by Robert H. Miller
©2014 RHM Co. Intl
October 15, 2014
Barber Motorcycle Museum - Motorcycle Diplomacy
If you were lucky enough to attend the Barber Vintage Motorcycle Festival this past weekend you would have been treated to motorcycle overload. Antique, vintage, classic, and modern motorcycles were all on display throughout the grounds, but what you wouldn’t have seen were the 700 motorcycles displayed in the Barber Museum. You see, the museum is closed for private events during the festival, but if you could have sneaked inside, this is what you would have witnessed.
The Barber Vintage Motorcycle Museum brings to mind superlatives- oldest, newest, largest, rarest, best, most - are all words that can be applied to the motorcycle collection displayed at this world-class facility in Birmingham, Alabama. It’s billed as “The largest and most amazing (motorcycle) collection in America” and it delivers in excess.
Once you step from the centrally located freight elevator onto any one of Barber’s five floors, you risk severe whiplash and dizziness as your head rapidly turns from side to side as your mind decides which direction to look based on the visual overload you’re experiencing. The bikes aren’t arranged by make or model, but by category, so you might find a 1951 Vincent Black Shadow next to Mike Hailwood’s 1979 950F1 Ducati, next to a 1997 Bimota V-Due.
The Barber Museum opened in 2003 and claims to have 700 motorcycles on display, another 365 waiting for a turn on the floor, and another 100 awaiting restoration or preservation. They’re arranged on five floors of a 142,000 square-foot gray monolithic office-like building fronted with dark tinted glass (to protect its contents) designed and dedicated as a motorcycle museum. It makes you think, “How did they do this?”.
A Dairy Farmer
George Barber was an Alabama dairy farmer that made it big in real estate, sold his dairy operation, opened the world’s largest motorcycle museum while building one of the world’s most modern race tracks. There’s a bit more to it than that, but if you see Mr. Barber you can ask for the details yourself.
When I visited the museum a high school class showed up and livened up the place a bit as they quickly moved toward the sport bike displays and an older group surrounded the antiques, but it was still eerily quiet and relatively empty until someone from the shop fired up a Ducati Desmosedici RR MotoGP Replica and instantly the entire museum was alive with the thunderously sweet music of a highly tuned four-stroke engine echoing and vibrating from the floors, walls, and ceilings. For a moment, it sounded exactly like a MotoGP garage.
The deafening silence after the engine stopped was immediately followed by the excited chatter of every person in the place. That Ducati had done what motorcycles do to motorcyclists - it had stirred their blood, but the effect transcended to everyone in the building. It was another fine example of Mr. Barber’s motorcycle diplomacy.
Just The Facts
The Barber Motor Sports Vintage Museum is located east of Birmingham on I-20 at Exit 140 (Leeds), just east of I-459. Punch in N33 31.983 W86 36.821 on your GPS. The website is www.barbermuseum.org. The phone number is (205) 699-7275 and admission is $10. Track event information is at www.barbermotorsports.com. The museum has different winter and summer hours and stays open late on event weekends. The museum curator recommends you start at the top and work your way down.
2014 Radnor Hunt Concours d’ Elegance -
Blue Bloods, Red Coats, and Silver Spoons
by Robert H. Miller
© 2014 RHM Co. Intl.
September 14, 2014
This year was the 18th rendition of the event that benefits Thorncroft - the non-profit therapeutic riding organization that benefits those with disabilities. That pretty much explains the $50 entrance fee. It’s not much different than motorcycle rides where they charge you a $35 “donation” for some worthy cause. The featured motorcycles marques were HRD Vincent, and Brough Superior.
All the motorcycles on display were stellar examples, but some of the more stellar were Maurice Candy’s 1938 Vincent Series A Comet that took Best of Show. David Dunfey’s 1950 Series C Grey Flash that was awarded Best Competition 500. Gene Brown’s 1932 HRD Python Sport 500 with its “hugger” rear fender and “bobbed” look won Best Street 500. Several older motorcyclists said they had never heard of this model let alone seen one. The 1950 Vincent Series C Competition was a rarity. The “Italian” red 1963 Parkin-Vincent 600, and the 1988 Egli-Vincent 998 in “just arrest me now” bright orange paint were popular too.
Some of the more “pedestrian” models included the one-year only (faulty magneto design) 1929 Harley-Davidson Model D 45 cubic inch (750cc) in a very tasteful black and yellow color combination. Harley-Davidson wasn’t the only American motorcycle manufacturer plagued with design problems. Ken Minnich’s 1936 Indian “Upside Down” 4 Model 436 (1000cc) with its unusual intake and exhaust manifolds locations had its problems too, but with its factory paint in the outrageously Art Deco pastel (Seafoam) green it won the People’s Choice award.
The prettiest motorcycle was the 1957 Mondial FB250. It sparkled and shined like expensive Tiffany jewelry with its gold and burgundy tank, gold frame, and polished engine parts. The 1935 Sunbeam Model 8 was nicely done too.
If there was a trophy for Coolest Motorcycle it would have gone to John Illeyne’s 1928 Triumph Model N Sport with Hindenberg sidecar, but he received the Preservation award instead. John, in his period-correct high-top laced boots, pilot goggles, and English driver’s cap, and his companion with her Victorian dress and parasol, were the hit of the awards ceremony. John found the sidecar before he found the Triumph and he proudly proclaims he thinks he’s only the third owner. “After spending it’s first years in Bulgaria, it was forgotten in a Netherlands barn for the ’40s and ’50s and after that I got it” he says. John must have good karma because both the Triumph and the sidecar were made in Hindenburg, Germany (yes, Triumph had an assembly plant there).
