You know about the Talladega Superspeedway. But did you know 35 miles away sits the world’s largest collection of motorcycles? The Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum in Birmingham, Ala., is home to more than 1,400 motorcycles (and a few classic cars). The collection spans more than 100 years, from the motorized bicycles of the early 1900s to the high-tech sport bikes of the 21st century. You could spend hours, if not days, examining all the motorcycles on display in the five-story museum. Here are 10 of the most interesting:
Only about 100 of these French motorcycles were produced from 1928-33. The goal of designer George Roy was to create a touring bike that was both comfortable and stylish. He emulated the art-deco style that was popular in Europe at the time, giving it a look that has been described as a streamlined torpedo.
This was the preferred machine of the United States and Allied armed forces during World War II. It is a WL model, with the additional “A” indicating that it was built specifically for military use. That is evident by the gun holder attached near the handlebars. The solider who rode this motorcycle while fighting in Italy named it Ginny, after his mother.
As British motorcycles began gaining popularity in the U.S. in the early 1950s, American manufacturer Haley-Davidson introduced the Model K Sport to compete with the lighter and faster bikes from England. A young singer named Elvis Presley owned a Model K, and he boosted the bike’s reputation by siting on one for the cover of “The Enthusiast” motorcycle magazine.
This is a replica of the famous stars-and-stripes “Captain America” motorcycle from the movie Easy Rider. Two of these bikes were constructed for the movie. One was demolished in the final scene, and the other is believed to have been dismantled for parts before the bike’s significance as a movie prop was realized. Though this is one of the few replicas in the museum, it is also one of the most popular items.
The Indian was the first motorcycle to be mass produced. Though the early versions were little more than a single-cylinder motor built into a bicycle-style frame, many of the patented components on this motorcycle are still used today. Production increased from 143 units in 1902 to more than 32,000 by 1913.
These were among the first motorcycles to be produced at Harley-Davidson’s new five-story factory in Milwaukee. The bike was popularly known as “5-35” because it produced a whopping 5 horsepower from its 35-cubic-inch motor. Overall Harley production increased to more than 16,000, and the company soon passed Indian as the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the U.S.
This German motorcycle produced by Dampf-Kraft-Wagen was the company’s first racing bike produced for the general public. It could be used in road racing, hill climbs and endurance events. The SS250 was distributed in limited production, and then the factory that produce this machine was destroyed during World War II. Barber’s historians believe this might be the only version still in existence.
Looking a lot like the merger of a motorcycle with a zeppelin, the Bohmerland is one of the most unusual machines in the museum. This Czechoslovakian-produced bike was designed to hold two people in the sidecar, and some versions were almost 10 feet long. Approximately 1,000 were built from 1924-1939, and this is the oldest Bohmerland known to exist.
Ice Speedway Racing is a popular sport in northern Europe and Russia. The wheels on this motorcycle are equipped with hardened steel spikes (approximately 100 on the front and 150 on the back) designed to maintain traction on the slippery ice. The left handlebar sticks straight up, allowing the racers to turn so sharply that their elbow often scrapes the ice.
The Shop Rat is a 100-horsepower project bike built by students at Chelsea High School in Alabama. It is both a functional motorcycle and an eye-catching work of art. It was produced with the help of the non-profit Shop Rat Foundation, which according to the organization’s website attempts “to ignite interest in manufacturing careers among our nation’s youth.”