Sunday, October 14, 2007

Motorcycles....lots of them

I know how to show a girl a good time; "Fancy a romantic weekend away on the bike dear, stay in a hotel for a change?" I knew one of us would have a good time!

What I had in mind was a 550 plus mile round trip to spend all day at the 'Barber Vintage Motorcycle Museum' in Birmingham Alabama. I'd seen the museum raved about in a bike magazine a year or so ago and regretted not knowing it was there when we passed through Birmingham near the start of this trip, so when I realised we were 'so close' it seemed criminal to miss out again!

The museum is an open plan, five story monolith and holds the largest private collection of bikes in the world with 750 on display at any time and another 350 in the basement either awaiting restoration or space upstairs - they try and rotate through the models every month or so. (Best go back next month then!!!) The guy who owns them is the boss/owner of a large ice cream company and has been collecting for 20 years which is quite some feat considering what he's managed to get hold of.

The display was truly phenomenal with bike ranging from the early 20th century to today with many famous race bikes and one off prototypes and special editions. I'll do my best not to alienate bikers here but I'm sure names like Mike Hailwood, John Surtees, Kenny Roberts and Joey Dunlop will be recognised by most people as masters of the bike racing world; there were the very bikes that these guys had made history on in amongst everyday bikes that were/still are popular with the rest of us. The bike Steve Mc Queen rode in 'The Great Escape' was there as was a replica, (the original was wrecked in the film) of the bike Dennis Hopper rode in the iconic 'Easy Rider'.

There was also plenty of nostalgia for me seeing so many of the bikes I'd grown up drooling over, (including some I'd owned myself over the years) in 'as new' condition; many in fact were actually unused and as old as they were, had zero miles on the clock! I know I couldn't be that disciplined; if I had my own private collection of 1,100 bikes, garaged within the grounds of one of America's best race tracks, (that I also owned) I don't care what the bike's history is, there's no way it would find a place in the museum until I'd taken it for a few laps myself first!
And the ride there and back was pretty good too; six hours across the rolling countryside of Tennessee and Alabama in late summer is as good as any way to spend the day. Despite being mid October, the weather is as warm as an English summer day; cool and fresh in the morning, balmy and hot in the afternoon.

As for the romance... well we did have the novelty of cable TV to keep us occupied at night!
Ooops, I nearly forgot 'old Jack'; we took a detour to stop in at the Jack Daniels distillery for a tour on our way south to Alabama. Last time we were in Tennessee it was just a brief visit to Memphis to see the home of "The King" (you know, him with the blue suede shoes) and Lynchberg would have been too far out of our way. With hindsight I'm glad we didn't make the trip as Jack Daniels is the only brewery/distillery tour I've eve been on where you don't get a sample!

Believe it or not Moore County, (Lynchburg and therefore the JD distillery is in Moore) is still a dry county left over from the days of prohibition! Old Jack himself bought the rights to the iron free natural spring back before prohibition but was stopped from making whisky for some 30 years; prohibition itself had ended but Moore County stayed dry. Eventually it was agreed that the distillery could open again as it was good for local labour and the economy, and it operated for many years without ever being able to sell it's product locally. Much later, and I already forget the date, a local law was passed to allow the distillery to sell whiskey in its own shop (but still only special edition bottles, not regular retail stuff) although the whole of Moore County is still dry!
The whiskey starts at 140 proof before it gets filtered through 10 ft of charcoal whereby it drops to a mere 90 proof; our very funny and quite mad guide, (either mad or overcome with fumes from all the tours he does) insisted on rattling the (locked down) lids of the filtration drums to let the aroma out - and what a smell it was! As the lone foreigners in the group the guide took an instant (moon?)shine to us and thought it was wonderful we'd come all this way for a distillery tour where we couldn't even get to sample the end result.

Jack Daniels is the largest producer of whiskey in the world and perhaps unsurprisingly the UK is the largest importer; perhaps this was why the guide felt a certain affinity to us! They still make it the same way they did in the beginning from the same underground spring and to assure quality they are the only whiskey producer to make their own wooden barrels and use each one only once - if you buy a barrel which is 240 bottles, you get to keep the barrel and each bottle comes with its personalised embossed medallion. All a pretty good detour for 2 hours spent on a freebie tour with no sampling!!

No comments: