The Barber Vintage Motorcycle Museum – More Than Just Motorcycles
By Robert Miller, AKA Back Road Bob
Preface: With the start of the New Year, it’s time again to plan your riding season. You could do a lot worse than venturing into the warm weather and southern hospitality of the Deep South. Every time I visit there I am reminded of the extreme courtesy (a lot of “Yessirs” and “Noma’ams’), genuine friendliness (ya’ all come back now, ya’ hear”), and genteel manners (inherited from English nobility) of southerners and every mid-Atlantic motorcyclist can appreciate the smooth pavement too. This would make the perfect side-trip to your Daytona Speed Week adventure. Start planning today! Bob.
A visit to the Barber Vintage Motorcycle Museum brings to mind superlatives- oldest, newest, largest, rarest, best, most – are all words that can be applied to the motorcycles 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, but there’s more to this place than just motorcycles.
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 grey 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 for the details, we’ll have to go to Brian Slark.
What’s your title and what exactly do you do here?
Officially, I’m Technical Advisor, but unofficially I’m known as ‘The Old Motorcycle Guy”. I advise on the restorations, maintain the museum inventory, and consult on acquisitions.
What’s your background?
I grew up in England, started riding trials and scrambles (English for motocross) and later I had a job testing bikes at the Matchless factory. In the early 1960s, I moved to Southern California and competed in desert races sponsored by the Greeves importer, Nick Nicholson. They were fun times. I still miss those old desert races like the Check Chase and Barstow to Vegas. Nowadays, when I get the chance, I blast around the woods with my old friends.
How did you get involved with Mr. Barber?
I was active in the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association (AHRMA) and had an operation buying and selling vintage bikes, based in St.Louis. I sold the museum a few bikes and decided this was a fantastic place to work. That was in 1995.
How did Mr. Barber get involved with motorcycles?
He was a successful sports car racer in his youth and is a real gear head . He had some of his employees restore a few classic cars, but the thought of restoring something then covering up the engine didn’t make sense to him so he made the jump from cars to bikes. What helped were the guys in the restoration shop – they all rode motorcycles. They wanted to restore motorcycles too. That was in 1988.
What inspired Mr. Barber to create the museum?
A year before the Art of the Motorcycle Exhibit, the Guggenheim folks visited us at the old museum that was basically a private collection. It was open to the public three days a week. They were looking for bikes to include in their show and they couldn’t believe the bikes Mr. Barber had. We loaned them more bikes than anyone else. After seeing the impact the exhibit made, Mr. Barber thought there was no reason we couldn’t have a world-class motorcycle museum right here in Birmingham. That’s how it started. They looked at motorcycles as art and so does Mr. Barber.
Who designed the museum?
Mr. Barber. He sketched it out and gave it to the architects, but it wasn’t just the museum. He wanted to create a park-like atmosphere in a natural setting with a museum and a racetrack. There aren’t any bleachers or permanent seating. He wanted spectators to be able to grab their blankets and enjoy the view from anywhere. We have 740 acres and we’re using only 250. The property is completely landscaped with tree, shrubs, and flowers. Except in winter, it’s a colorful place.
What are visitors’ reactions when they walk in the door?
Their jaws drop and then they beeline to their first bike.
What did you think when you first saw the museum?
I thought, “How are we going to fill this place?” Now, I think of how we’re going to fit all the motorcycles we have to display.
How did the race track come about?
Originally, we wanted a test track for the old bikes, but Mr. Barber got thinking again and he didn’t see any reason not to build a world-class track next to the museum.
What events do you have here?
Now we have two major motorcycle events – the AMA Superbike Races, and the Barber Vintage Festival which features AHRMA vintage racing.. In addition to the paved track , we have cross-country and motocross courses for the AHRMA races. The vintage Festival is just exploding – it doubles every year. The first year we had a lap of the track for 100-year old motorcycles and we had two entries. The second year we had ten. This year, we have so many we’ll have to create two classes to accommodate all of them. There’s also a swap meet, and an air show. There’s something here for everyone. The track itself was designed by Allan Wilson to FIM specs with all the latest electronics. It’s a world-class facility.
