For decades British motorcycles were the envy of all the world. They were the best and the fastest, bar none. While the motorcycle was invented in Germany, it was the British who took this invention to new heights with names like Triumph, Brough, Royal Enfield, BSA and AJS.
But the British grew complacent and the torch for high quality motorcycles was passed to other countries, most notably Japan. Of the great marquees in Britain’s heyday, only Triumphs are manufactured in England today. Royal Enfields still exist, but are now made in India.
Britain’s rich motorcycle heritage lives on, however, in museums located throughout the United Kingdom. More than three dozen museums display one or more motorcycles, but four stand out among these: National Motorcycle Museum, London Motorcycle Museum, Sammy Miller Museum and Coventry Transport Museum.
National Motorcycle Museum
The National Motorcycle Museum is the largest motorcycle museum in the world. More than 850 motorcycles are displayed under one roof in the Birmingham suburb of Solihull. The museum’s motto is “Where Legends Live on,” and they certainly do here, as this museum displays many motorcycles that were legends in their day and remain legends today.
The museum displays the earliest motorcycles, which were simply small gasoline engines attached to bicycle frames, to racers from the 1970s. Each room in the museum is limited to basically one marquee, such as Norton or BSA. Visitors need to make sure to take in the corner displays for hidden gems such as a 1914 Royal Enfield with a glass oil tank and the “Boost Palouste,” Britain’s first thrust-powered motorcycle which ran on hybrid rocket fuel.
The National Motorcycle museum is located on Coventry Road just north of Junction 6 on the M42. Catch the 900 bus across from the Moor Street Station in downtown Birmingham. Ask the driver to let you off at the motorcycle museum stop; it’s less than a 10-minute walk from there. The museum is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. The museum charges an admission fee, with discounts given for senior citizens and children.
Coventry Transport Museum
While you’re in the West Midlands, take the same 900 bus to the end of the line, Pool Meadow bus station. The Coventry Transport Museum is just across the street. Coventry is considered the birthplace of the British motorcycle industry.
The Coventry Transport Museum makes transportation come alive. It features only vehicles that were manufactured in the Coventry area, from bicycles to lorries and cars, buses and motorcycles. The vehicles are arranged by the decade they were manufactured in, with each decade set off by a diorama of how the vehicles were used. Huge rooms devoted to a specific type of vehicle follow the decade-by-decade exhibits. The motorcycle room contains early Speedways, as dirt bikes were then known, as well as the motorcycle Triumph built especially for Tom Cruise to ride in “Mission Impossible 3.”
The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., but is closed a few days around Christmas. Admission to the museum is free, though it may charge for special exhibits.
London Motorcycle Museum
If you’re into Triumph motorcycles, the London Motorcycle Museum is the place to go. While it does have a few other makes such as BSA and Clyde, it specializes in Triumphs. The museum’s holdings include a 1973 Trident with looks that did not appeal to the buying public and a modified 1958 Triumph Trident, which resulted from a motorcycle mechanic putting a Norton engine in a Triumph frame. The museum has several military and police motorcycles, including a 1968 650cc Triumph TR6P SAINT. SAINT is an acronym for “stop anything in no time.”
The museum is located at 29 Oldfield Lane South in the London suburb of Greenfield. To get there via public transportation, get off at the Ealing Broadway tube stop on the Central line, then take an E1 bus to Clifton Hill. Walk up the hill and turn right on Oldfield Lane. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays. The museum charges an admission fee, with discounts given for senior citizens and children.
Sammy Miller Museum
Sammy Miller is the greatest trials rider of all time. If you don’t believe that, just look at the 1,400-plus trophies that line one wall at his museum in New Milton. Miller was not only a trials champ, but he also designed trials motorcycles, first for Bultaco and then for Honda where he is credited with making Honda the force in trials bikes that it is today.
Unlike the other museums which concentrate on British bikes, Miller’s museum also displays bikes from around the world: Spain, Italy, the United States, Japan and Czechoslovakia, among others. All of the motorcycles in his museum are in running condition, and still compete in races.
The Sammy Miller Museum can be visited on a day trip from London. Direct trains leave London’s Waterloo Station several times a day. The museum is located at Bashley Cross Roads, which is about two miles from the New Milton train station. It’s a pleasant walk on a nice day; otherwise, you’ll need to take a taxi. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The museum charges an admission fee, with discounts given for senior citizens and children.