America’s Love Affair with the Motorcycle

Then and Now

 By Diane Ortiz – President and founder of the Big Apple Motorcycle School.

A trip to a motorcycle museum is always special, especially when many of the bikes are from private collections that are not often seen in public. That was the case recently at the exhibit “America’s Love Affair with the Motorcycle” at the Educational and Cultural Center of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization in Stony Brook, New York from July 12 to Sept. 1.  Showcased was a 1969 replica of “Captain America” the bike from the movie “Easy Rider” that Peter Fonda rode. It is number 6 out of 30 copies made for the film’s anniversary in 1999.  BMW expert and local resident Peter Nettesheim gave a presentation discussing his rare 1928 BMW R63 and 1934 BMW R11.  Another item from his private collection on display was a unique motorcycle sculpture in the front lobby made from recycled motorcycle parts. It was created to full scale and is based on a 1923 BMW R23.

Joe Buzzetta of Stony Brook, loaned six motorcycles from his personal collection of more than 35 bikes, including a 1985 Kawasaki Ninja 900, the same model used by Tom Cruise in the movie “Top Gun” and a hand-built, limited-production 1990 Honda RC-30.The exhibit brought you through motorcycle history from the early 19th Century to the present. Memorabilia, including vintage signs, leathers and other items were also on display.


One bike in particular caught my eye, a 1951 BMW R51/3. Following WW II Germany was prohibited from producing motorcycles of any kind by the Allies. When the ban was lifted, BMW had to start from scratch in Allied controlled Western Germany. Their engineers had to use surviving pre-war motorcycles to create new plans as nothing was left, post war. The R51/3 had a production run of four years starting in 1951 and featured a 500 cc flat twin engine and exposed drive shaft. I wondered what it was like to ride that bike from many years ago, compared to my 2014 BMW F700GS with traction control and ABS.  I’m sure it wasn’t as smooth or shifted or stopped as easily as my new BMW, but it’s still a classic and didn’t look that different from some of the more modern bikes. I felt a kinship to it as it was built in my birth year, 1951, and had to resist the urge to swing a leg over the seat. It was in beautiful condition and looked ready to ride. I wondered how difficult it was to learn to ride those early bikes, many with kick-start and oddly configured shifting mechanisms. Technology and engineering have changed the world of riding significantly from those early days, but the feeling of being on two wheels and the enjoyment that comes as the metal beast below you comes to life as you twist the throttle is part of the thrill that keeps us coming back. It will be interesting to see what comes about in motorcycling over the next 50 years. I hope I’m here to see it!

 Ride Safe!


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