How many employees do you have?
About twenty five, with seven technicians, including the car restoration work as well.. We design and construct all the display boxes and special exhibits in house .Jeff Ray, our executive director is the guy with the inspiration on period scenes and displays that serve as backdrops for the bikes.
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. Brian recommends you start at the top and work your way down.
Part II next month.
Snippets of motorcycling lore
By Al Karasa
Winter is here. Most of us leave our riding gear hung up out of the way from first snow to first grass. But the intrepid few persist over winter discomforts and pursue their love of riding none-the-less. Being prepared counts, but the unforeseen is always there. If you ride in the dead of winter, you know some odd things can happen. And if odd is the word here, this little story sure qualifies. Things freeze in winter – nothing odd about that. But this one was unexpected.
A well-meaning motorist stops to help a motorcyclist who has run out of gas. This happens to be an extremely cold day. The motorcyclist is prepared. He is bundled up thoroughly with layered clothing under leather, a heavy scarf, ski mask and goggles. But he can’t get far without gas.
As it happens, the driver has a can of gas in his trunk. The problem is the motorcycle gas cap is frozen and can’t be opened. The driver suggests warm urine might free it up. He is quite a bit taller than the biker, so volunteers to pee on the gas cap. The biker mumbles agreement. Although he is barely heard through all the winter gear around his face, his gestures indicate that would be fine. The driver pulls out his equipment and pees on the gas cap. It comes free and the problem is solved. They fill the tank and go on their way.
That Sunday morning, as the driver is leaving church after the service, the preacher stops him to thank him for helping his daughter when her bike ran out of gas. (Al Karasa)
Riding with the Beast
By Biker Billy Hufnagle
As I arose it felt like a cold day in hell, yet that was not going to deter me from making my pilgrimage. As dawn broke I could hear the beast howling outside. It had been rampaging across the ridge where my castle stands overlooking the gentle valleys and the distant mountains from whence the beast comes. High on those distant peaks lay a mantle of white, marking the arrival of the frozen season, the season of the beast. Down from those now dormant summits the beast will come frequently this season in search of victims.
I was not the only one in our lair who heard the beast during the night watch. My two trusted dogs were both alert to the arrival of the beast. One long in years and the other in his prime, they both had markedly different reactions. The old dog, once a keen eared watcher, alert to any threat long before any other would notice, who now barely hears the call to dinner, knew first that the beast was here. Surely she did not hear it howl; rather I am sure she felt its presence in her bones or smelled the distant scents that the beast carries on its breath. From long years of facing off with the beast, she was now trembling. She knew what lay waiting beyond the door, yet she knew she needed to face the onslaught to do her duty.
Once alerted from his deep slumber, the middle-aged dog stirred restlessly; both his youthful spirit and his breeding made him long for contact with the beast. I knew that once I was ready to alight my steed and begin my journey, he would stay out and relish his time in the age-old struggle with the beast. The old dog would by then be overjoyed to return to the warmth and safety of the hearthside. I am sure in the fullness of time both the younger dog and I will succumb to the call of the hearth when the beast howls, but today we will both face it and fight.
I released them out to do the morning business and in doing so took the measure of the beast as his breath struck my face through the door I held ajar. Then I knew just how much I needed to protect myself when I sallied forth to joust with the howling monster beyond the walls. I would first attend to the morning ablutions, partake of the ritual meal and then don my armor.
Years of combat with the beast has taught me well that I must be patient and follow the now time honored rite of dressing for this annual pilgrimage. Each layer of my armor must be carefully donned in the proper order with careful observance to the areas where each overlaps the other. Each layer serves its purpose in protecting me. Long ago, now decades before the old dog joined my pack, I had been restless and always anxious to join in combat with the beast. Once in those days I let my youthful naiveté keep me up way too late carousing the night before the pilgrimage. Sleeping late, no dogs to awaken and warn me of the presence of the beast, I was careless in my observation of the rites of armor. I had left a gap in the layers; this seemingly small oversight would cost me later.
