‘A Century of the American Motorcycle’ promises to be historical ride through time at WRHS (2024)

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Western Reserve Historical Society’s latest exhibit literally began rolling through the display space Monday. That’s because workers began unloading and preparing “A Century of the American Motorcycle,” which will begin a six-month run Thursday, Aug. 19, in the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum.

It came about because of a relationship Dennis Barrie has with an esteemed museum in Alabama and because of interest from WRHS program and marketing manager John Lutsch. Like any intriguing museum exhibit, its genesis lies in history. But it’s also a smart location for the traveling exhibit: Ohio is No. 3 in the nation in motorcycle registration behind California and Florida, Lutsch said.

“For us it’s a good breakout because we have this amazing automobile collection. But let’s expand our world. And it is something that is historic and has been part of the American scene for (more than) 100 years,” said Barrie, a veteran of museum design and displays, and who – with his wife, Kathleen - has worked all over the country. His resume includes being a driving force in launching the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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Monday morning, two 18-wheel trucks arrived from Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. The Barber has more than 1,600 motorcycles in its collection. It even has its own racetrack.

The Cleveland exhibit will display about three dozen motorcycles from the Barber in an exhibit that will “basically consume” a floor at WRHS, Barrie said.

The Barber is a self-sustaining museum with no government assistance, said Barber Executive Director Jeff Ray. It makes its money off renting the track outside and spaces inside. The Barber also made $800,000 off Alabama automobile-museum license plates, collecting $42 from every $50 fee.

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“A Century of the American Motorcycle” is the first of back-to-back exhibits under the umbrella heading, “The Year of the Motorcycle.” Through February, the Barber’s motorcycles – all American-made – will be displayed. The second half will be deemed “Open Road: The Lure of Motorcycling in Ohio” and will encompass foreign bikes.

Motorcycles, Lutsch said, “have a chronological evolution where you can really see how they started out as glorified bicycles. And now with the latest Harley-Davidson electric bike, here we are with the technology. It’s just amazing, seeing that progression. That’s how the show is going to be organized.”

Several motorcycles – each different in shape, era, design and color – line part of the exhibit hall not far from where workers are constructing the presentation. An Indian – with classic typography - sits near a black Ner-a-car from the 1930s, its sleek art-deco design clear.

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“That’s the exciting thing about this show,” Lutsch said. “There’s going to be a lot of things that are not that common.”

The exhibit came about because Barrie worked with the Barber about a decade ago. Barber officials carefully consider requests for traveling exhibits, but the timing and idea worked well for Cleveland.

“It’s like the Louvre of the motorcycle world,” Barrie said. “It is truly the greatest collection of motorcycles in the world.”

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What motivates Barber Executive Director Jeff Ray in presenting the collection in Alabama is this: “We looked at it from ‘How do we want to see this bike?’ "

That means varying viewing angles and elevation points. “You can look at them in several different ways, as practical conveyances and as expressions of personal taste as well,” Lutsch said.

Ray, who has been at the Barber for 32 years, said the collection started in the late 1980s and the museum opened in 1994. Paramount is the presentation for guests. So the Barber eschews what he calls the “Disney line,” referring to exhibits that take you along in a certain direction. The folks in Alabama aim to enhance the viewing experience. Barber’s collection, he said, can offer “sensory overload.”

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The basis for the museum’s vantage is that of an “automotive parking deck,” Ray said, with natural light offering the objects a “personality.”

After the run, which ends in February, the Cleveland History Center will bring in the “Open Road” sequel. Rolling events, ride-ins, lectures and demonstrations also are in the works.

More info

Cleveland History Center is at 10825 East Blvd., in Western Reserve Historical Center, in Cleveland’s University Circle. Hours: Noon to 8 p.m. Thursday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday to Sunday. Advanced tickets are recommended; go to cletix.com. Go to www.wrhs.org for Covid restrictions. The motorcycle exhibit’s grand opening is 6 p.m. Thursday Aug. 19. Opening remarks start at 6:30 p.m. with exhibit viewing until 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 ($20, WRHS members).

Starting Friday, Aug. 20, Cleveland History Center regular admission rates will be $15 for adults, $13 for seniors, $12 for veterans, $10 for college students with ID and $6 for children ages 3-12. WRHS members, active military and children under 2 are free.

Related coverage: Museum consultants Dennis and Kathy Barrie add U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum to their national portfolio

I am on cleveland.com’s life and culture team and cover food, beer, wine and sports-related topics. If you want to see my stories, here’s a directory on cleveland.com. Bill Wills of WTAM-1100 and I talk food and drink usually at 8:20 a.m. Thursday morning. And tune in at 7:05 a.m. Wednesdays for “Beer with Bona and Much, Much More” with Munch Bishop on 1350-AM The Gambler. Twitter: @mbona30.

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‘A Century of the American Motorcycle’ promises to be historical ride through time at WRHS (2024)
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