This September, lovers of two-wheeled fun will have a chance to a piece of motorcycle history. After 34 years of operation, the National Motorcycle Museum will be closing its doors on September 5. A day later, its incredible collection of over 300 motorcycles will roll across the Mecum Auctions block. Along with them will be over 6,000 pieces of road art divided into upwards of 1,000 lots. It’s a sad end for an epic museum, but the rides will live on with collectors.
This news, which I first saw over at RevZilla, hit me like a ton of bricks. I love reading and writing about motorcycle history. The National Motorcycle Museum is chock-full of history articles on all kinds of motorcycles. If you love dreaming about vintage motorcycles, there’s plenty to look at. You can even learn about the glorious Honda CBX1000 SuperSport or maybe the brutal William “Wild Bill” Gelbke RoaDog from the 1960s:
Your eyes don’t deceive you, this motorcycle is a total monster. It’s 17 feet long and weighs almost 3,300 pounds. It’s powered by a Chevrolet 153 cubic inch four-cylinder borrowed from a Nova. That sends power through a two-speed PowerGlide and a modified truck differential to a wide rear wheel. The museum notes that the motorcycle actually weighs more than the 2,645-pound Nova that gave its engine to the RoaDog.
I recommend clicking the link here to learn more about the eccentric William “Wild Bill” Gelbke.
The Closure Of A Massive Museum
Anyway, there is still time to see these gems in person. It’s something I’ll try to do before the clock strikes midnight on the museum. When September 6 hits, the motorcycles owned by the museum will roll across the block in a massive auction that will roll on until September 9.
Motorcycle news sites have been reporting about the closure of the National Motorcycle Museum for a few months. Back in 2020, the country ground to a halt due to the pandemic. Businesses that ran based on customers visiting, such as eateries, found themselves losing heaps of money unable to sell their wares. At the time, it seemed like I read stories of local restaurants closing every week. As you could imagine, museums faced similar difficulties. They couldn’t open their doors to patrons, but still had to pay the bills.
As reported by KCRG news in 2020, the National Motorcycle Museum found itself shuttered for eight weeks while the pandemic raged on. When it finally reopened on May 26th, 2020, the museum found itself in a tough spot of having to pay the bills without much in the way of donations. It also missed a hot part of the motorcycling season. Museum director Bill Barber told KCRG news:
“That was tough. Even though we weren’t open the utilities continued, $1,200 dollar a month electric bills continued to mount, we have to just hope to make it back this year.
Barber noted that the museum also missed out on the wave of riders that would normally visit in April and much of May. April brings enough warmth to convince a number of motorcyclists to hit the road, and a museum would be a stop for many.
Sadly, the struggle proved too difficult to overcome. The museum, which opened in 1989 in Iowa by J&P Cycles founders John and Jill Parham, will close. Here’s the museum’s statement on its closure:
Located in eastern Iowa in the small town of Anamosa, the National Motorcycle Museum has been home to over 500 motorcycles, a great bicycle collection and thousands of pieces of memorabilia. After 22 years in this location, however, the Board of Directors, lead by Chairman Jill Parham, has decided to close the Museum later this year. “We have struggled for several years to cover wages and utilities partly due to low visitation.” The Museum is one of about six motorcycle museums in America operated as a non-profit and was established in Iowa by J&P Cycles founders John and Jill Parham. As is proper with closing non-profits, the Museum is using professional counsel during the process. Owners of loaned motorcycles have been contacted, motorcycles that belong to the Museum will be liquidated at auction to pay bills. Much of the Parham Collection will be sold as well. If you would like to be informed of the sales, go to the Museum’s website and sign up for email, www.nationalmcmuseum.org. Since this is the unfortunate end of a fine museum, we hope you’ll make plans to visit one more time. Closing date is end of day, September 4, 2023, giving visitors to Sturgis and the Blackhawk MC meet in Davenport a chance to stop by.
Founder John Parham passed in 2017 from pulmonary fibrosis, leaving Jill as Chairwoman of the museum’s board. The museum still has hope that someone will come around and continue the museum’s mission of educating and wowing patrons about the history of motorcycling. If nobody comes around, Mecum will be the museum’s final destination.
Should that happen, there are some epic pieces of motorcycling history coming up for grabs. The museum has listings for some of the scheduled machines and I’ve linked them below if you want to learn more. Mecum says the headlining motorcycles will be:
1927 Brough Superior SS100 Pendine
1936 Norton International Road Racer
1937 Harley-Davidson EL Knucklehead
1952 Vincent Black Shadow
Mecum notes that the 300-plus motorcycle auction also includes several Harley-Davidsons, Indians, Triumphs, BSAs, motorcycles from Japan, and motorcycles from obscure brands. Mecum has set up a link to view the collection, but as of right now, it leads to a 404 error. I suspect that will be fixed in the coming days.
A lot of these motorcycles are restored machines in museum-quality condition, so I would expect them to sell for huge amounts of money. If you are like me and do not have a ton of cash for a vintage steed, the museum will also sell off more than 6,000 pieces of road art. The National Motorcycle Museum is full of artifacts from phone booths and neon signs to posters, artwork, vintage motorcycling gear, and other pieces that make up the museum’s displays. These pieces will be divided into around 1,000 lots.