That day I was late out of the gates and as I hustled my mount to catch-up with my fellow sojourners, I felt the first breath of the beast lick at the crack I had left in my armor. Once I had overtaken my posse and had received the admonishments due to my tardy arrival there was no way I could ask them to wait while I readjusted my armor. Rather, we went off in a rush to regain the lost time I had caused and to join a larger group of fellow pilgrims.
As that day’s journey wore on so did the assault of the beast’s breath on that careless crack in my armor. By the time we reached our mecca the exposed area was burned and nearly bitten, and I, too proud to call for a stop, was weakened by the fiery sting and was subsequently chilled to the core. That was, as we say, lesson learned.
So today on this first day of my pilgrimage I will take the proper time to observe all the rites of this passage. While I no longer ride with a posse, I have nonetheless forsaken the prior eve’s carousing so I could arise early and fresh, ready to face this new day. I am a lifelong pilgrim on a quest. So it is that on this first day of the New Year I will prepare myself well to ride warm and to survive the cold howling breath of the beast that is the winter wind. To you my fellow pilgrims of two wheels I wish a Happy New Year, I hope you ride safely from the first day of this year to the last!
Column copyright Bill Hufnagle 2020. Recipe reprinted with permission from “Biker Billy’s Roadhouse Cookbook”, published by The Globe Pequot Press, P.O. Box 480, Guilford, CT 06437 Copyright © 2009 by Bill Hufnagle
Imagining The Past Into The Future
By Greg Shamieh
I rolled the Matchless G80 out the garage door, and into the light.
I rolled the machine back onto its main stand and then reached down to turn on the fuel petcock. I pulled the cap from the oil tank – peering within to make sure that there was still some oil left in its recesses. I pressed the carb priming button – ‘the tickler’ – until raw fuel spilled onto the top of the cases. A G80 doesn’t have a key – there is just an ignition switch on the dash – I gave it a flip. I stood on the left footpeg and swung a leg over – using the kickstart lever to slowly rotate the engine to just short of top dead center on its compression stroke. The G80’s spark is controlled by a manual advance lever on the right handlebar – I swung the lever to about 2/3s advance, petitioned the lord with prayer, and kicked.
I was rewarded with a solid ‘foomp’, a little bit of valve clatter, and then a slow, solid and steady idle – ‘whoompwhoompwhoompwhoomp’.
I pushed the bike off the stand, rolled the down the driveway, and toed it into first gear, rolled left, and motored up the road.
I’d been nothing but happy with my 2025 Kawasaki Ninja 920. The bike was small, light, narrow, and its highly tuned supercharged 4 cylinder engine had proven smooth and powerful enough to carry me both to work every day and around the continent on my personal wanderings. The bike’s advanced electronics had helped to keep me safe on the road – Kawasaki had taken the bold step of adding the Bosch Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) radar and lidar sensing functionality from the automotive universe to the Motorcycle Stability Control (MSC) suite in 2021 – initially adding functions like adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning – but as time went by more advanced functions like lane keeping and active collision avoidance were also added.
I’ve always loved riding in New Mexico – the combination of mountain roads and high deserts always had me coming back for more. One story told to me by the owners of a bar near the White Sands Missile Range had always stuck with me though. They’d related to me how before every test, the Air Force would send an Officer to visit them to inquire about their daily receipts (which they’d always overstate), said Officer would write them a check, and then they’d keep the joint open that day, laughing all the way.
Until one day an errant cruise missile hit the hill behind the bar.
“Broke every window, mirror and booze bottle in the whole place. Now when they fire we go to Albuquerque.”
I was blasting up US 54 towards Almogordo – the landscape is open, and a 120 mph cruise speed seems neither out of place or ill-advised – there’s just nothing here to hit. Without warning, the Collision Avoidance radar sensor on the Kawi’s dash indicated a hazard condition – first yellow, then immediately red, then automatically applying the brakes – hauling the bike down from speed faster than I could even begin to process what was going on – by the time we were under 60 mph I was completely awash in the noise, bouncing parts, fire and flame of whatever this was.
