If you’re ever traveling through the southeastern US, a side trip to the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum in Birmingham, Alabama is well worth it. They have more than 900 motorcycles on display, with over 1,600 in their collection. When I found two of my previous bikes, a Kawasaki KLR650 and a Honda Pacific Coast 800, on display within five minutes of walking in, I knew this was my kind of place. Whatever kind of bike you’re interested in, the Barber Museum has it. I found several bikes I’ve written articles about in the past, ranging from vintage Cushman scooters to Allen Millyard’s crazy custom V12 Kawasaki. There are also several bikes and displays of interest to adventure riders in particular. Here are three of them.
Ed Culberson’s 1981 BMW R80G/S, “Amigo”
The Pan-American Highway is the ultimate adventure ride. It stretches about 19,000 miles from Alaska to Argentina, with a missing 80-mile section between Panama and Colombia known as the Darien Gap. This area contains rugged terrain and outlaws, making crossing the gap both difficult and dangerous. Ed Culberson was determined to do it anyway.
A retired US Army officer, Culberson was no stranger to difficult conditions. He was also a highly experienced motorcyclist and served as a chief instructor for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. If anyone was going to take a motorcycle across the Darien Gap for the first time, Culberson was an extremely likely candidate. He went through numerous trials and tribulations, but ultimately succeeded, becoming the first motorcyclist to cross the Darien Gap. He documented his adventure in the book Obsessions Die Hard.
Sadly, Culberson passed away in 1995 from Lou Gehrig’s disease, one year before his book was published. His motorcycle, Amigo, lives on, however, and is on display at the Barber Museum for all to see. It still has all of Culberson’s modifications after a failed first attempt, including a nine-gallon gas tank, a stronger clutch, and a different seat. Amigo has traveled more than 200,000 miles, 14,700 of which were Culberson’s Pan-American Highway adventure.
Jim Rogers’ 1988 BMW R100 RT and Tabitha Estabrook’s 1989 BMW R80
After an extremely successful investment career, Jim Rogers retired at age 37. He decided to pursue his passion for motorcycling to travel the world, not only to see exotic new places but also to learn about their investment markets. Tabitha Estabrook, on a 1989 BMW R80, joined Rogers on his 1988 BMW R100 RT. They traveled more than 65,000 miles together across six continents, not including travel by sea, air, and rail. They also set two Guinness world records over the course of their journey.
At the end of the trip, which took 22 months and passed through 52 countries, Rogers wrote about their journey in the book Investment Biker: Around the World with Jim Rogers. It covers not only the journey itself but also the investments and opportunities Rogers found along the way. The Barber Museum picked up their bikes immediately after their journey, and they are on display exactly as they were then. The pedestal shows numerous photos and details about their adventure.
Longhaulpaul’s 2012 Yamaha Super Tenere, “Cure Chaser”
Not every adventure has to be some daring round-the-world trip. Paul Pelland, a.k.a. “Longhaulpaul,” is on a mission to raise awareness and funds for Multiple Sclerosis. Already an accomplished long-distance rider, he announced his MS diagnosis in 2012. “I once was told a cure for MS was a million miles away,” says his website, “So I thought I would just go get it and bring it back.” His goal is to ride one million miles for the cause.
This 2012 Yamaha Super Tenere, named “Cure Chaser,” is the first bike he used. He logged over 172,000 miles crisscrossing the US and Canada, making appearances at more than 200 events, sharing his story, and fundraising. On this bike alone, he has raised more than $100,000 for the National MS Society. In a time-traveling feat that only the TARDIS from Doctor Who could match, Pelland also set a world record on this bike for the most hours ridden in a single day on this bike. On November 6, 2016, Pelland rode 2,000 miles west, taking him through four time zones. Additionally, this was the day that Daylight Savings Time ended, tacking yet another hour onto the day, making it possible for him to ride for 28 hours in a single day.
Yamaha is now sponsoring Pelland’s chase for the cure, providing various motorcycles for him to use, currently a Tenere 700. He donated his original motorcycle, never washed and never having visited a dealer, to the Barber Museum. “I decided to give it a well-deserved rest and let others enjoy its story.” It still wears its original New Hampshire license plate, NOCAR.
Bikes, Bikes, and More Bikes
Every motorcycle on display has a story to tell. Even as a former mountain bike rider, I had no idea that Cannondale had a short-lived foray into building dirt bikes, with the company’s traditional aluminum frames, shortly before going out of business. More than one exceptionally rare Cannondale dirt bike is on display. An entire wing of one floor is dedicated to dirt bikes. At the time I visited, there was an extensive display of drag bikes. Another covered Erik Buell’s career, from his time at Harley-Davidson, to Buell Motorcycle Company, to Erik Buell Racing. Motorcycles more than 100 years old are on display, in both restored and unrestored condition. Few places can show you the entire history of motorcycles under one roof.
I made a rather large detour on my way from Florida to New Hampshire just to visit the Barber Museum. I spent an entire day there and still didn’t get to see everything. Information is available on their website about every bike in their collection, so you can research what you want to see before you get there, or if you can’t get there at all. If at all possible, though, I highly recommend visiting, even if it means a big detour like mine. You won’t regret it.