What’s the ultimate overland adventure? Copper Canyon? Mongolia? The Kalahari? What about the moon?
This summer, the Motorcycle Arts Foundation’s ADV: Overland exhibit runs at LA’s Petersen Automotive Museum, featuring not just a look at round-the-world travel, but also extraterrestrial travel. Along with historic and iconic adventure motorcycles, the exhibit includes vintage 4×4 racers and even two Mars rovers, and a concept space motorcycle.
It might seem like a different turn for the Motorcycle Arts Foundation (MAF), which is itself an offshoot of The Vintagent. The Vintagent is “a media company dedicated to Vintage Motorcycles and Motorcycle Culture, Art, Design, and Film,” and it has a reputation for keeping a close eye on the world of cafe racers choppers and other customs. So why is it now turning its attention to the world of ADV?
The Vintagent’s founder, Paul d’Orléans, says his work is all about exploring sub-cultures and their history.
“Digging into their back story and busting people’s assumptions is my happy place,” d’Orléans says. “The recent explosion of interest in ADV and Overlanding is not news: I have about 12 linear feet of rare books on motorcycle Overlanding, written from the ‘Teens onward. So, as with café racers and choppers, adventure riding is a relatively new term, but their history is as old as motorcycling. Making the connection between the past and the present is how my brain works, and I have the resources at hand to tell an accurate story.”
Indeed, this is a very detailed look at the history of overland motorcycle travel. While the ADV scene has seen a big boom since the late 1990s, people have been using motorcycles for adventure travel since the dawn of motorized two-wheelers. The exhibit has several of the world’s earliest notable overland travel machines, including R.E. Fulton’s 1932 Douglas Mastiff that he rode around the world, documenting the adventure in One Man Caravan. The exhibit also includes the 1933 Puch 250SL that Max Reisch rode overland to India, the first motor vehicle to make that trip, and the basis of his book India: The Shimmering Dream.
“That bike will blow your mind, as it’s 100 percent as-ridden, with all the bags, modifications, oil tanks, tools, etc., in place—a total time warp,” says d’Orléans. He says nobody in the US has seen either Fulton’s bike or Reisch’s bike in person.
The exhibit also includes a 1912 Henderson Four (the first bike that made it around the world, as ridden by Carl Stearns Clancy), a 1902 California (the first bike to ride across the US), and a 1915 Harley-Davidson with a sidecar (first bike to cross the US with female rider—Effie Hotchkiss and her mother Ava).
ADV inmate @rtwdoug contributed two bikes to the display, a ’62 Harley-Davidson Panhead chopper and a 1948 Indian Chief. Of course, there’s a GS on display, along with many other odd makes and models, machines that most North Americans will never have heard of.
As d’Orléans is a big fan of the Baja scene (he actually owns a house there), he’s included his own 1964 Honda CL72 as a stand-in for Dave Ekins’ lost 1962 Scrambler, the first vehicle to make a timed run down the peninsula, a feat that led to the founding of the Baja 1000 desert race. While Ekins’ old Honda dirt bike might be gone, another of his vehicles is on display—his 1970 Honda N600, the first factory racecar for Honda in the US, built to race Baja.
That’s not the only four-wheeled vehicle on display. Parnelli Jones’ famous ‘Big Oly’ offroad racing truck, built off a Ford Bronco, also appears. And then there’s the really far-out stuff, looking forward instead of backward.
“I really wanted this exhibit to examine the past, present, and future of Overlanding, so reached out to JPL/NASA for a couple of Mars rovers, Sojourner and Opportunity,” says d’Orléans. “They agreed! Those stand in contrast to several off-world overland fantasy vehicles, including the 1964 and 2018 rovers from Lost In Space … We also have a badass lunar motorcycle designed as 3D vaporware by Andrew Fabishevskiy and built for real by Hookie.co in Germany, which is as cool as it gets.”
Lunar cycles? It sounds like monkey business, but if you don’t put much stock in the idea of space travel, at least there’s a more down-to-earth look at the future on display. The Harley-Davidson LiveWire that Charley Boorman used to film Long Way Up is also at the exhibit. H-D’s new Pan America is also on display, “Because making an ADV bike is the bravest and most intelligent move the Motor Co has made in 50 years.”
That’s a lot of very cool machinery in one place. How did The Vintagent manage it? Working with the Petersen Museum was key, thanks to its excellent reputation around the world. That didn’t mean it was easy; d’Orléans said this was his group’s fourth exhibit at the Petersen, but it was the most difficult to organize. COVID-19 made things particularly tricky, especially with Europe being locked down, and the opening ended up delayed by eight months.
The ADV:Overland show will run for almost a year, starting July 3 and going through April 2022. Continuously changing COVID-19 regulations make planning somewhat difficult, but organizers are hoping to have a public ride-and-drive-in reception on the roof of the museum on July 15, for ADV and overland vehicles (bikes and four-wheeled vehicles alike).
If you can’t make it to the show, The Vintagent is cooking up another treat for you. For years, d’Orléans has been working on a book on overland travel. It will be the first book that comprehensively documents 120 years of long-distance adventure motorcycling.
“It will be related to the exhibit but will be comprehensive, including Overlanding stories we can’t include at the Petersen,” says d’Orléans. “For instance, did you know the cartoon character Tintin is based on a real overland hero, who rode a Gillet motorcycle around the world in 1926? ” The Vintagent actually tried to get that bike for the exhibit, but it wasn’t available until November. No worries, at least you can see it when the book comes out, along with many other intriguing stories.
This won’t be the last time the Motorcycle Arts Foundation visits the ADV/overland theme, either. The upcoming Electric Revolution exhibit will have e-ADV and e-MTB cycles. Again, the MAF wants to look at far more than just cafe racers and choppers.
“We’re not interested in any particular motorcycle genre: we’re all about motorcycle cultures and motorcycle stories. ADV and Overlanding has always made for terrific stories, and the subculture is growing fast,” says d’Orléans.
Now that he has his own corner of Baja, he says he’s been doing more adventure riding than street riding in recent years, aboard his old Honda scrambler. “It’s a terrible dirt bike, and I have nothing but respect for Dave Ekins for making the Tijuana-La Paz run in 40 hours,” he says.
Maybe that bike has one big adventure left in it, though? Eventually, d’Orléans says he plans to do the TAT “on something inappropriate or at least vintage”—no doubt the resulting tales will provide more interesting fare for future Vintagent projects, especially if it’s on that old Honda.
For more details on the Motorcycle Arts Foundation, check out their website. The organization has lots of cool projects on the boil, and we look forward to covering more of those stories in the future.