The star and bar roundel insignia indicated the crashed wreckage was one of ours – so sorry to all you Area 51 They-Are-Out-There-Guys. I was together enough to put a boot down as the bike crisply stopped itself – something moving in the upper right part of my visual field proved to be the chute of the pilot who’d been able to successfully punch out of this former aircraft.
I clutched in and turned the Kawi around in the roadway, trolled about 50 yards up the road away from the burning debris, pulled on the shoulder, killswitched it, and placed it on the sidestand. ‘Rider assistance’ my ass. I pulled off my helmet, did the tiny convulsive dance of way too much adrenaline, and waited for the emergency vehicles to show up.
My Jetpack Aviation Speeder had sure changed my normal office commuting routines.
I reflected how worried and affected by road congestion I used to be – using Google live traffic data would produce different routes to the same points each and every day as cars crashed, roads collapsed, and local weather conditions flooded out roadways, and dropped trees and whole hillsides onto the highways.
How quaint that seemed now.
I engaged the bike’s ‘arm’ key, and then pressed the starter button. As each of the four turbojet engines hit 18,000 rpm or so, they’d light off, hit required oil pressure, and then pass the starter input to the next jet. With all four engines lit, I gently put some no load rpms into the turbines, trying to work some heat into the system and the oil. After a minute or so, with some temp showing on the gauges, I snapped my visor shut, rolled up some thrust, and leapt skyward from the pad at the rear of my driveway.
At 3000 feet, I activated the flight plan I’d filed with the new National Autonomous Flight Control Automation System (NAFCAS), and engaged the autopilot. My former road-bound trip, which averaged about 75-80 minutes, showed a flight time to touchdown of about 18 minutes. NAFCAS took the Speeder up to an altitude of about 11,000 feet, and a cruise speed of 150 miles per hour.
I’d have a few minutes to think about my plan for the day while I admired the rather stupendous view.
I can remember a time when members of one of the OG Online Motorcycle Clubs – The Internet BMW Riders – were having ‘spirited conversations’ about whether AntiLock Braking Systems (ABS) were a positive development. Now BMW has an R1200GS that rides itself. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VaZlTsoj0Hc It doesn’t need you at all.
How the heck did we get here?
If I had told you about any if this 15 years ago you’d have straight up thought I was stone crazy. Now, if you want to put down a deposit on the Speeder, you can go here – https://jetpackaviation.com/speeder-pre-order/#pre-order – and order one.
To steer clear of The Lawyers, I am required to mention that the v 1.0 Speeder you would order there is not fully autonomous. It will go to altitudes of 15,000 feet at speeds of 150 mph, though.
The thing about the future is the fact that its constantly showing up in those milliseconds while we’re distracted and not looking, and that no matter what it is, it’s a surprise every time.
The motorcycle, as a tool for mobility, is certainly changing, and changing along with it are the motorcycle business, the business of writing about it, and even what it means to be a rider.
Who could have predicted electric motorcycles – silent transmissionless drive with 3 second zero to 100 times?
The news out of the design studios at Harley Davidson, Yamaha and even Ducati are filled with e-bicycles, e-mopeds, and light electric scooters. Small startups producing all of these urban use lightweights are now ubiquitous. City Planners everywhere are redesigning downtown and edge urban areas around bike lanes to accommodate all of these lighter transport modalities. For the young people looking for a first ride, these less expensive, more agile and more practical rides are both a lot of fun to ride and also make a lot of sense. Heck, with e-bikes you can even get a little exercise, but not too much.
The biggest electric motorcycles have a lot of their design decisions driven by the need to move 500 pounds of motorcycle around. Make that bike 80 pounds and the math improves considerably.
I recently had my first experience with a rental electric scooter, and except for the ill-advised high speed run on a cobblestone street in Baltimore’s Fells Point neighborhood, these things are a whole lot of fun. I do advise sticking to smooth sidewalks or macadam, though – these things are hardtails.
There’s no limit to how far the downsizing can go, either.
