Whether you ride a two-wheeler or just admire them, there’s something about motorcycles that captures the imagination.
They’ve been bewitching people since the 1890s, when British company Excelsior Motor Company first began producing motorcycles for the public to buy. A current exhibition at the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art, 386 Beach Blvd., Biloxi, pays homage to the joy of having “The Wind in Your Hair.”
The vintage motorcycle exhibition is up through Feb. 24 and features 13 bikes manufactured between 1900 and 1970, all on loan from owners in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana. Two are owned by Coastians: the 1952 Moto Guzzi Airone Sport 250, owned by Todd Joachim, and the 1955 AJS Model 20 “500cc” Springtwin, owned by Danny French.
Here we profile our top six favorites, and you can go to the exhibit to learn more about the rest and pick your own favorites.
The cycle with a leather belt
The 1911 Excelsior Auto Cycle is driven by a leather belt and has a 30-cubic-inch single cylinder and a rear coaster brake. Excelsior Supply Co. of Chicago was purchased by Schwinn. At first glance, this motorcycle, as well as the chain-driven 1908 Thor Single, manufactured by the Aurora Machine and Tool Company in Aurora, Illinois, looks like a bicycle with something fancy happening with, and below, the top tube. By the way, George Ohr himself rode a Thor.
The cycle with the gas lantern
The 1921 Victoria model KR-1 has a two-speed gearbox, a 494 cc BMW twin-cylinder engine and 6.5 bhp. This two-seater was produced in Nurnberg, Germany, with a BMW engine. This chrome and brass beauty also features a gas-operated headlight next to a gorgeous bulb horn.
The sexy Italian model
The 1952 Moto Guzzi Airone Sport 250 is a sporty red number with a four-speed transmission, four-stroke single engine, 9.5 bhp at 4,800 rpm, that can reach speeds up to 59 miles per hour. The external flywheel was a signature feature of all Moto Guzzi models. Founded in 1921, Moto Guzzi continues to manufacture motorcycles.
The mysterious Brit
Ever heard of the Sunbeam? The exhibit includes a 1950 Sunbeam S7 deluxe. This model appeared after World War II, in 1947, and was manufactured by British Small Arms under the Sunbeam name. It has an overhead cam twin cylinder engine, shaft drive, a rubber mounted engine and a battery and coil ignition for easy starting. Fatter tires and a seat with springs made the ride more comfortable.
The bad boy
Ah, Harley-Davidson. Dreams and legends are made of you. Peter Fonda in “Easy Rider” (albeit that was a chopper version). The 1930 Harley-Davidson VL is a sign of things to come. The company introduced its new side valve 40-horsepower 74 cubic inch VL in 1930, and today’s motorcycle can be seen in the lines of this 88-year-old model.
Go, speed racer
The 1950 Vincent Rapide was built by the Vincent HRD motorcycle company at their works in Hertfordshire, England. The company was known for producing the 20th century’s first true superbikes, and the 1948 Black Shadow motorcycle was the world's fastest production bike. This particular bike in the exhibition is nicknamed Beowulf.
If you go
What: ‘The Wind in Your Hair: Vintage Motorcycles.’
Where: Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art, 386 Beach Blvd., Biloxi
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Exhibit runs through Feb. 24.
Admission: $10 adults (18 and over); $8 seniors (60 and over); $5 students (with ID); $8 AAA and military (with ID); free for children under 5 and for members.