It has often been our experience, that you visit someplace that you think will be of some interest, and discover that it has hidden gems. And so it was on our visit to the Motorcyclepedia Museum in Newburgh, NY. When the website highlights Indians, Harleys and Choppers, we were thinking that this would be an interesting but short visit given our declared focus on machines from Germany. First of all, Motorcyclepedia is an impressive facility from the outside. It is large, and has generous grounds and parking. This is no small hole-in-the-wall establishment. Upon entry, it continues to impress. It is a large space organized around themes. The current centerpiece is a Chopper exhibit, so Easy Rider bikes and machines by Indian Larry and Arlen Ness and Ed Roth abound. Off to the side is another large hall with what is billed as the most complete collection of Indian motorcycles year by year from the beginning to the end of the Springfield MA production. The one more relevant motorcycle on this floor was a 1975 Hercules with its’ signature Wankel engine (see A Herculean Effort).
With low expectations for our particular focus, we headed down to the lower level. It was there that we encountered a completely different world of motorcycles. A large area was dedicated to British and other European machines of the mid 20th century. Sunbeams and Triumphs mixed with a Vincent Rapide, and a Black Shadow. A distinctive yellow Nimbus with sidecar sat near a beautiful silver DKW RT250 Twingle. A Puch 250 occupied a place of prominence above a corral containing a BMW R69S in Dover white. Another large area was dedicated to carnival attractions and full-size Wall-of-Death arenas. Among a collection of miniature single seaters used for wall-of-death attractions was one by BMW. A smaller area had a large number of Excelsior machines including board trackers.
The highlight of the lower level though, is a collection of the earliest motorcycles, including a reproduction 1885 Daimler. This section had some European and American turn of the century marques previously unknown to us, such as Orient, Steffey, Styria, Marsh-Metz, Brutus, Terot, and Manson. The list goes on. There were also more familiar marques such as De Dion Bouton, Thor, FN, Hildebrande and Wolfmuller, and there was a lovely Bohmerland with sidecar. We are leaving out a lot, as for fans of the very earliest machines, this museum is a must-visit.
Returning upstairs is like returning from a trip on a time machine. The machines, activity level, and lighting are all very different. Leaving the facility is also a transition back to a large relatively non-descript building that could be anywhere. You are eased back into the current world after immersion in the complete history of motorcycling. Motorcyclepedia is aptly named indeed.