My son and sometime riding buddy Finn has a case of the moto-hots for a thing called a OneWheel Pint. The Pint is a single slick racing tire from a go cart that has been mated to an electric battery, motor and gyro-controller chassis that looks like a regular skateboard. The control unit is functionally similar to a Segway – lean forward, and the board goes forward. Lean back and it slows and stops. The thing is surprisingly quick, surprisingly agile, and the control circuitry seems really well implemented – it appears like these things should be a fast trip to face plant central, but they seem to be easy to ride. Best of all, you don’t have to park it, you don’t have to rack it, when you get where you’re going, you just stick it under your arm, and go inside.
I’m beginning to see his point, here.
Motorcycle Magazines are changing faster than motorcycles, too. First off, the very notion of a Motorcycle Magazine – as a printed thing on paper – is fast on the road to being one of those concepts that, a few short years into the future, might be something that will only elicit confused looks from onlookers when the term is used. The motorcycling community has seen print publications that seemed unassailably eternal just vanish without warning from the stage. Motorcyclist Magazine – which was beyond its hundredth year of publication – stopped printing, conducted layoffs, and turned into an online only publication. Motorcyclist’s sister publication – Cycle World – still exists as a 4 issue a year magazine, but much of its staff and online presence are shared with Motorcyclist’s. The EasyRiders universe, which at deepest water consisted of 5 or 6 paper titles, slowly collapsed back into only EasyRiders, the went digital only, and then folded tents. EasyRiders appears to be a jeans and sportswear brand now. SanFrancisco’s CityBike – a bastion of deep thought and excellent writing – went digital, and folded shortly therafter. Instead of being colors printed on paper, and filled with words designed to illuminate both the subject and the reader, the Motorcycle Magazine of future is a thing on your smartphone. Even writing about motorcycles itself is kind of in trouble – I’ve had motorcycle manufacturers tell me that they only work with media that concentrate on video, and can prove they already have established YouTube channel subscriber levels. One only needs to look to Ari Henning and Zach Courts – who walked away from the moto-print universe and now star in a television and streaming show called Throttle Out on Motor Trend – to see how true this is.
As someone that is much better looking in print than I am as a Vlogging Host, I could wake up one morning soon and be as relevant as kickstarters and magnetos.
Motorcycle Manufacturers have to deal with all of this stuff and more. The basic technology is changing in fundamental and material ways, the needs and attitudes of younger consumers are changing as fast as that if not faster, and the overall rate of people taking up the sport has been falling for the last several years. The more established and older brands have an even tougher time managing their place in the changing motorcycling continuum because their heritage actually holds them back from making transformational changes.
The sport that you and I both love is changing now, just as it always has. The rate of change might even be accelerating, but I’m not so sure about that. Keeping an open mind about anything that shows up with two wheels (or three, or in some cases one) and looks like fun is where this all starts – we’ve never been able to predict the future in any way other than to be surprised when it shows up.
Too much deep thought about what lies ahead, though, is making my head hurt. Finn just blasted past the office window with what looks like a brand new OneWheel. That thing sure looks like fun. I’m going to head outside and ask to have a go.
By Stevie Lynne
The cat needed a hug. He let me know this like he always does by sitting up on his hind legs and tapping at my shins with his paws. I picked him up and as he relished the attention, wandered over to my Christmas tree. My favorite sign that the holiday season is here, it becomes this three-dimensional type of scrapbook, and I paced around it taking in all the trimming. I’m guilty of forgetting why I walked from one room to another sometimes, so it amazes me that I can remember the details of every decoration. There are those I made or remember seeing on the tree as a child. Others I recall buying and enjoy the memories of where I was at that point in my life. The most treasured ornaments make me smile because they bring to mind the person who gifted them to me.
Later I realized I had another mobile scrapbook of sorts and some trinkets that hadn’t been added on yet. That memento would be my motorcycle vest. Sure enough, I found a couple of loose pins from this year’s bike weeks, so I got busy finding spots to attach them. I reminisced on more people and places as I looked over older tokens along with patches from rallies and various events. A pin from a 911 Memorial run drew my attention. It reminded me of the first time I met a group of girls I’ve been friends with for over 15 years now. Coincidentally, some of us have recently discussed a reunion for a trip back to Tennessee. Four of us rode out that way in 2006 to investigate the famed Tail of the Dragon.
