Mr. Barber wants you to make yourself at home.
WORDS & IMAGES Chris Nelson
George Barber rides the tram, like everyone else. It doesn’t matter his motorcycle collection is the world’s largest or that he’s playing host to the 14th annual Barber Vintage Motorcycle Festival. He rides the tram, uncomfortably sat on the metal bench, squeezed between sweaty attendees who have no idea who he is. I met him years ago in another life, and when he goes to exit the tram, I thank him and shake his hand. The murmurs start, and soon everyone on the tram is clapping, thanking Mr. Barber for giving a home to America’s most enchanting motorcycle event.
The first weekend of October, the Barber Vintage Motorcycle Festival takes place on the sprawling, manicured grounds of the 740-acre Barber Motorsports Complex in Leeds, Alabama. You can escape the southern heat by visiting the museum, where hundreds of Mr. Barber’s motorcycles are on display. Bonhams hosts an auction in there, too; this year, a McQueen-owned Husqvarna 400 Cross, ridden in On Any Sunday, sold for $230,500. There’s an off-road course hiding in plain sight, and custom motorcycles are rounded up in Ace Café Corner; I fell in love with Apex Cycles’ BMW R100T “Linkshänder” and a Honda mini-moto, shoehorned with a CB engine. A giant swap meet attracts esoteric individuals who sift through piles of scrap, looking for obscure parts, and moto daredevils risk life and limb on the Wall of, and in the Globe of, Death. But nothing at Barber Vintage Motorcycle Festival compares to the racing. The facility’s 2.3-mile road course is one of the most beautiful tracks in the country, and watching aged race bikes full-throttle cut its 15 corners is a dream.
If you haven’t been to the Barber Vintage Motorcycle Festival, go next year. Spend three days camping on the grounds and enjoy the company of thousands of friendly motorcycle enthusiasts. And when you see Mr. Barber on the tram, don’t forget to thank him.
And thanks to Mercedes-AMG for loaning me an E53 coupe for the weekend. I missed being on two wheels but appreciated air conditioning ... and 429 horsepower underfoot.