A Tale of Three American Motorcycle Museums

If you love motorcycles, then there is a very strong possibility that you’ll also love motorcycle museums. 

Here are three of them, based in the SE of the USA only 750km apart from each other, you most likely will have heard of the first, not heard of the second but I’d say depending on what bike you ride you may or may not have heard of the third. All are definite must sees as you ride.

Barber Museum, Birmingham, Alabama

George Barber, son of Alabama’s largest dairy company, grew up in the business but had a love for racing cars. His original plan was to build a museum housing numerous automobiles’ from around the world.

In conversation with a close friend, Dave Hooper, who was a motorcycle enthusiast, Hooper made the suggestion to him, that Barber move his train of thought away from cars and concentrate more on motorcycles as there are numerous great car museums all over the world…but great motorcycle museums are a lot rarer.

Barber thankfully listened and now the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum is officially the largest in the world. Inside its walls are over 1600 motorcycles from 200+ manufacturers from the dawn of motorcycling to current day.

Just the building and grounds will impress, over 800 acres, a racetrack and a multistorey building in glass, chrome and stainless steel is likely one of the most impressive buildings you will ever see motorcycles parked inside.

Plan to spend a whole day here, have a fully charged battery in your camera and maybe a spare because you may seriously need it. 

On entry they advise you to go to the top floor and work your way downwards, and honestly it is a great way to take the tour.

Walking around and getting the chance to be very close to some of the most amazing, rarest and well restored machines will easily be the delight of anyone who has ever put their leg over a motorcycle.

What is the best bike there, that’s for you to decide? For me I like the rare and unique!

Brough Superior is a favorite for pure craftsmanship, the Imme R100 in its uninspiring brown paint, but its incredible ingenuity and uniqueness. Utilizing a single side sided front fork and a single sided swingarm that doubles as the exhaust. Built just after World War II when steel was in short supply ingenuity was strong.

Lake Hill Motors

Northwest 290 km/ 180 miles from Birmingham is an unassuming town called Corinth Mississippi, around 15,000 people live here and its home to a motorcycle dealership called ‘Lake Hill Motors’.

Not surprisingly you will never have heard of it unless you live nearby. A family run operation selling mostly Japanese brands for over 50 years. Clicking on the website link above will tell you nothing as its not even mentioned, it’s one of the best hidden motorcycle museums in the country.

As Lake Hill is a motorcycle dealer and being in the business, it also gives them a love of motorcycles…all motorcycles. Some were kept, then a few more, then a few more, and before they knew it they had a small, free to enter museum right inside the showroom. 

It’s an elective mix of a few hundred or more bikes that might be a lot more familiar than the more expensive brands that most museums tend to hold. You like might will most likely find yourself saying, hand that one, that one, and that one as you walk up and down. 

Look up and motorcycles are stacked to the ceiling and even hanging off it. 

One of the more unusual bikes on display is called Booger Bear, A 6 cylinder Honda CBX motor stuff inside a Honda 3 wheeler.

The difference here is verses the other two museums is that they are currently a motorcycle dealership. They can get parts for most of what’s on display and even for your current bike too and have some of lowest prices in the whole country. Good to know if you are traveling across America on your motorcycle! So while you are walking around they can be processing your order for parts…quite unique.

Wheels Through Time

650km/ 400 miles to the east in Maggie Valley, North Carolina is my favorite motorcycle museum in the US…Wheels Through Time.

This museum celebrates the American motorcycle and the various brands that have come and gone over the years, there are a a lot more than you think, or maybe know.

One of the things I love about this place is everything ISN’T pristine, a large number of the bikes are unrestored and are on show in original condition, patina and all, many are ‘barn finds’.

Quite the opposite to Barber, and this is Wheels Through Times charm.

Not only this, but the owner Dale Walksler (who sadly passed away recently) set some of the museum up as small motorcycle shops just how they would have been in the days these motorcycles were on the road. 

Wooden workshops from the teens were recreated in their original form and is really does feel like you are going back in time as you walk around.

On two floors covering everything American motorcycling has to offer from its very first bikes, race bikes, hill climbers, board track racers and more.

There are some incredibly rare motorcycles on display and a lot of them run and it is very common for numerous ones to be started and ridden around inside the museum.

Probably one of the rarest motorcycles in the world lives here, the Traub.

The details of its full history are somewhat unknown as it was only found in 1968 hidden behind a wall inside a house in Chicago where it had been since approximately 1918. There is a fantastic video on YouTube about it HERE and if you do get the chance to visit the museum ask for Matt, who is Dales son, or my good friend Andy to tell you the story in person, its nothing short of amazing.

I’ve not mentioned any riding routes for a reason in this article, it is an area where some of the country’s oldest county roads exist and there are literally hundreds and hundreds of great roads, just avoid Freeways and Highways and stick to the smallest county roads you can find and you will certainly have fun. The further east you get towards Maggie Valley the better the roads get.

 

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