Off we went one morning in July: Crash, MA, Linda, and me. Most of that first day was somewhat scenic and relaxing. However, the stormy moods of summer would catch up with us and we found ourselves dealing with vicious downpours in the evening hours. Thinking the first was a one-off downpour, we dodged it in the shelter of a bank drive-thru. But as we rode on a real deluge hit us on the interstate and that turned into a hiding-out-under-the-overpass-extravaganza I’m sure we’ve all been caught in at some point. When the rain finally let up so we could continue, I remember coming into Blowing Rock, NC listening to Crash’s radio. She was in front of me blasting “She’s a Beauty” by the Tubes and I can’t hear that song without smiling and flashing back to this trip.
We made it to the motel room we’d reserved tired, hungry, thirsty and soggy. Lucky too since we got to a pub just across the street before they closed for the night. While not exactly sunny, the next day was thankfully much drier. We leisurely rolled our way down part of the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway to Asheville, NC, a city where it seems like there is always a cool place to head to for live music. We found one and not only had a great time listening to the band there, but I’m convinced we met the real-life version of Dale Gribble from King of the Hill. This man approached us after spotting our crappy flip phones sitting on our table. He looked and sounded just like the cartoon character as he warned that Big Brother was watching us through the devices. If that’s true, let me make it known I’d like more pictures from our adventure because I know we didn’t take nearly enough.
We were blessed with sunshine, scenic views, and surprisingly uncrowded curves the following morning for our journey across the Tail of the Dragon. We rode it from North Carolina to Tennessee where we spotted a hammock-sized bra draped across the grill of a pickup truck at our first rest stop. We’ve never stopped wondering about that fashion statement, or how a yellow jacket managed to get inside my clothes to sting me in the belly as we pulled into the parking lot! Eventually we headed back to Virginia, to see how close to home we could get. However, Linda’s new little GPS gadget was about as high tech as the cell phones we had back then and we wound up riding for hours in circles…still in Tennessee. At least it was a gorgeous day, and we were lost on some awesome back roads. After an impromptu pizza party in a motel parking lot and a good night’s sleep, Crash and LJ hit the interstate to get home quickly and I paired up with MA on a day-long putt making our way back from Bristol to Central Virginia.
Thankful for these memories, I hope the holidays have brought you fond memories and dreams of upcoming chances to make new ones too. Happy New Year!
Handle Bars And The People Behind Them
The Easy Rider Syndrome: Thoughts of Peter Fonda and Captain America.
By Geoff Uyehara
On my recent journey to California I read a story about how your handles bar can almost dictate how you do the wave. Low or high waves or a quick wave can link all bikers together. With every journey I take I see new details that me show how we are progressing on the handlebar road. My most recent trip was a vacation stay in San Francisco. As I traveled with my host from the airport whizzing along on the freeway, the lanes were being split by cyclists at expressway speeds with deliberation, outright taunting of grace, little respect for slick yellow and white lane dividing lines, and definitely caution thrown to the wind. Total control handlebars are necessary for danger rider to traverse the road with ease like that.
Off the expressway California freeways the cycles were loud and also eerily quiet, as the riders are free to express themselves throughout the city of San Francisco. The motorcycle stands were populated with a variety of brands but almost overwhelmingly in the downtown areas scooters with flat bars are beginning to predominate. The big bore bikes were there and are obviously playing the freeways but the down town areas are pressing for quieter and less obtrusive means of transportation. The main drag Market Street will be closed to vehicular traffic in 2020. There were also lots of small electric cycles zipping about, but the new slightly less noisy atmosphere was of course occasionally shattered with an old school make it loud set up with echoes and growls. The new and quiet electric scooters and cycles were all sporting regular scooter handle bars or standard sport bike bars. Ape hangers and zee bars were not there on the zip bikes.
Following who’s riding what in San Francisco, the idea of what your bars say is shown as changing in San Francisco as it is an ever changing experience for all of us. If you have low sport bike handle bars on a chopper or ape hangers on a standard they all say something about your style today, and tomorrow. Each new trend, style, and design can be another lifestyle start. Each day puts us a step forward in our design lives.
