MOTORCYCLES ON THE MOVE

Petersen Museum reopens with major motorcycle exhibit and from TV to Indy, and LA to Monterey, riding has gained a ton of positive exposure.

Petersen Automotive Museum exterior view

In 2015, motorcycles were included in several high-visibility productions that hugely validate them to the general public. One was Toyota’s new dirt-bike filled Tacoma commercials, another MotoAmerica’s spirited demo lap at the Indy 500, America’s largest spectator event. Then at the upscale Jet Center Party that kicks off Monterey’s summer car week, motorcycles struck the broadest stance in 25 years. And most recently, the renovated Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles expanded the square footage for motorcycles fourfold, including bikes on all three floors.

Petersen Automotive Museum motorcycle exhibit

Located near downtown, the Petersen museum opened in 1994 but by 2012 needed reincarnation – in form, content, and vision. Enter over a half-dozen heavy-duty philanthropists including Richard Varner (backer of the MotoAmerica racing series), along with executive director Terry Karges. Together they mapped out a full rework that turned the place into a truly contemporary automotive and motorcycle museum. Attended by 750 people, the opening gala on December 6 revealed 26 motorcycles among dozens of important cars including Ferrari, Aston Martin, Porsche, McLaren and Mercedes-Benz. "I would have to say that no other auto museum gets close to what we provide," said Karges, who is also a MotoAmerica partner. "I describe it as 21st Century storytelling. The exhibits get you so close to the automobile's emotional context, that some people quite literally tear up."

Petersen Automotive Museum motorcycle exhibit close-up

Varner curated the bikes personally, strongly asserting their importance within the automotive sphere. "The first use of internal combustion was a motorcycle, and so bikes are actually the nexus of automobiles," he noted. "Curtiss and BMW motorcycle engines influenced aviation enormously, and the success of Honda's original CB750 Four supported development of the first Honda Civic." Displays contain influential examples from a 1903 Thor/Indian Camelback to a 2015 Kawasaki H2R, plus game-changers like the 1961 Honda Cub step-through and the 1995 Ducati 916 sportbike. A serious enthusiast, Varner contributed a rare 750cc AMA racing-homologated 1970 Triumph Bonneville T120RT and a 1983 six-cylinder Benelli Sei from his own stable. "We looked at three criteria when selecting bikes," he said. "First was significant motorcycles over the last 100 years. We then considered engine configuration, because unlike in a car, the motor is clearly the heart of every motorcycle. Finally, we added scooters for entertainment, because everyone smiles when they see one."

Vincent motorcycles at Jet Center Party event

Another gain for motorcycling in 2015 was a record number of bikes at the Jet Center Party (a.k.a. McCall's Motorworks Revival) in August. Imagine a red-carpet evening for internal-combustion junkies. Hosting 3,000 people in two hangars and on a taxiway, the event featured 28 bikes, including numerous Vincents, racing Nortons, performance cruisers from actor Keanu Reeves' Arch Motorcycle Company, early Moto Guzzi 500 singles, a new Lightning electric superbike, and more.

Arch Motorcycle Company

Öhlins suspension distributor Dan Kyle brought Garden Gate and Featherbed Manxes. “The Manxes are some of the best-looking bikes ever made,” he said. “They also have a racing history that is unmatched – in their time, Manxes were ridden by every rider that went on to greatness.” After getting a Mert Lawwill Street Tracker a few years ago, 1985 Indy 500 winner Danny Sullivan bought and restored a Vincent Black Shadow. “The Vincent has a stellar reputation, and the Black Shadow is a joy to ride fast and handles fantastic,” he said. Nearby sat the electric Lightning LS-218, so named for its 218-mph run at Bonneville in 2012. “With over 200 lb.-ft. of torque compared to under 100 for a 1000cc sportbike, the launch off the corners is much, much stronger,” noted CEO Richard Hatfield. The company aims to launch a 600 supersport-sized machine in 2016.

Wayne Rainey Yamaha custom sportbike at Jet Center Party event

As sometimes happens in such a vibrant environment, it's the quiet moments that speak the loudest. And a good one came near the end of the evening as racers Eddie Lawson and Wayne Rainey spied a 1974 Yamaha TZ700A along with Mule Motorcycles' YZF-R1 powered custom sportbike that Rainey credits with inspiring the MotoAmerica series. Four-time world champ Lawson climbed aboard, tucked his chin down on the tank and threw his famous thousand-yard stare right through the Plexiglas windscreen. "Damn," he said. "This thing feels just like my old bikes."

You won’t find that at just any garage party.

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Petersen Automotive Museum exhibit.John L. Stein

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Petersen Automotive Museum exhibit.John L. Stein

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Petersen Automotive Museum exhibit.John L. Stein

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Petersen Automotive Museum exhibit.John L. Stein

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Petersen Automotive Museum exhibit.John L. Stein

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Petersen Automotive Museum exhibit.John L. Stein

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Petersen Automotive Museum exhibit.John L. Stein

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Petersen Automotive Museum exhibit.John L. Stein

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Petersen Automotive Museum exhibit.John L. Stein

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Petersen Automotive Museum.John L. Stein

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell

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2015 Jet Center Party.Jeff Bushnell