The bikes of the Petersen Museum

Matt Bubbers is a car guy — he doesn’t know much about bikes. That didn’t stop him from getting his licence this year and developing a whole new appreciation of motorcycles.

Recently, he visited the renowned Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles and liked what he saw. He’s still awestruck. – Ed.

If you’ve got any gasoline at all flowing in your veins, you’ve got to get to the Petersen Automotive Museum in L.A. It is our Mecca, a holy place, home to the finest collection of fast, beautiful, weird and frighteningly expensive cars in our Hemisphere. Cars? Yes, mainly. But few people know it’s also home to an incredible collection of motorcycles. We took a tour.

All photos by Matt Bubbers, and information provided by the Petersen Automotive Museum.

Newly renovated, the three-story museum is now worthy of the fine machinery it houses. All credit for this story must go to their historians. Everything in here I learned at the Petersen. It was a crash course in motorcycle history.

1903 Thor Camelback

The “Camelback” name comes from the gas tank hump over the rear wheel. The motor was built by Aurora Automatic Machinery, which, at the time, also built motors for Indian Motorcycle.

1922 Brough Superior SS80 Prototype

This is “Old Bill,” a bike built for George Brough himself. It is said to be the winningest motorcycle in history, and the second-most famous Brough. (After the one T.E. Lawrence rode and died on.)

1922 Brough Superior SS80 Prototype

This motor took “Old Bill” to 51 consecutive race wins in 1922 and ’23.

1936 Crocker V-Twin

Only 100 of these bikes were ever made. The hand-built Crocker V-twin produced 60 horsepower, which put other American bikes of its day to shame.

1948 Vincent Black Shadow

Nobody was ever so free as Rollie Free. In 1948 he hit 150 mph (241 km/h) on a modified Black Shadow at the Bonneville Salt Flats, in his underwear.

1955 Harley-Davidson KHRM

According to the historians at the Petersen Museum, Harley’s Model K was “its most advanced sports bike up to that time.” It took features from British bikes of the era, like swing-arm rear suspension and a hand-operated clutch.

1955 Harley-Davidson KHRM

The KHRM was a dirt racer. This example has been converted for street use.

1955 Allstate Cruisaire

You thought it was a Vespa, didn’t you? But this scooter was sold by Sears, under the Allstate brand. You’re right though, aside from the name, it is a Vespa, built in Italy by Piaggio.

1962 Fuji Rabbit

After World War II, Fuji Heavy Industries wasn’t allowed to build airplanes anymore. It turned to scooters with impressive results. The top-of-the-line Rabbit had pneumatic suspension, electric start and an automatic transmission.

1969 Honda CB750

The first superbike. Four cylinders. Four individual carburetors. Five-speed gearbox. Timeless good-looks.

1969 Honda CB750

Mint condition. It begs to be ridden. Its direct ancestor is the Honda CB1100A, which goes for $12,999 in Canada.

1970 Triumph Bonneville T120RT

This is one of only 206 bikes Triumph converted to 750cc in order to comply with AMA racing regulations.

1970 Triumph Bonneville T120RT

Why mess with a good thing? The 2016 model is a doppelganger. Fetch me my bell-bottoms and extra-tickly mustache.

1975 BMW R90S

At $3,430 new, it would cost more than $20,000 in today’s money. I’d have any bike with a sunburst paint scheme like that.

1983 Benelli 900 Sei

Benelli beat Honda to building a production six-cylinder bike by six years. It was $5,400 new, which would be more than $16,000 today.

1994 Morbidelli V8

Anything with “morbid” is probably not a great name for a motorcycle. The $80,000 price tag didn’t help either. The Morbidelli V8 never went into production.

1995 Ducati 916

From across the grocery store, from a rack of bright magazines: a glossy cover with a red Ducati 916 stood out. Not yet 10 years old, something in my brain registered motorcycles as something to investigate further, when I got older. I waited longer than I should have, but that instinct was right. Thank you Ducati.

1995 Ducati 916

Massimo Tamburini was the designer; 10,000 rpm was the redline. The 916 won four Superbike World Championships. It also saved Ducati, according to the Petersen’s historians.

2016 Motus MSTR

The pushrod V-4 is essentially a miniature version of a Chevy small-block V-8, developed with Pratt & Miller for Alabama-based Motus.

2016 Kawasaki Ninja H2R

Well, the world has gone mad. Might as well have a mad bike. A supercharger allows this 998cc machine to put out 310 horsepower at 14,000 rpm.

2016 Kawasaki Ninja H2R

I can’t help but think that this bike is the Ducati 916 for a whole new generation of kids.












  1. I guess if you say it often enough everyone believes it – “69 Honda 750, the first superbike”. I believe the Norton Commando came out first and in Cycle magazine’s first Super 7 Superbike test, the “S” model blew away the Honda with a 12.69 quarter. The Honda struggled to get in the 12’s.
    The first “reliable overweight superbike” might be more accurate! LOL

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