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Field review by the editors.

Newburgh, New York

Motorcyclepedia strives to live up to its name -- cycle-comprehensive and much more than a showcase of mechanical linkages and flashy exhaust systems (Although it has plenty of those, too). Eye-popping chopper bikes; bikes with strange histories; famous movie bikes; and three (count 'em) Walls of Death motordromes -- now that's a motorcycle museum.

Jerry and Ted Doering, father and son, began the collection in 1949. For decades the motorcycles simply vanished into buildings on the Doering farm. But by 2011 the accumulated mass had grown so vast -- nearly 500 bikes plus accompanying artifacts -- that the Doerings opened Motorcyclepedia. To have room for as many machines as possible, the Doerings bought a former lumber warehouse store with over two acres of floor space and a huge parking lot.

Inside the Motordrome.

The choppers immediately grab your attention. They include what the museum claims is the world's most perfect replica of the Captain America bike from Easy Rider, and Red Baron, a chopper that Ted customized in 1966 with a sidecar-mounted .30 caliber machine gun. Also on display are the candy-colored creations of fiberglass wizard Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, who invented the hot rod icon (and best-selling plastic kit model) Rat Fink. Ed, according to a sign, believed that three-wheel "trikes" were the energy efficient transport of the future, and among his showpiece creations is his final work, Pink Bazooka, a three-wheeler that used solar panels instead of a battery.

Rat Fink at the Big Daddy Roth exhibit.
Rat Fink at the Big Daddy Roth exhibit.

Motorcyclepedia's collection of Indian-brand motorcycles is the most comprehensive in the world, but we were more fascinated by the gallery of bike-builder "Indian Larry" Desmedt, which includes his traveling bed of nails (he would lie on it while his wife, Bambi the Mermaid, stood on him) and the engraved motorcycle engine that is the urn for his ashes. Larry died when he fell off his motorcycle in a parking lot; he was riding, standing on the seat, without a helmet.

"Larry was a true spirit of a human being," says a tattooed guy in an endlessly looping video tribute. "Larry was... Larry was humanity."

Nazi Kettenkraftrad halftrack featured in Saving Private Ryan.
Nazi Kettenkraftrad halftrack featured in Saving Private Ryan.

Downstairs, a timeline of ancient machines displays many odd contraptions, including full-size replicas of the world's first steam-powered two-wheeler (1867) and the world's first gas-powered motorcycle (1885) built by a retired carpenter nicknamed "Wild Bill." The oldest running motorcycle in America (1897) is also here; the museum takes it for occasional spins in the parking lot.

Star power? There's a freakish Nazi Kettenkraftrad halftrack featured in Saving Private Ryan, and a Triumph TRW 500 that Steve McQueen rode in The Great Escape. There's a Lightcycle from Tron Legacy (2010), a turbine-powered nitrocycle from Priest (2011), a police motorcycle from President Kennedy's assassination motorcade, and a 1914 Excelsior Velocipede that Charles Lindbergh traded for his first airplane. Customized to run on railroad tracks (and exhibited on a short length of rails), Lindbergh's bike with outrigger wheel is unique but at home among the collection's many other oddities.

Turbine-powered nitrocycle from the movie Priest.
Turbine-powered nitrocycle from the movie Priest.

Also worthy of note is a Harley-Davidson that Lenny Bauer rode cross-country in 46 hours and 8 minutes in 1969. Bauer outfitted his bike with a 15-gallon beer keg (filled with fuel, not beer) and failed to break the record by just 27 minutes. Motorcyclepedia nevertheless honors his good-try effort, a feat of extreme endurance that at one point forced Bauer to stick his hand into a tub of grease to remove a ring from his painfully swollen handlebar-clutching fingers.

As for the Wall of Death motordromes: they're giant wooden tubs, up to 36 feet across, in which motorcycle thrill show daredevils would race around faster and faster until they were perpendicular to the ground. Spectators cheered from bleachers around the rim. The motordrome in the parking lot was owned by Marlyn "Thunder" Klunder; the two indoors by "Kamikaze" Pit Lengner. Klunder, according to a sign, "pioneered the use of Coca Cola syrup on the floor for traction."

1965 Harley-Davidson - customized with bullet lights, chrome balls and pipes.
1960s customized Harley-Davidsons.

Lengner, from Germany, also built and rode micro-cycles, including the World's Smallest Motorcycle, which sits in a display case on a half-sheet of paper towel (for scale, and to absorb dripping oil). As an added bonus to lucky visitors, Lengner still occasionally visits Motorcyclepedia to give Wall of Death demonstrations, and ride his itty-bitty bikes around the museum floor.


250 Lake St., Newburgh, NY
Southwest edge of town. I-84 exit 8. Drive south on S. Plank Rd into downtown. Turn right (south) onto US Hwy 9W/Robinson Ave. Drive three blocks. Turn right onto Broadway/Hwy 17K. Drive one block. Turn left onto Lake St. The museum will be a half-mile on the right; a big building, hard to miss.
F-Su 10-5 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Adults $11.00
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

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