You should hop into the saddle and motor on over to the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, CA, before March 2. That’s the last day you can see the Around the World on Two Wheels exhibit, organized in collaboration with the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum.
George Barber is one of those rare wealthy individuals who has used his resources to create a public showcase for his passion in Birmingham, AL. The result is what the Guinness Book of World Records claims is the largest collection of vintage motorcycles in the world.
For those who have not had a chance to visit the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum in its hometown—where the property also boasts a sublime road course and a multi-floor building with a permanent display of cars and motorcycles—there’s a chance to whet your appetite with highlights of the Barber collection. Some choice bikes are currently on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum.
The Around the World on Two Wheels exhibit is just a small taste of what you’ll find in Birmingham. However, the fact that the Petersen Museum has welcomed the exhibit to their rarified establishment speaks volumes about the appeal vintage motorcycles have among the public.
Prominently displayed in the Richard Varner Family Gallery, the exhibit displays units extending from the early origins of motorcycles, progressing through decades of development to arrive at modern-day machines with their power, styling, and advanced technology.
The displayed motorcycles are attractively laid out with proper identification and concise placards containing the machines' histories. From one-offs to production models, from familiar and still-operating brands to long-forgotten marques, the exhibit reflects the rapid evolution of styling brought about by the increasing velocity of mechanical invention, matched only by the speed and performance of each machine.
Perusing the various bikes, you can witness the evolution from leaf springs to front forks, rigid rear ends to full suspension, from total-loss oil systems and suicide shifters to buttoned-up, water-cooled, and electronically-aided race machines. It’s a fascinating reminder of all that has transpired over more than 100 years.
Standing there among all the metal and engine configurations, you can’t help feeling that although the original designers may have aimed for utilitarian vehicles, the majority of motorcycles were in reality created simply to supply a rush of adrenaline.
Given that motorcyclists generally appreciate mechanical inventions of almost any kind, any two-wheel aficionado will certainly also enjoy the sumptuous array of historically significant automobiles and the depth of racing pedigree on display at Petersen. But perhaps the most pleasantly surprising experience was to wander down to the basement where the bottom floor of the parking structure has been cordoned off to house machinery waiting for their day in the galleries above.
This is the Vault, and it’s easy to overlook. Without fanfare, parked door-to-door and handlebar-to-handlebar, is an eclectic array of cars and motorcycles.
The Vault contains foreign and domestic classics, dragsters, Formula One cars, old Indians, and modern e-bikes. Some are restored to their exquisite former glories, while many are waiting to be reborn.
The Around the World on Two Wheels exhibit and Petersen Automotive Museum make for a very entertaining afternoon of somewhat quiet contemplation—sans the hordes of excited fourth-graders on a field trip ogling the Batmobile on the upper floors. Make sure to head over to Los Angeles to catch the display before it closes.