Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum

Text: Neale Bayly • Photography: Christian Neuhauser

As the largest city in Ohio, Columbus is a superb riding destination with its friendly people, clean air and incredible range of activities. Adding to the attraction is the nearby Motorcycle Hall of Fame in Pickerington, just a short ride south and east of the city at the junction of Interstates 70 and 71. Quietly standing beneath big, shady trees, the 26,000-square-foot museum overlooks a beautifully manicured 23 acres. Established in 1990, the museum is run by the American Motorcycle Heritage Foundation, a non-profit charitable corporation, and it's a fantastic place to step off your bike for a time.

Housing three separate galleries, the two-story building features one of the most impressive collections of historic motorcycles in the world. And the variety of machinery will leave you with your jaw permanently stuck to your chest. Old board track machines, like the 1912 Indian eight-valve racer that sits on a reproduced track, are displayed in close proximity to modern-era race bikes - like the 1983 Kawasaki GPZ750 ridden by famous American racing hero Wayne Rainey to Superbike glory. Or how does staring down the expansion pipes of Kenny Robert's 500cc world championship winning 1980 Yamaha OW48 sound?

One of the great features of the museum is that machines from every decade are represented. According to museum director, Mark Mederski, machines will typically be on display for two years, so there is no excuse for not re-visiting from time to time. The oldest motorcycle in the museum is an 1894 Roper Steamer. Built and ridden by 73-year-old Sylvester Roper, he has the unenviable accolade of actually passing away in the saddle of his creation. I would like to think he died happy!

Passing through the decades, it is not until the 1930s that an English-built motorcycle joins the ranks of American-made machines in the shape of a 1933 Velocette KTT, a purpose built 350cc road racer. Moving on, the earliest Japanese motorcycle is a 1951 Type D Honda Dream. Little did the world know then how much Honda would go on to influence motorcycle development from this humble beginning. Also, a company that has stamped its own unique mark on the history of the motorcycle is the famous Italian company from Bologna, Italy: Ducati. There's a stunning 1974 Ducati 750 Sport for modern superbike fans who want to see the forefather of Ducati's current 999.

A lot of exhibits from the 1980s and '90s are Japanese, including everything from Craig Vetter's futuristic Kawasaki-based Mystery ship, to the amazing TZ750 flat tracker that King Kenny Roberts rode to victory at the Indianapolis Mile in 1975. It's humbling to think he reached speeds of up to 150mph on this four-cylinder two-stroke missile without brakes installed. It is also hard to argue with his famous quote at that time when he finally parked the bike for good and said, "They don't pay me enough to ride that thing."

If you are a fan of American iron, there are plenty of incredible machines in the museum to help you while away the hours. Such delights as the 1909 Royal Pioneer, a single-cylinder machine built in Worcester, Massachusetts, with incredibly complicated controls. Or, what about an immaculately restored 1924 Harley-Davidson 61 with matching sidecar? Not exotic enough? Well, a long look at Indian's "Upside-Down" Four should satisfy you with its bizarre carburetor and exhaust set up.

Take a break from the many and varied treasures proudly displayed around the museum, and head down to the lower floor. Here you will find the actual Hall of Fame, which honors more than 260 inductees and around 50 of the bikes they rode to fame. Silently giving tribute to the many great men and women who have given so much to the sport of motorcycling, it is a heart-warming and inspiring experience to view the many names.

During my visit, and remaining until the beginning of 2005, the Heroes of Harley-Davidson Exhibit, presented by Progressive Insurance, occupies the top floor of the museum. Covering the entire 8,100 square feet, it is packed full of fascinating details about the Motor Company's long and illustrious history. One of the displays that really caught my eye, and there were many, was a bronze sculpture by the famous artist Jeff Decker. Featuring one of the greatest racers of all time, America's Joe Petrali, on board his record breaking OHV Harley, it was created to commemorate his 136mph run at Daytona in 1937. Of course, this is just one of many things to keep you busy as you enjoy the exhibition. Peer into a painstakingly accurate replica of the original backyard shed built by the four boyhood friends who started the Motor Company, or marvel at the Harley land speed machine that Dave Campos rode 322.492mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats, to set a record that still stands.

With 22 separate vignettes, you can also learn about the women of Harley-Davidson, people like Effie Hotchkiss and Bessie Stringfield. Effie's claim to fame was becoming the first woman to ride a motorcycle coast to coast with her mother, way back in 1916. Bessie's was becoming the first African-American woman to tour all 48 States. As the owner of 27 Harley-Davidsons, Bessie's riding career spanned an incredible 66 years.

With all of this fascinating past, it would be easy to overlook the modern-day phenomenon that is Harley-Davidson. Not so with the Heroes exhibition. Visitors can learn about the Motor Company's involvement with Grand Prix racing, those days when they won four world championships; and closer to home, Cal Rayborn's Daytona 200 winning XR750 road-race bike sits proudly in front of numerous, wonderful pictures of this famous Harley-Davidson racing hero.

The peaceful grounds outside are a great place to sit and relax for a time. With an admission price of $ 5 for non-AMA members, $ 4 for members, and no charge for visitors under 17, a trip to the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in Pickerington, Ohio, is a must. You certainly won't be disappointed!