If you want in on the auction, Mecum is hosting a preview day on September 5. The auction, called the “John Parham Estate Collection at the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa,” will run September 6 through 9. Bidder registration can be handled online or in person. Registration costs you $100 and if you’re in person, that gets you and a guest through the door.
Until then, you can still visit the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa (Read our story “Here Are Three More Motorcycle Museums In America For You To Visit Even After The National Motorcycle Museum Closes.”) I will certainly do so myself before time runs out. Hopefully, either the museum can be saved or these motorcycles find new, loving homes. Before you go, here are some more of the machines that will likely be crossing the block:
Here Are Three More Motorcycle Museums In America For You To Visit Even After The National Motorcycle Museum Closes
Here Are Five Cheap Used Motorcycles You Can Buy For Less Than $5,000
A Lithium Motorcycle Battery Has Turned My Basket Case Triumph Into A Reliable Bike
The 2023 Royal Enfield Hunter 350 Is A Stunning Classic Motorcycle That Costs Only $4,000
British Motorcycle Firm BSA Is Back, And It Wants To Bring Some Beautiful 1960s-Style Iron To America
I’m an hour away and agree with many on the idea of having a quick autopian meet up, tour and maybe bike ride! I’d be happy to help plan and coordinate.
A friend of mine loaned a bike to this museum ~10 years ago. Or maybe it was considered a donation, he seems a little unsure, but is now surprised it will be sold.
Such a shame.Still,most will be bought by collectors so they’ll be well cared for
Careful what you wish for… Aside from the Brough type of crowd who will park the object on a pedestal and it’s an object-de-art, anyone who want a useable bike be careful. I have a beautiful Moto Guzzi El Dorado that came from a museum with very limited miles. It needed every rubber component ie seals, gators, tires and boots on switches and controls replaced as well as every frame bearing like swing arm, steering head, wheel bearings etc. All the grease had curdled and cables had seized. Carbs needed major… MAJOR work, fuel taps replaced, tank relined, every hose and oil line changed Was not the ‘deal’ it should have been unless I never wanted to actually make it move and maybe use it. If you want to buy as a pedestal trophy? Go for it. Want to maybe ride it? Will cost you a heap to do so.
So sad, we stopped at the museum on our way moving from MN to AZ. Great place, you were able to see a little or a lot, one of those exhibits that you can visit 10 times and still find details you missed, I’m sure.
I don’t really want to get on a rant about folks not supporting museums, but I regret when they close.
I’m not man enough to handle a Vincent Black Shadow, but it would sure be cool to think about that you owned one!
Had an inner tube blow out on the BMW R75 last week (at slow speed) and the MZ Trophy won’t start, so my garage IS slowly turning into a motorcycle museum..
Thanks for writing this story. Living in the middle of the country I feel like a lot of the car/vehicle culture stuff I like happens on the coasts. This is less than a day’s drive away. I have driven by the signs many times and always been in too much of a hurry to get from here to there to stop. Will make a point of visiting this summer.
This is in my backyard, I am going to miss going by this place. I will drop by on my way to Galena Ill this weekend.
I can tell you right now….not a single normal run of the mill biker will be able to touch a thing at that auction… I would love to attend just knowing who all will be in attendance! Wow
When I first saw this, I thought the article was about the National Motorcycle Museum just outside Birmingham in the UK (https://www.nationalmotorcyclemuseum.co.uk/), although that one has been in operation for more than 34 years.
Go see it! I was fortunate to have first heard about this place a few months ago and was able to make the trip recently. Well worth it – some great two-wheeled history to spend time learning about. The collection not existing much longer as a whole is a bummer to say the least.
Seems like a good destination for an Autopian meetup.
This is quite the conundrum.
Do I curse the motorcycle gods because I don’t currently have the funds to go buy something cool?
Or do I thank the motorcycle gods that I don’t have the funds, so I don’t have to try to decide what to buy?
It’s a really excellent museum/collection and I’m sad that it’s likely going to go away. I’ve been there a handful of times over the years, since I’m less than an hour away. There’s some good riding roads (both gently twisting and four-lane) on the way to/from Anamosa. Go see it while you can.
Holy cow, that Brough Superior is absolutely gorgeous!!
The finned exhaust cooling devices are interesting – guessing they’re part of the “factory race kit” mentioned on the auction site. They look like early concept versions of the finned collars that we can see on the exhaust of the 1952 Vincent Black Shadow.
The 1953 Triumph Tiger had collars like that as well, but the smaller two-stroke bikes from the 1960s didn’t.
I’ve always liked those little touches as well. I can’t speak the function, except to speculate that by cooling the exhaust gases you could create some scavenging effect? The Brough Superiors were the top of the line motorcycles of the day, not sure if you’re familiar, but basically the McLarens of 20s motorcycles. The SS100 was factory guaranteed to reach 100 MPH, there was also the SS80, only guaranteed to 80 MPH. They cost the average Brit’s yearly salary, but like a Rolls Royce, you were getting personal attention from the factory if not from Brough himself.
Will someone please buy me this XRTT?
I’ve been a very good lad this year, and quite frankly I think I deserve it.
Good lads can dream, bad girls get the candy.
What, no Vincent Black Lightning ’52?
They couldn’t talk Red Molly into donating it