By Jordan Cohen
To walk through the display of antique and classic motorcycles at the National Packard Museum is to visit history as it was experienced on two wheels for more than 100 years.
The 14th Annual Antique Motorcycle Exhibit, “Motorcycles 3 for 10,” which runs till May 31, features three two-wheelers for each decade of the 20th century, starting with a 1904 Columbia Single. With a horsepower slightly above 2, the Columbia is the oldest motorcycle on display.
“It could get up to 30 miles per hour,” said Bruce Williams, the show’s curator. “You had to pedal to start the engine, and when you stopped, you had to pedal to start again.”
Hanging above each trio of cycles are graphics that illustrate the “3 for 10” theme with lists of world news, development of motorcycles and the history of Warren-based Packard cars.
One cycle, a 1915 Austro Omega built in Austria, is completely original with no restored or rebuilt parts. It looks its age, but that’s not a problem, according to Williams. “You just wipe it down with an oily rag and it looks fine,” he said.
Bill Jackson of Southington and his wife, Sylvia, admired a beautifully restored three-wheel 1948 Harley- Davidson, which Jackson said is ironic. He has owned a 1948 two-wheeled Harley for 40 years that must be restored before he can take it out again.
“I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, and I need to do it one of these days,” he said.
“I’m not sure whether I’ll ride on the back if you do,” said his wife.
Bruce Lindsay of Chagrin Falls, who owns the Columbia Single and several other cycles in the show, has been collecting antique motorcycles for 35 years. He also fashions and builds parts that are no longer available. Lindsay, 68, began riding cycles when he was a teenager and said they’ve been his life ever since.
“I just love restoring them and doing the research,” said Lindsay. So does Williams, who enjoys the results of rebuilding the classic machines.
“You have no idea whether everything is going to work, but when the cylinder gets warm for the first time in 80 years, it’s really neat,” the curator said.
“Especially when you hear the engine run,” said Lindsay.
Some of the cycles are nestled among classic, eye-catching Packards, such as the 1936 pace car for the Indianapolis 500 and a restored 1934 Packard Standard 8 Roadster with a rumble seat. Ron Lamendola of Mantua, owner of a classic 1978 Italian-made cycle, said he enjoyed the cars as much as the cycles.
“It’s a lot of fun, but I realize how much things have changed, especially for motorcycles,” Lamendola said.
One thing that will never change, he said, is the enjoyment of riding.
“Nothing like going out on an open country road at 65 miles per hour on a 70-degree day,” he said. “That’s the thrill of it.”