By Jordan Cohen
Motorcycles play a major role in the history of America’s love affair with the road, a fact not lost on Charles Gottardi of Homeworth at Saturday’s opening of the annual cycle exhibit at the National Packard Museum.
“I like history and cycles, and that’s why I’m here,” he said as he intently studied the many classic motorcycles displayed among the equally classic Packard cars. “Having the cycles together with the cars is like getting peanuts and a cherry on top of a sundae.”
The 13th annual exhibit, “Motorcycles ABC: Antiques, Bobbers, Customs,” features more than 30 classic and custom cycles as examples of the three categories.
Topping the list of the antiques is a 1911 Flanders manufactured in Detroit and looking very much as it did more than 100 years ago. A custom cycle next to it, however, a 1949 Harley-Davidson Model EL attracted far more attention.
The cycle is defined as a “chopper,” customized with a long wheelbase reminiscent of the cycle prominently featured in the 1968 counterculture film “Easy Rider.” Nearby, a large picture from the movie shows its two stars, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, with Fonda riding his “Captain America” chopper.
Despite the movie’s title, the cycle was anything but an easy ride, according to Bruce Williams, the show’s curator.
“The tire would start to tip because of the severe angle of the steering, and that made it tough going around the corners,” Williams said. “But the choppers [represent] individualism for people to show what they can do.”
“I’d love to have that,” said Mike Diamantis of Brookfield, a longtime motorcycle rider. “It’s just one beautiful specimen of a bike.”
Kathy Lockso of Poland took an entirely opposite view, however.
“This is the ugliest bike I’ve ever seen,” she said. “I love motorcycles, but this ...” She did not finish the sentence.
Another cycle likely to draw crowds during the show’s run is the 1988 Knievel Motorcycle custom designed by the late cycling daredevil Evel Knievel and manufactured in Greenville, Pa. He died in 2007 at age 69.
Knievel’s faded signature is on the gas tank on the cycle that features the prominent red, white and blue flag design that became his trademark. Knievel Cycles, which built the machine, continues to manufacture similar cycles in Greenville.
Williams said the other category, bobbers, describes a type of cycle that emerged after World War II when military-surplus cycles were made available at very low prices to the public.
“They would buy those surplus cycles, remove anything that wasn’t needed for running them and try to make them look like racing bikes,” he said. A number of bobbers, characterized by little or no front fender and a shortened back fender, are displayed throughout the exhibit.
Williams said the show has been successful because each year features different motorcycles that keep the display original and unique. “In 13 years, we’ve only repeated three motorcycles,” he said.
The exhibit runs through May 19.