The American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) has been headquartered in or near Columbus, Ohio, since the late 1920s, with a leafy green campus in the suburb of Pickerington serving as the AMA’s home since 1998. Riding through the gate and down the winding driveway is like entering a lush city park, all but hidden from the nearby houses, office buildings and Interstate 70.
There, adjacent to the AMA’s administrative offices, you’ll find the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum, which houses an impressive collection of motorcycles and memorabilia celebrating the achievements of dozens of inductees. A Honda RC161 GP race bike honors Soichiro Honda; a knobby-tired Husqvarna 400 Cross honors Malcolm Smith; and a triple-piped Triumph X75 Hurricane, the Mystery Ship and a bulbous, fuel-efficient streamliner honor Craig Vetter.
A major source of support for the museum is the AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days (VMD), a yearly event held at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, about 60 miles north of Pickerington. VMD has been going strong for 30 years, bringing together enthusiasts from all walks of life to enjoy the rich heritage of motorcycling. Held over three days in July, VMD’s schedule is packed with so many events and activities that you can’t reasonably do it all. Competing for attendees’ attention are many forms of racing (road races, trials, hare scrambles, motocross and dirt track), demo rides, seminars, bike shows, group rides and what is billed as the World’s Largest Motorcycle Swap Meet, as well as a vendor midway, displays by classic motorcycle clubs, the Wall of Death Thrillshow and more.
Indian Motorcycle was the Marque of the Year for 2014, and the iconic brand was well represented. Grand Marshals for the event were Bill Tuman and Bobby Hill, the two surviving members of Indian’s famous Wrecking Crew that dominated AMA Grand National racing in the 1940s and ’50s. (They were inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998, along with Ernie Beckman, the third member of the Wrecking Crew, who passed away in 1999.) Tuman and Hill, both in their 90s, spent the entire weekend signing autographs and meeting fans. Gary Gray, Product Director for Indian Motorcycle, suited up in special red-and-black leathers to race a rode-hard-and-put-away-oily 1936 Indian Sport Scout in the vintage tank shift class. A full fleet of Indians was available for demo rides, and VMD attendees were the first to see the lineup of 2015 Chiefs with two-tone paint schemes. Beautifully restored Indians were on display in the AMA Hall of Fame Tent, including a stunning 1941 Indian Four with a quartet of pipes running down its right side and a custom called the Continental Scout, a 1949 Scout reimagined as a ’60s-era race bike. Throughout the year, the Hall of Fame sells raffle tickets for a special bike to be given away at VMD, and one lucky guy went home with a nicely restored 1947 Indian Chief.
Although thousands of people attend, VMD feels intimate, like a rural county fair where motorcycles are the amusement rides. You can walk anywhere and strike up conversations with anyone. Everywhere you look are classic motorcycles from every era and manufacturer, some exquisitely restored, others wearing a patina of neglect. You hear the ring-a-ding-ding and smell the acrid smoke of two-strokes. Entering the swap meet area is like falling down the rabbit hole, with pop-up tents as far as the eye can see and table after table crammed with old parts, apparel, helmets, posters, magazines, owner’s manuals and T-shirts, an endless sea of carburetors, exhaust pipes, gas tanks, fenders, seats—you name it. Some vendors specialize in Hondas, others in dirt bikes. Guys ride up and down the aisles on Honda Mini-Trails, ATCs, scooters and mopeds, often with a “For Sale” sign on the front and a milk crate full of loot on the back, their heads swiveling constantly to see if something catches their eye. Serious-looking men in grease-stained jeans and bushy beards pick through boxes, studying this piece or that, assessing provenance and value. One man’s junk is another man’s hard-to-find treasure.
Put AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days on your calendar, and if you can, ride there or fly into Columbus and rent a bike from an outfit like EagleRider. Set aside time to visit the AMA Hall of Fame Museum, which has special exhibits in addition to its main collection, and to explore Ohio’s back roads. After a long, hot day at Mid-Ohio, I spent the afternoon riding east through the Mohican State Forest and the rolling green hills of Amish country. I tacked on an extra day to visit my great aunt in Athens, in the southeastern part of the state, where I explored roads recommended by local resident and Rider contributor Lance Oliver (see Favorite Ride, Rider, September 2009). It was a highlight of last summer, and I look forward to going back.