How Motorcycles and Tacoma Grew Up Together
“For much of society, the motorcycle remains a forbidden indulgence, an object of fascination, fantasy and danger”
said Thomas Kren, curator of “Art and The Motorcycle,” the most popular exhibit at The Guggenheim Museum.
The new exhibit at the Washington State History Museum right across the street will make you nostalgic for the days when bikes were built to last.
Like all great stories, it started with a rivalry. In 1899, Spokane local, Eddie Allen, challenged Tacoma’s ace cyclist, Frank Cotter, to the bicycle championship of the Pacific Northwest. The rivalry yielded many battles between the two, eventually forging a mutual respect as well as a mutual feeling of boredom with bicycles. The two then decided to set their eyes on motorcycles. Their first motorcycle was rustic at best, having no muffler
and a less than friendly flame that would shoot out of the exhaust pipe every now and then to say hi.
Local newspapers said, “It would be a blood curling success!”
Allen’s handlebars ending up turning and a crash inevitably occurred, injuring him.
While “blood curdling” may imply a certain haphazard danger about it, motorcyclists have generally valued safety. When you have two wheels, there isn’t a lot of room for error. Its practicality was utilized by trades ranging from postal delivery to doctors making multiple house calls.
While racing started out male-dominated, women soon joined the ranks of the brave, most notably Tacoma’s Tammy Sessions, whose signature pink jump suit and boots were on display.
“When I go out in front, the men got a little crazy and gassed it up. That’s what makes it fun,” said Sessions.
In the 1970s, Tammy was a champion flat track racer in her twenties. She started when she was only 12 and continues to race to this day.
The exhibit is very much a timeline, displaying some of the first motorcycles to grace Tacoma’s gritty streets, from the British Triumph to the introduction of the Japanese super bike that all crotch rocket owners should pay homage to and the sub categories that were birthed from the hip, i.e. the Harley, the extra-large touring bikes and the multipurpose. I suppose the last evolution would be the motorcycle arcade game, “Road Burner” they have on display which you can play as many times as you want. No quarters necessary, so bring the young’uns.
Like “The Great Escape?” Well there is a genuine 1962 Triumph Trophy, the same model Steve McQueen rode while evading Nazis.
What’s the difference between a hippie and a Harley Davidson badass? Well in the 1960s, not much as they were sometimes the same guy as seen in an “Easy Rider” exhibit. Best illustrated in the motorcycle cult favorite, “Easy Rider,” a pair of moto-hippies took off on their bikes to see America. It wasn’t until they got to the South where they were greeted with gun toting bearers of intolerance who shot them down. Spoiler, I know. You had 50 years to see it.
Before exiting the museum you would be greeted with a place to express all the feelings you must have been building up via a motorcycle haiku station. The most notable was a haiku that must have been based on a tragic occurrence. Should you feel inclined to satiate your moto-obsession, the museum will be hosting several two wheeled-centric events ranging from screening of films, most notably “The Great Escape,” opportunities to talk shop with Washington’s premier motorcycle clubs, and even an opportunity to take a dirt biking class. Dirt and safety course included. More information can be found online at http://www.washingtonhistory.org