The Radnor Hunt show is really more about cars (there were 100 of them) than motorcycles (there were 44 of them), but the motorcycles there are rarely available for public viewing. It could be the only time you ever see any of them in person. Don’t be jealous of the silver-spooned people who own these cars and motorcycles, be envious. You can say a lot of things about the 1%ers (the rich ones, not the motorcycle gang ones), but what you can’t say is they don’t know how to live well, they don’t know how to look good, and they don’t seem to have a good time while doing it.
The website for the Radnor Hunt Concours d’ Elegance is www.radnorconcours.org. Don’t look for them on Yahoo Mobile. Their website isn’t displayed. Maybe it has something to do with the fox hunting thing, but they’re on Facebook at Radnor Hunt Concours. Look for the nineteenth edition this time next year.
The Blue Ridge Parkway - A Heavenly Highway
by Robert H. Miller
© 2014 RHM Co. Intl.
September is my favorite month to travel. It seems, no matter where in the world you find yourself, September has perfect weather. Either the summer is cooling or the winter is warming, the air is cool in the morning and clear in the afternoon and warm with sunshine all day long. - and beginning in September the majority of SUVs, RVs, and sightseers are gone from the Parkway.
For 355 miles the Blue Ridge Parkway tickles the backbone of the Appalachian Mountains then turns west for another 114 miles, skirting the southern edge of the Black Mountains, before ending at the entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Mountains, mountains, mountains - get the idea? You won’t see a truck or a billboard along its entire 469 toll-free miles. Carving the thousands of perfectly-cambered, constant-radius, turns of “America’s most scenic drive” is a joyous experience. I smile for every mile of it and cry when I have to leave it.
Starting in Waynesboro, Virginia, this civil engineering wonder connects the Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks. The Blue Ridge Parkway is 469-miles of seamless black ribbon filled with deery-looking places where the forest closes in from both shoulders, damp corners hidden by overhanging oaks, and car drivers trying to keep you at a distance as you approach from behind, not realizing their panicked pace is merely idling along for a motorcycle. Riding the entire length of the Blue Ridge Parkway is a surreal, magical, and mystical experience best done in at least two days. More if you want to extend your joy. It’s as if your mind can’t comprehend so much unspoiled, uncluttered, and uncrowded roadway with non-stop curves and relentless breathtaking views.
From the northern entrance at Rockfish Gap, MM 0, to Peaks of Otter Visitor Center, MM 60, it repeatedly climbs and falls, 1000 feet at a time, in tight turns. Using the yellow center line as a guide, you try to keep your tires on your half of the road. Accomplishing this feat is the highlight of the Virginia section.
For the next 130 miles the Parkway maintains a 2000-3000 foot elevation, except for the decent to Roanoke River, as it reveals vistas reminiscent of Scottish Highlands. At the Virginia-North Carolina border, MM 218, the roadway breaks 3000 feet for good and becomes alpine-like as it travels through 23 tunnels cut straight through mountain peaks. You’ll pass the Folk Art Center, MM 295, where grizzled mountain craftsmen preserve Appalachian heritage and 6684-foot Mount Mitchell, MM 355, the highest point in the United States east of the Mississippi River. What you won’t pass are service areas. Along the entire 469-mile length of the Blue Ridge Parkway, fuel stops are now history. You must leave the Parkway to refuel, so plan accordingly and chose a station close to the Parkway. Helpful websites are http://blue-ridge-parkway-info.org and http://smokymountainrider.com. My favorite place to dine is the Mt. Pisgah Inn (MM 408.5). They have a great gift shop too.
The highlight of the North Carolina section is Linn Cove Viaduct, MM 304. This quarter-mile long piece of pavement is seemingly suspended in thin air as it clings to the side of Grandfather Mountain. After the first 462 miles of Parkway were constructed between 1935 and 1967, design began on the viaduct. With revolutionary “top down” construction methods used in the Alps, engineers used cranes to piece together pre-cast roadway sections and create the most complicated concrete bridge in the world. To minimize the impact on nature, the only groundwork was to excavate seven roadway supports. Even the concrete is tinted with iron-oxide to blend with the natural environment. The eight-mile “missing link” containing Linn Cove Viaduct took 20 years to complete and was dedicated in 1987.
If you want to say you’ve ridden the finest motorcycling road in the world, get your butt to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Nowhere else can you scrape pegs and grind boots on 469 uninterrupted twisty miles of undamaged asphalt snaking up, down, across, and through ancient mountains. If you slow to the posted 45 m.p.h. limit at overlooks and service areas, the rangers will pretty much ignore what you do on the deserted sections. If you refuse to ride sensibly, the federales will run you down with a helicopter and treat you like a drug smuggler in a foreign country.
For its last 40-mile gasp the Parkway drops 4000 feet through towering cliffs and rock formations which glow like lighted monolithic walls as they reflect the setting sun. Here you’ll find the Black Mountains spreading out from each pavement edge like a green, swelling, sea. By this time, a wide grin will permanently crease your face and you’ll truly believe you’ve died and gone to motorcycling heaven. At Newfound Gap Road, MM 469, the Parkway ends and intersects US 411. You have just entered Great Smoky Mountains National Park.