Whenever I go to events, I’m surrounded by cars. National concours, local shows, museums, auctions, swap meets— they all tend to center on four-wheeled fun. One of the best shows I attend, however, is the Barber Vintage Festival in Birmingham, Alabama. Now in its 15th year, it’s held annually in early October. No matter where you are during the weekend, there are motorcycles in every direction. People camp by the thousands and pack the local hotels, and every parking area you encounter is its own bike show.
I love bikes and I own a bunch, so it’s always great to go to a place where you can see so many great ones and mingle with people who live and breathe them just like you do. Roaming the 930 acres of Barber Motorsports Park, I get to meet hundreds of people and hear their stories, and every one of them is fascinating.
George Barber is the man behind Barber Motorsports Park and the fantastic Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. Barber was a real hotshoe, racing Porsches back in the 1960s while working in a successful family dairy business. In 1988, on the advice of a bike-loving friend, he began developing a motorcycle collection with one goal—to make it the biggest and best in the world. Barber has done just that, and more than 1600 bikes (and over 100 cars) from his diverse collection have been on display in the 140,000-square-foot museum since 2003. The park also has a massive library, a high-tech machine shop, and a restoration facility. I’ve visited Barber Motorsports Park five times, and each time it feels like a new experience. I love strolling through the many levels of the building. It’s easy to lose yourself there.
Thousands of riders, collectors, and racers come to Birmingham from all over the world because, like me, they love motorcycles and the camaraderie that surrounds them. So many U.S. bike events are dominated by Harleys and Indians—which are a big part of the Barber Vintage Festival, too—but Barber’s event goes beyond, particularly because of its scale. Look one way and there are hundreds of Hondas, Suzukis, Yamahas, and Kawasakis. Turn around to see Ducatis, Moto Guzzis, Bimotas, MV Agustas, and Aprilias. And of course the British contingent is strong, with bikes from Triumph, Norton, BSA, Matchless, and even the revered Vincent and Brough. Whether your first bike was a Honda Z50 Mini Trail, a BMW R60, or a Triumph Daytona, you’re almost certain to see one or more just like it.
If I’m not wandering the museum, there are plenty of other things to do. There’s a Bonhams auction to see, and I always take in some racing from the Ace Corner at the 2.38-mile, 16-turn track, a world-class venue that comes alive with the unmistakable sounds of high-strung racing bikes being ridden by amateurs and famous professionals alike. There are several seminars, with topics that cover values, auctions, collectibility, preservation, and more. I always seem to get into trouble at the swap meet. Whether it’s a Moto Guzzi police bike or a totally original 1975 Harley-Davidson FLH with 1000 miles, I almost always end up going home with something I don’t need.
This year, I’m going to ship three of my bikes—a 1958 Ducati 200 Elite, a 1934 Cotton 500-cc single, and an all-original 1928 Indian Scout 101—to Birmingham for a special display. I’ll use them as part of my own seminar in which I’ll discuss not only what makes them so special to me but also where they fit in the market. The seminar will be held in the fifth-floor gallery, allowing room for many more people than ever before.
To me, motorcycles are rolling art. How the engine looks and how the suspension functions come together to make every motorcycle interesting. I have a preference for early bikes because they reflect so many great ideas and they’re all so different—and so much more than mere two-wheeled transportation.
The beauty of the Barber Vintage Festival is that it has something for everyone. I love it all.