America should designate a national park dedicated to motorcycles, and I nominate the Barber Vintage Motorsports Park. Set on 880 acres in the lush, rolling hills east of Birmingham, Alabama, it’s a motorcycle dreamland. A 16‑turn, 2.4‑mile racetrack designed with input from John Surtees and Dan Gurney winds through the campus. There are no grandstands, just well‑manicured grassy hillsides where spectators can spread out chairs, blankets, and umbrellas.
The crown jewel, of course, is the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, which holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest collection of motorcycles: more than 1,800 of them representing 200 manufacturers from 22 countries.
More than 1,000 motorcycles are on display at any given time, and they are spread out over five floors in a spacious, well‑lit cathedral of speed and engineering. The top floor of the museum houses the Barber Advanced Design Center, an industrial design lab.
Barber has hosted rounds of AMA/MotoAmerica Superbike racing since 2003. I attended the Superbike races in 2004, where I watched the dominant Mat Mladin battle it out against Jake Zemke and Miguel Duhamel. It also hosts American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association (AHRMA) racing.
Barber hosts two annual motorcycling events: Barber Small Bore, which celebrates the wild and wacky world of minibikes, and Barber Vintage Festival, which brings together vintage bike fans for a three‑day festival packed with AHRMA races, demo rides, bike shows, seminars, museum tours, vendor areas, and a huge swap meet.
This past October, the 18th annual Barber Vintage Festival hosted the inaugural BMW Motorrad Days Americas – a spin‑off of the event that takes place every summer in Germany – to celebrate the 100th anniversary of BMW Motorrad.
BMW invited members of the motorcycle media and friends of the brand to be part of the event, which gave me the opportunity for a long-overdue visit to the festival and museum. I’ve been told that you can’t do justice to the museum in less than a full day, and truer words have never been spoken. The scale, depth, and breadth of the collection is mind‑boggling.
On Friday, our chummy group of motojournalists saddled up on a fleet of BMW R 18 Roctanes to ride from our hotel to Barber. We were joined by Peter Nettesheim and his daughter, Kate. Nettesheim’s New York home showcases the world’s largest collection of BMW motorcycles. He owns at least one of every BMW model built between 1923 and 1970, including the oldest known example of the first motorcycle BMW built, the 1923 R 32, as well as various newer models and an extensive collection of BMW paraphernalia.
Upon arriving at Barber, I hopped on one of the shuttles that carries visitors along the park’s ring road surrounding the racetrack and ferries them to the museum, the Fan Zone, the swap meet, the Proving Grounds, the paddock, and the spectating areas. Motorcycles were parked on nearly every available patch of grass, and the age range and diversity of bikes were impressive. The blue smoke and ring‑a‑ding sounds of 2‑strokes filled the air, and old‑school minibikes piloted by hipsters and overgrown boys zipped around everywhere. Harleys, Hondas, and Hodakas of various vintages and conditions sat proudly on makeshift kickstand pads, some with “For Sale” signs tucked into the handlebars. Name any motorcycle brand, and it was represented somewhere by someone.
My first stop was the sprawling Proving Grounds, which was the staging area for demo rides offered by BMW, CFMOTO, Indian, KTM, Royal Enfield, Triumph, Yamaha, and electric bike maker Ryvid. BMW had an enormous fleet of bikes on hand and was offering both on‑road and off‑road demos. Next to BMW’s demo area, our very own Quinn Redeker gave hourly police‑style riding demonstrations on a BMW R 1250 RT‑P, and his humor and skills weaving through tight cone patterns kept folks thoroughly entertained.
Near the Proving Grounds was the Isle of Triumph, an immersive fan experience located inside the racetrack with live music, a bike show, art installations, and vendors selling food, drinks, and merch.
Next, I made my way over to the Henderson Auctions Fan Zone, which overlooks the racetrack and had a bouncy‑house kids zone, American Motor Drome Company’s Wall of Death, the Urias Family Globe of Death, and a vendor area, where I visited our friends at Royal Enfield, SW‑Motech, and Wunderlich America.
Taking up most of the real estate in the Fan Zone was the BMW Motorrad Days Americas area, which included displays of current and historical models, a beer garden, a stage with live music, a merchandise store, and partner displays, including Edelweiss Bike Travel, RawHyde Adventures, and the BMW Performance Center.
On the stage at noon, GS Brand Ambassador Shawn “Rock On” Thomas and BMW Motorrad VP Region Americas Trudy Hardy gave a few introductory remarks before pulling a cover off the 2024 BMW R 1300 GS – the bike’s first public showing since being announced on Sept. 28 (see page 7 for details). After Stefan Reiff, BMW Motorrad’s VP of Customer, Brand and Sales, gave an overview of the new GS, Thomas rolled it off the stage, and I captured a short video of him starting up the bike, which is available on the Rider YouTube channel. The R 1300 GS was on display the rest of the weekend, giving folks a chance to check out the bike up close.
At dinner on Friday night, I had the privilege of sitting with Udo Giestl, who worked as an engineer for Butler & Smith, the former U.S. importer for BMW motorcycles. He built the R 90 S racebikes that Reg Pridmore, Gary Fisher, and Steve McLaughlin campaigned in the inaugural 1976 season of AMA Superbike racing. McLaughlin and Pridmore finished 1‑2 in the Daytona 200 that year, and Pridmore won the championship.
On Saturday, Giestl’s son, Eric, led the BMW parade laps on a restored version of Pridmore’s R 90 S racebike, and he was flanked by Peter and Kate Nettesheim on two vintage BMWs from Peter’s collection.
That same day, Revival Cycles hosted a BMW‑only ride‑in bike show, which included well‑maintained bikes of new and old vintages as well as various customs, like an R 75/5 chopper with a raked‑out springer front end. I joined several other journalists for an in‑depth tour of the BMWs in the Barber Museum given by BMW archivist Fred Jakobs, who had traveled from Germany to attend the event.
It was a full, fun weekend with more to do than there was time to do it. No word yet whether BMW Motorrad Days Americas will become an annual event, but no matter what, put the Barber Vintage Festival on your calendar (Oct. 11‑13, 2024), and make sure you allow plenty of time to explore the museum.
For more information, visit the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum website.