Motorcycles grabbed my attention from a young age, and since I grew up near Springfield, Massachusetts, the original home of Indian Motocycles (no “r”), I’ve seen my share of vintage Indians. But the best collection I’ve seen yet is in Newburgh, New York, at the museum called Motorcyclepedia. You’ll find more than 400 bikes here, including the world’s only “Indian Time Line” with at least one model from every production year of the original Indian brand.
You can easily spend hours in the Indian exhibit (I did), but that’s just the beginning of this impressive destination. Do you like all manner of Harley-Davidsons? They’re here. Military and police bikes? Yes, sir. Custom choppers? Got ’em. Bikes from long-ago manufacturers like Thor, Yale and Wagner? Those, too. Even the oldest running motorcycle in North America, an 1897 De Dion-Bouton trike made in France, is on permanent display.
Motorcyclepedia, which opened in 2011, highlights motorcycles and memorabilia largely from the collections of Jerry Doering and his son Ted. Jerry raced Indians in the 1940s and began collecting them in 1949. Ted, who serves as the museum’s Director, started building choppers in the 1960s and expanded the Doering collection with Harleys and cool moto memorabilia. The business success of these motorcycle entrepreneurs enabled them to build an extensive collection, and now you can see it for yourself.
Of course I rode a motorcycle to Motorcyclepedia. I zipped along winding secondary roads through the hills of rural western Connecticut and the eastern Hudson River Valley. Eventually I arrived in the gritty small city of Newburgh, where I was pleasantly surprised to find a museum of this caliber. Like the best museums, Motorcyclepedia is a learning experience. Well-researched details about most bikes on display are nicely presented alongside the machines. Your time spent reading is well rewarded.
My attention focused first on a 1901 Indian nicknamed the Camel Back, which features a 13-cubic-inch, 1.75-horsepower Aurora Thor single mounted in a bicycle frame. Only three units were produced. Moving on I learned that the first motorcycles used by the New York City Police Department were Indians, in 1907. Then I learned that the first motorcycle with an electric starter was an Indian, in 1914, a year before the first kickstarters were introduced. And then I learned that Harley-Davidson did not introduce an electric starter in its product line until 1965. (The Indian/Harley rivalry lives!)
In due course I pressed on to other themed galleries, such as Chopper City, the Circa Timeline, Fast from the Past and the Wall of Death Motordromes. Throughout the museum there are movie posters, album covers, ads, signs and pieces of pop culture, all tied somehow to motorcycles.
Among the bikes I found most intriguing are those outfitted with a sidecar. There are sidecars with iceboxes for meat deliveries and ice cream treats. Some passenger hacks include exquisite coachwork like you’d expect to find on a fine automobile of the era. For speed demons, there’s a Honda CB750 racer with wide, low-slung accommodation for a brave sidecar monkey.
One fascinating model is a 1936 Indian Traffic Car set up as a beer wagon. Powered by the ubiquitous Scout 42-degree, 45-cubic-inch V-twin, this rig has sprockets on each side of a jackshaft that turn drive wheels on each rear axle, providing two-wheel drive that must be helpful when transporting
loads of beer.
There are examples of other vehicles powered by motorcycle engines. The Eliason Motor Toboggan, manufactured by Four Wheel Drive Auto Company Limited of Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, has a 45-cubic-inch Indian motor, 3-speed transmission and a cleated traction belt. The term “snowmobile” had apparently not yet been coined when this machine first provided “fast winter transportation over uncharted country” at speeds up to 40 mph.
You’ll want to linger over the classic eye candy on the Winner’s Circle Concours. Champion-class bikes are displayed that received the highest award possible in rigorous judging by the Antique Motorcycle Club of America. To be eligible for judging, a bike must be at least 35 years old and restored or maintained in a condition as accurate as possible to the day it was manufactured.
The Winner’s Circle exhibit is permanent, but bikes on loan from their owners are rotated in periodically, so on your next visit you may see different bikes. I saw Garrett Bekker’s 1956 Triumph Canadian Military, Walt Curro’s 1938 Indian Four, Eli Sentman’s 1969 Honda 750 Four and Bruce Thompson’s 1965 Honda Dream. Ron Schavrien’s 1976 Hercules W2000 that was featured in Rider (March 2015) is on display now.
Perhaps anticipating the challenge of constantly reminding young visitors to look with their eyes and not with their hands, several vintage bikes located throughout the museum are set up specifically so kids of all ages can climb on, make motor noises and mug for a camera. Great idea!
Motorcyclepedia is about 60 miles north of New York City. It’s open Friday, Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. year round, except for the occasional holiday noted on the website.