Everybody has a reason for their handle bar set up. We can change our minds often on the direction we want to go. To change your handle bar height or installing pull backs with risers are just a couple of the steps we can take to make a statement. The most famous handle bar set was used in the movie Easy Rider. Captain America and Billy rode from California to Louisiana via New Orleans and Mardi Gras and many points in between, with their chopper high bars looking for America. The idea of the great search is part of that movie and is an icon in American folk lore. Lots of people want the easy rider look attitude and feel. The set up can be had but is that really the style for anybody but the late Peter Fonda, Captain America?
Peter Fonda and the Easy Rider life style highlights the idea of looking for that place that will give us insight to find where our place is and or how we can or should make it. Often the biggest challenge is recognizing the issues through self evaluation which many people do not want to do. Low bars or High. The questioning of norms and going beyond the generational staged answers is a dramatic entitlement most choose not to pick up, stock bars.
Easy Rider’s Captain America was not the first person to look beyond his handle bars, looking over the pot holes and traffic woes is a task many people do not do and are not interested in. Complacency and voluntary miss understandings can lead to the abandonment of the search for knowledge and direction. i.e. Motorcycle design and development and other lofty goals that we can all buy into, or that handle bars are just for steering and holding gear. Our personal vision of our ride is a big handle bar question.
We are all looking for something. Captain America and Billy were looking for truth and transcendence in American society. They found the truth for their time and transcended into another, but not the transcendence they were looking for perhaps. Their quest and search for direction is an example for us all. To most of us the image of Captain America’s cycle sets us into a mindset that directs us to emulate that image of freedom and adventure. We all have our own definition of what freedom really is.
A quick and short history of handle bars:.
Flash late 1880’s: Bicycle bars were the first incarnations of two wheeled stability control. Bicycle designers first brought up the idea of stability and steering control, a simple must. Early handle bars were wide like Texas long horn cow horns and quickly were added to with needed control mechanisms. Devoid of any driving controls handle bars were pretty rudimentary initially. Throttle control was still on the engine and the breaking system even via back pedaling, and clutch relocation work, was to come later. Throttle, mirrors, kill switches, cruise control devices, and now all of the electronic phone gps driven gadgets one can find. Progressive thought changed the location for throttle control from the engine to the handle bar and then speed was no longer a decision between go go go and handling. Suicide stick shifting remained for many years though and can even be had today.
Following through on developments, braking needed to progress too. Early braking was somewhat like dragging your foot while loosening the drive belt. Today relocation of controls is a designer’s option with a willing rider. Over time handlebars became more purpose driven and eventually a statement of one’s identity. I ask the question occasionally while at the same time getting myself into trouble I say. Hey u with the ape hangers or hey bud why did u pick those handle bars? Some say the look, others say to make the bike handle better or other crazy concepts of reality that we all live in. Tomorrow handle bars will be vastly different.
What is next for handle bars? New school handlebars – New controls and gadgets we can choose from can lend to the constant variety of styles and options open to pick from to define our riding style with intent to make our statement known. It’s possible that handle bars might disappear as more and more auto controls are invented. Rider styles and interests and fads will also dictate the next generation of gadgets fit for your handle bars. Some have been reduced to voice control via a helmet link. Links between handle bar mounted devices, tank mounted controls and dashboard read outs are now becoming the norm but at times they need to be simplified to reveal the type of cycle they are hung on. Some probably have garage door opener buttons with home remote doorbell screens. Drive and backup cameras too. Maybe old school ape hangers could be used to locate more devices. On the new bikes with auto ride self balancing action and voice controlled everything on the handlebars there better be an off switch so we can scrape some pegs sometimes.
Comfort too, is a big issue when riding. Handle bars can also be troublesome and can lead to discomfort. Handle bars that vibrate and shake can over time give you sore wrists. Really low bars work your wrists and shoulders. If your bars are too far away you have to always reach for them. Pull backs and risers help with size differences and can add or detract to the style being set up. Some of the spiky handle bars look dangerous, but some folks want it that way. Watching a skilled rider with their personal handle bar and ride set up is always a thrill. I once saw a Harley Davidson chopper rider riding full out, take advantage of a long smooth curve entrance ramp on an access ramp to the beltway north.
