People who have discovered their true passion and wish to share it have a presence that draws us in. Robert Talbott is one of those people, and his passion is motorcycles, which he will soon be sharing with us through the Moto Talbott Museum.
During my first visit to The Quail Motorcycle Gathering in 2015, I was wandering the grounds, glassy-eyed with childlike fascination, when I saw an exhibitor kick-starting his barn find, an unrestored 1965 BMW R69S with the original panniers. That BMW won the Spirit of the Quail award and I congratulated its owner with a handshake and an anecdote. Back in the late 1990s, I had worked at a Monterey-area restaurant. That BMW owner, Talbott, was then the owner of Talbott Winery and he led a wine tasting for the wait staff.
Almost 20 years later, the private collector and the motojournalist are standing on the grounds of The Quail Lodge & Golf Club, chatting about something they never knew they had in common: motorcycles.
Prior to this year’s Quail Motorcycle Gathering, I asked Robb about his plans to open a museum this summer in Carmel Valley, Calif., to showcase his collection of motorcycles. I got an advance look at the collection that Talbott has assembled and has been prepared by curator and mechanic Bobby Weindorf. Based on his reputation, Weindorf is capable of resurrecting any motorcycle from rust bucket to 99-point starlet. Past exploits include stints serving as an HRC factory mechanic, ProItalia service tech, founder of Vespa of Santa Barbara, mechanic for the Guy Webster Collection, notable Ducati restorer… the list goes on.
Here’s what Talbott had to say about his project.
How did the Moto Talbott Museum come to be?
I have loved going to museums since I was a child, in the U.S. and abroad, so the thought of telling folks about something that you love was very appealing. In my case, motorcycles. Our mission statement pretty much says it all: “Education, Preservation, Restoration, Passion.”
Approximately how many motorcycles will be on display at any given time?
I would hope to have about 120, give or take, with some bikes being rotated out for other interesting motorcycles coming in. We have over 160 bikes to choose from, but that number will always be changing.
I know you can’t tell us everything that is in your collection, but what what genre and/or brand is not a part of the MotoTalbott collection?
We have bikes from 16 countries, from as small a displacement as 49 cc to 1,000 cc, excluding our Curtiss Wright Radial B 17 motor with 1,250 horsepower! We don’t have much after the 1970s, with a few exceptions of bikes that strike my fancy. We have one of Steve McQueen’s 1931 VL Harleys and a 1970 XR750 racer, which raced up Pikes Peak. I’m also chasing an ex-Hell’s Angel Harley-Davidson chopper from the early 1970s. So you see, I love them all, especially when a good story is attached!
What are the oldest and youngest bikes in your collection?
The oldest motorcycle in our collection is a 1911 Indian board-track racer. The oldest bicycle is a 1901 Clipper Light Roadster board-track racer. The newest bike in the collection is the 2006 MV Agusta F4 1000 cc "Bonneville" factory racer, one of two in existence.
Is there a particular genre/brand/era of motorcycles you prefer?
I seem to prefer race over street-equipped bikes, but love dirt and road race bikes almost equally. I have a passion for Italian Giro bikes of the 1950s, but also prefer the 1960s and 1970s from small displacements up to the 750 cc superbikes (and a few liter ones). Only a few later-year bikes grace our collection, such as the MV Agusta F4 “Bonneville” factory race bike and the Ducati 916, both designed by Massimo Tamburini.
What was your first motorcycle? Do you still have it?
After borrowing a friend’s black Honda Dream CB250, the first motorcycle I owned was a worn out, red Honda 50, missing its fairing, but with an up pipe. Sorry to say I sold it long ago in order to purchase the next bike.
Over the years, was there ever "the one that got away," meaning a bike you regret selling?
When I moved from Colorado, I sold both my Yamaha race bikes: a race-prepped, black DT1 and a black RT1 that I ran in the Pikes Peak Snow Run. With so much provenance and history from both bikes, I never should have sold them!
What is the "coolest" story associated with the acquisition of a motorcycle?
After 450 hot miles in July, riding back from Colorado on I-70 and then onto Highway 50, the loneliest highway in the West, I pulled into Austin [Nevada], parked, and headed into the International Hotel and Bar for a whisky. I was wearing an old, faded Norton logo T-shirt. A crusty old gold miner noticed it and asked me if I liked old British motorcycles. Well we know the answer to that, don’t we? To shorten a long story, his six-foot, six-inch buddy had an old BSA 650 cc Lightning desert sled up in his barn. We dug it out, cut a deal, and my son and I went back later with our flatbed truck to bring it home. That big bear of a man was one of the nicest men that I’ve ever met. He made his living digging for gold and silver in the Nevada desert.
If you could own just one, which motorcycle would it be?
Very tough question, but as I still love to ride long distances to and across the West — Colorado, Montana, etc. — the choice is quite simple. It would be my 2012 BMW R 1200 GS with all its bags: fast, comfortable, and totally trouble-free!
One of my favorite things about you as a collector (in addition to Guy Webster) is that you ride everything you own. Is that true of the Moto Talbott collection? Have you ridden all of the motorcycles?
I love to ride what I own, and with Bobby’s knowledge, we can get all but the "seized and dead" running. I have made a huge dent in riding them all from 1925 on. However, I still have a ways to go. Only time and never-ending projects keep me from riding them all..
What is your vision for the future of the Moto Talbott Museum?
Well, Cristi, after we open the doors, I see sharing my passion for our motos, telling all of the great stories that have come into my life from 1964 to date, and keeping the Moto Talbott Museum and Collection exciting and interesting. Educating the public will play a big part, restoring special bikes, and bringing in significant GP and noted race bikes to share with our guests. The bikes that mean the most to me will stay in the permanent collection. I am building this 501(c)(3) nonprofit museum to be around long after I take my last ride into the sky!