We love motorcycles – shocker, huh? But really – every bike has a story and taking a look back at how motorcycles have evolved over the years can bring out the warm fuzzies of even the toughest rider. Lucky for us history buffs, there are a ton of museums around the United States that will gladly transport you back in time and show you just how far we’ve come in the motorcycle industry. If you’re riding through or around any of the areas we mention below, you’re going to want to make a pit stop. Check out our list of the top five motorcycle museums you need to visit below.
Image: Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum
This museum is really a motorcyclist’s dream and you need to add it to your bucket list ASAP. Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum is located in Birmingham, AL and is considered the world’s largest motorcycle museum. The museum’s founder, George H. Barber, had a love for racing and restoring cars and thought about opening a car museum but soon shifted gears when he noticed that’s already been done before. Barber set his sights on creating something new – the world’s best motorcycle museum, and he did just that. Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum has more than 1,400 bikes on display, with new ones arriving frequently, including a 1920s Harley-Davidson thought to be one of only eight in the world. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to stretch your legs considering the museum is 144,000 square feet and the exhibit space spans five floors. The bikes on display showcase over 100 years of production, and with 200 different manufacturers represented from over 20 countries, you are sure to see a few of your favorites.
Image: Romantic Asheville
Another motorcycle museum that we recommend visiting is Wheels Through Time located in Maggie Valley, NC – just 5 miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway. This 38,000 square foot museum houses 300+ rare motorcycles and various exhibits, photos, and memorabilia. Wheels Through Time features one of the world’s premier collections of Vintage American Transportation. This facility opened its doors on July 4th, 2012 and has a mission of guiding visitors through the evolution of American motorcycling and automotive history. There are bikes here that you won’t see anywhere else like a 1941 Harley Davidson Shaft-Driven Knucklehead Servi-Car, one of only 19 in the world. One of the coolest parts of Wheels Through Time is that their entire collection is actually operable and they’ll even gas up some of the bikes from time to time. Wheels Through Time is a true walk through nostalgia and when you’re there, you’ll feel like you’re checking out your buddy’s garage – ok, your buddy’s really really awesome garage.
Image: National Motorcycle Museum
The National Motorcycle Museum was founded in 1989 by people who live and breathe all things motorcycle (we know the feeling). You’ll find this museum a bit off the beaten path, tucked away, surrounded by cornfields – but it’s worth the trip. This facility is a non-profit museum located in Anamosa, Iowa and has a mission of maintaining the experience of bikes from past and present. The National Motorcycle Museum houses motorcycle memorabilia, documents, and vintage bikes from as far back as 1903. When you visit this museum, you’ll take a two-wheeled trip through history starting from some of the first-ever bikes on the market to present-day favorites. The facility is home to more than 450 motorcycles and many of them are on loan from private collectors from around the world. Their newest and permanent exhibit, “Barn Find” shows off motorcycles, agricultural and automotive iron you might find in an old American barn. There are a variety of manufacturers on display including American, Japanese, British, and other European motorcycles.
Image: Visit Milwaukee
Harley-Davidson is one of the most iconic motorcycle manufacturers in the world so, of course, they have their own museum. You can visit the Harley-Davidson Museum for yourself in Milwaukee, WI and if you have a Harley or just appreciate the brand, you won’t want to miss this museum. The Harley-Davidson Museum is open 363 days a year and is fun for the whole family. The 130,000-square-foot facility encompasses a three-building complex that takes up 20 acres of land and is located along the scenic Menomonee Riverbank. If you’re hungry during your visit, the Harley museum even has its own restaurant you can try (we recommend the brisket nachos). The museum has over 450 Harley-Davidson motorcycles and hundreds of thousands of artifacts and memorabilia spanning the lifetime of the iconic brand we know and love today. The exhibits in the Harley museum are vast and include a motorcycle gallery where a procession of motorcycles are lined up on the upper level running down the length of the building. They also have exhibits featuring Harley’s history, culture, design and more. Fun fact: the oldest known Harley-Davidson motorcycle in existence is housed here. Stamped inside the engine casing of this motorcycle is the number one. If you’re ready to geek out about all things Harley-Davidson, this is the place to do it.
Image: Motorcycle Hall of Fame
Last but not least is the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame located in Pickerington, OH. This museum has it all – from an Evil Knievel display to the Terminator police bike to stories of early riders – a must-see for any motorcycle enthusiast. Although this particular museum is on the smaller side, especially compared to the 20,000 acres for the Harley-Davidson Museum, it is packed with history and one-of-a-kind bikes. The tours are self-guided at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame so you can take as much time as you’d like taking in each display and uncovering the history of motorcycle’s past.
It’s important to take a look back to appreciate how far we’ve come in the motorcycle industry. Seeing the progress we have made over the years makes us proud to be riders and we encourage you to visit and support these museums because they are preserving an important part of our nation’s history. Have you been to any of the motorcycle museums we mentioned above? Let us know your favorite in the comments below.