Taking grip of the handle bars as we take stock of the road we are on, through first discovering it, then possibly creatively changing it, then to present the findings to more than those who want to listen can be a task. To find a cause for the handle bar challenge is today as tough as always. James Dean in rebel without a cause had his rebellion related to all time. The trials of Captain America and Billy are the reflection of the direction all of us are taking now and which in a more pronounced way today is less progressive than our distant past or are we reflecting together and searching for something better. What has Captain America’s struggle shown us? Was he just riding around with no direction? What was Captain America trying to solve? What problem was Mr. Honda trying to solve. What is Harley Davidson trying to solve now. Survival or more? Problems worth solving are almost a dime a dozen now and the volume is picking up. Getting a good grip on the bars that feel right is a beginning.
A list of handle bar styles and options today:Terms –
Ape hangers, Pull back, Clip on, Zee
Vintage racer, Modern Racer, the cafe crowd – Flat bar people.
The look or functionality. Up swept , Historic, Sit up and beg bars.
Original, Custom, Dirt bike with cross bars.
Choppers with varied twisted bars
Show, never to be ridden. Show to ride
Style today, Style yesterday
Trendy, breaking being with the trend.
Handle bar Sliders. Mirrors. Switches. Gadgets
GPS, Garage Door openers.
Backup video, Stereo controls, Lipstick holders.
Horn, Kill switch, Turn signal
Stranger than fiction stuff.
Mod mirror collection.
Tubular, Pressed steel, twisted, square.
Purpose built and Disposable.
Designers: Math behind bar design. Blue printing. Integration.
Future Bars: None – self balancing auto ride controls, voice command.
Will handlebars need controls in the future? Brake, clutch, mirrors, throttle, turn signals or will they be voice body and mind controlled?
I want mine to serve coffee on demand.
By Jack Applebaum
I’ve worn glasses since I was in the third grade, and I really didn’t think about it much. Wearing glasses – notably safety glasses – likely saved at least one of my eyes a couple of times since I had worked in some hazardous environments. On one occasion, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye which turned out to be a small piece of metal packing material from a distillation column that was headed right at me. As I turned to see what it was, that metal part bounced off the lens of my safety glasses. Someone that was with me looked at the lens and, not seeing a chip or crack in the lens, said “Nope. Sorry. You don’t get a Wise Owl Award, but you’re lucky anyway.” Events like that in my life have led me to resolve NOT to get corrective eye surgery (now Lasik) and just keep wearing the shields that have served me well.
When I began riding a motorcycle in Florida, a helmet was not required, but eye protection was. For me, I could just jump on a bike and go, and most of the time I chose to wear a helmet. Like most bikers out there, I’ve been hit by bugs, rain, small stones, and occasionally a cigarette butt tossed out of the car in front of me. As I got older and wiser (I hope), I decided on a windshield.
With glasses, I see 20/20, and here we are to see the year 2020. As we look ahead, I think we can expect a politically tumultuous year with a lot of things getting thrown at us audibly and visually. Frankly, some of it, I just don’t want to hear or see. At least, I don’t want a steady diet of it which is another reason why I ride and, for me, why I don’t have a sound system on my bike. My bike is my therapy and a refuge. I recall a helmet sticker that said “You never see a motorcycle parked outside of a psychiatrist’s office.” I want to believe that is true.
The Bible has a great many things to say about our eyes and how we use them. Solomon’s advice to bikers was “Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. (Proverbs 4:25)” Bikers know the hazards that distractions can cause and the lessons in life that riding a motorcycle can offer. The Bible tells us to guard our eyes and be careful as to where we look. Both practically and as a life lesson, it makes sense. For lighting, we have a headlamp on our bikes. In life we have Christ. Jesus said “”I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life. (John 8:12)” In 2020, I’d highly recommend using eye protection and using the best light source available.