compare to the Valmobile. The entire front assembly folded into the body, and an integrated handle allowed you to drag the box by hand as it rolls on the rear wheel! This led some people to nickname it the “suitcase scooter”. The 49cc two-stroke engine produces 2.8 horsepower and yielded 165 miles per gallon. It could apparently hit 35 miles per hour and it was available in Red/Orange, Cream/Beige, and Blue/Green. Marketing materials suggested you could fold it up or unfold in 30 seconds. According to a period brochure, the list price was $215 (plus a $10 fee if you were west of the Mississippi River). For an extra $79.95, you could also buy a Val-Cart, which was a mini sidecar of sorts that would allow you to lug along some extra cargo…like a bag of golf clubs.
There’s a police section which has the usual suspects (Kawi KZ1000 made famous in CHiPs, BMW R1150RT-P) as well as one bike I didn’t expect. This ‘Wing was a surplus unit that was donated with a fair market value of $3,158. To me it just looks like it was a seized motorcycle that got some police bits slapped on it.
Another section we spent plenty of time in was the post-war race bikes. The centerpiece is a Britten that’s surrounded by several gorgeous machines in a display that emulates the banking of Daytona International Speedway.
Jensen Beeler of Asphalt & Rubber investigates the Britten up close.
Allan Lane (right) of SportBikes Inc shows off one of his past loves to Mark Buche, BMW Motorrad’s Marketing Communication Manager. Turns out that Allan used to work at Fast by Ferracci, and he remembered some of his handiwork on this MV.
Many people consider the 1885 Daimler-Maybach to be the first motorcycle, though there are other designs that could stake a claim. The bike that deserves the title of first production motorcycle does not have much controversy: it’s the Hildebrand and Wolfmuller from 1894. This was the first vehicle to actually be called a “motorcycle”, though it was actually referred to as “Motorrad” because the company was German. The motor is a 1,488cc water-cooled twin that was able to propel the contraption up to 30 miles per hour. A “few hundred” examples were built, and they’re just about impossible to find for sale now. A REPLICA sold for $99,000 plus fees at Mecum Las Vegas this year, so who knows what an original would go for…
After way too short of a time period, we were sent back upstairs for a catered dinner at the museum. I was lucky enough to sit at a table with BMW Motorrad Brand Ambassador Nate Kern, who was a wealth of knowledge about the new S1KRR.
I normally don’t bother you with food photos (unless I’m on a ride report), but…look at this thing:
I can’t stress enough how incredible (and large) Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum is – these photos don’t come anywhere close to showing off what’s available. You can click here to see more of my photos if you’re interested, just remember that I wasn’t able to visit each floor. Frankly, I think I may have only covered 15% of the floor plan, and it was all in a rush. To fully appreciate all that the museum has to offer, I think I’d need a day and a half, if not two. If you haven’t been yourself, hopefully this small taste inspires you to check it out. Maybe I’ll see you there…
If you can’t wait and want a general overview of the new S1000RR, I’ve written a First Ride review for the non-motorcycling audience at Maxim that you can check out here. Otherwise, give me some time and I’ll have a detailed look for you here on Bike-urious soon. Thanks for your patience!