Get Your Motor Runnin'
Benjamin Johnson says guys like Bob Harris—motorcycle aficionado, collector, shop owner, and founder of the Odd Ball Old Dog Motorcycle Group—are a one-of-a-kind breed.
“Guys like Bob...I mean, I don’t think I like anything as much as they like motorcycles,” Johnson says with a laugh. “They eat, sleep, breathe everything motorcycles. They’ll drive ten hours and sleep in the back of their pickup truck if it means they can go see a swap meet or a motorcycle get-together of a specific brand or type.”
Fortunately for those diehards in northern Pennsylvania and the Finger Lakes, however, they won’t have to drive quite that far to indulge their passion this February. The aptly named 2018 Wintercycle Therapy event is slated for February 24-25 at the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum at 8419 State Route 54, just outside the bucolic and historic little village of Hammondsport on the southern tip of Keuka Lake.
Johnson, a Nebraska native who has been executive director of the Curtiss Museum since 2016, expects over one hundred vintage and classic motorcycles from 1904 through the 1970s to be on display, many provided by the museum, others by Harris (above with the museum’s V8) and other collectors. There also will be vendors, raffles, food, play areas for the kids, and the museum’s regular collection of items related to early aviation, motorcycles, automobiles, bicycles, and local history.
The genesis of the winter event is actually a summer show that the museum started hosting over a dozen years ago. It was so successful they decided to try a winter show as well about ten years ago. “The idea is that there are lots of get-togethers and ride-ins and motorcycle shows, car shows, in the summertime,” Johnson says. “The weather’s great, it’s a beautiful part of the country to get out and ride. But there’s a subset of our people that are motorcycle lovers that, by the time it gets to be January and February in this part of the world, have been off their bikes for two, three, four months and are itching to get back out there.”
Put another way, by Harris: “We made up the name Wintercycle Therapy because that’s what this is, cycle therapy. What else are you gonna do in the winter? We ride on the ice a little bit, but that’s about it. We’re bored to death.” Harris, who lives about sixty miles from Hammondsport in Belfast, is well known in the area for his passionate love of motorcycles. He was enlisted as the main organizer—“My wife says I’m like the hub of the wheel, and I say it’s a wheel that has to be odd and has to be old”—and has watched like a proud papa as the Wintercycle Therapy show has gone viral before his eyes. “It’s really grown by leaps and bounds from those first years,” says Johnson, noting that last year’s event drew about 1,500 patrons in the two days, or again, in the words of the colorful Harris: “It’s crowded like the mall on Black Friday.” Wintercycle Therapy is family friendly and very true to the museum’s namesake, Glenn Curtiss, who was born in Hammondsport in 1878 and was an aviation and motorcycling pioneer and one of the founders of the U.S. aircraft industry. In fact, one of the most popular motorcycles at the show will be an exact reproduction of the V-8 model that Curtiss rode to earn the title of “Fastest Man on Earth” in 1907.
“He had this aptitude for mechanical things, for making them better, more powerful and faster,” Johnson says of Curtiss. “He basically got started when he saw an ad in a magazine for a single-cylinder gasoline engine, and when it showed up, he was disappointed. He said, ‘I can build something better,’ and then he went about doing that.”
Curtiss began, like his competitors the Wright brothers, building and racing bicycles. When he started fiddling with engines, he moved on to racing motorcycles. at all culminated, Johnson said, at Ormond Beach, Florida, near Daytona and nicknamed “The Birthplace of Speed” with Curtiss’s runs “where he became the fastest man in the world on a self-designed, self- built motorcycle.” His world record speed of 136.36 miles per hour at Ormond Beach stood until 1930.
“He had some guts. You’ve got to have a little bit of a daring streak to do some of the stuff that he did,” Johnson says. “I’ve talked to guys who say, ‘I’ve been one hundred miles an hour on modern bikes with modern materials and modern brakes, and the world is going by awfully fast.’ These guys can’t imagine going one-hundred-thirty-plus miles an hour on an old bike like that.”
Other Curtiss-built bikes from the period will be on display at Wintercycle, along with some rare and vintage Hendersons and Indians (America’s first motorcycle company), early Harley- Davidsons, and even foreign-built Yamahas, Suzukis, Kawasakis, and BMWs. “There’re even some more of the older oddball ones thrown in there,” Johnson adds. “So it’s fun, even if you only have a passing interest in motorcycles or engines or any of that stuff. They’re working pieces of art.”
Harris expects to have fifteen or sixteen of his own motorcycles on display at the show, including a 1937 Scott Flying Squirrel, a 1969 Laverda American Eagle, and probably at least a couple of dirt bikes. Johnson says it’s the diversity in the types of motorcycles that draws everyone from the hardcore enthusiasts to those who are just curious. Admission is ten dollars for adults and seven dollars for children ages seven to eighteen. (For more information go to www.glennhcurtissmuseum.org or call 607-569-2160.)
“You get a chance to get up close and personal with a lot of the items in our collection,” Johnson says. “Granted we don’t want you hopping on them and trying to ride them away, but you’re not looking at them through three-inch-thick bulletproof glass, either. Everyone can just relax, not worry about all the drama in the world, and just enjoy themselves for a day.”
You don’t have to be a motorcycle devotee to be good with that.