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11th Annual Barber Vintage Motorcycle Festival

Barry ArmitageMarch 22, 2016
More than 1,400 bikes are on display at the Barber Motorcycle Museum.

More than 1,400 bikes are on display at the Barber Motorcycle Museum.

What’s your pleasure? Sidecar racing? Acres of swap meet to be explored? Technical seminars with industry experts? Antique side-shifters whizzing down the racecourse, or million-dollar race bikes popping wheelies on the same course? You could find this and much more at the 2015 Barber Vintage Motorcycle Festival, held October 9-11 at the Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama.

The event has expanded over the past 11 years to become the premier vintage event east of the Mississippi, claiming 65,000-plus in attendance over three days. The 220-acre facility has been described as the “Augusta National of racetracks” and the spotless grounds and manicured viewing areas bear this out.

A $60 weekend pass covered everything except the on-site camping or RV spots. Another $15 (daily adult rate) buys access to the Barber Motorcycle Museum, featuring 1,400 immaculately restored bikes representing the history and growth of motorcycling worldwide. The proximity of the museum affords a great view of the track, allowing a visitor to stand next to, say, a classic Norton Manx and watch the same model pulling hard out of Turn 8 just 50 yards away. The museum is a separate entity due its non-profit status and is a perfect complement to the Vintage Festival.

The Barber museum is perfectly situated right next to the track, but they are separate entities.

The Barber museum is perfectly situated right next to the track, but they are separate entities.

The combined facilities occupy 220 acres of rolling former dairy pasture just 15 minutes east of downtown Birmingham. Once onsite, an efficient and free tram system ferries spectators around the track, with stops at viewing locations, vendor areas, camping locations and the museum. There are dedicated display and parking areas near the track for specific groups, such as the Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club (VJMC) or the American Motorcycle Collectors Association (AMCA), featuring an array of members’ bikes. This is a good opportunity to talk with owners about their rides.

In addition to the racing schedule, the Vintage Festival offered technical seminars at the museum (topics included performance enhancements for vintage bikes and Amal carburetors), manufacturers’ demo rides, the massive swap meet and countless vintage-related vendors. The 2015 event honored New Zealand’s John Britten, the innovative designer/builder/racer who developed the impressive, frameless V-twin race bike bearing his name that won the American’s Historic Racing Motorcycle Association’s (AHRMA) BEAR (British European American Racing) division in 1988 and 1990. Sadly, John succumbed to cancer in 1995. In his honor, nine of the existing 10 Britten bikes were on display (and on the track) at the Vintage Festival.

One of the nine Britten bikes on-hand to honor creator John Britten.

One of the nine Britten bikes on-hand to honor creator John Britten.

Despite being severely dyslexic, and with minimal technical training, John designed and built a series of highly innovative and lightweight bikes. He made castings in his shop, quenching them in his backyard pool. The frameless design he developed utilized the robust engine for stiffness; while slightly underpowered compared to the competitors, the Brittens succeeded with a combination of light weight and reduced drag (a small front-mounted scoop funneled air over a cooler mounted under the seat).

As the sponsor, Triumph Motorcycles had a prominent place in the vendor area. Mixed among the newest models was a high-piped Thruxton model with a few dings from Tom Cruise’s use in Mission Impossible III. Considering the hard use from the movie, it was in good shape yet had a patina in sync with its heritage. The Triumphs—along with Indian, Royal Enfield and other resurging brands—emphasized that what is old is new again. For any fan of all things vintage, the Barber Festival continues to be a great place to see this happen.

Classic turbo Honda.

Classic turbo Honda.

The 2016 Barber Vintage Festival will be held October 7-9. For more information, visit barbermuseum.org.

Trials demo at the Fan Zone. Don’t try this at home!

Trials demo at the Fan Zone. Don’t try this at home!

Sidecar racing was well represented and a big hit with spectators.

Sidecar racing was well represented and a big hit with spectators.

A small sampling of the VJMC display next to the track.

A small sampling of the VJMC display next to the track.

Wall of Death­­—how do they get insurance with that name?

Wall of Death­­—how do they get insurance with that name?

Early Indian shows that seats were designed to absorb the bumps.

Early Indian shows that seats were designed to absorb the bumps.

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