As an architect, you may not be surprised to learn that Steve Smith’s collection is centered around interesting designs. His successful career all but suggests it. He cites the Guggenheim’s Art of the Motorcycle in part as an inspiration. Indeed, all who saw that exhibit came away inspired. He also cites a passion ignited early by riding dirt bikes as a kid. A trait that many of us enthusiasts share as well. What very few of us share in common, is the will and the effort to build a world class collection, put it in a purpose-designed space in a major city, and share it with the public. And do so for Free!
We were fortunate to get a few minutes with Steve Smith to talk about his passion and how it came to be expressed in its current form.
CV: What first attracted you to motorcycles and when was that ?
Smith: I have been riding since I was about 14, and rode mini bikes with other kids in the neighborhood. Eventually, I talked dad into buying me a bike.
CV: When did you first start collecting ?
Smith: In the mid 1990s I was finally in a position to purchase motorcycles. I started buying dirt bikes like the Maico, and CZ that I could not afford growing up. Then the Internet and European EBay allowed me to begin pursuing more unusual and rare machines. I made contacts in Europe who could get a machine for me, or I flew over and picked them up myself. I also bought a few purely on faith, and then waited for them to show up.
CV: Why start The Moto Museum ? Why not just build a bigger garage/barn as many do ?
Smith: The Guggenheim exhibit, Art of the Motorcycle blended design and motorcycles and struck a chord. I also believe that beautiful and unique design should be shared.
CV: You obviously have a particular interest within the world of motorcycles. How would you describe that area of focus, and how did it develop ?
Smith: European brands were tops growing up, particularly with regard to Enduro machines and Trials bikes. The Japanese were not very strong at the time. I also wanted a collection that was historical and covered several countries, hence machines from Hungary and Switzerland and Poland, etc.
CV: Your display placards go beyond just the facts to tell a story. Is that by design ?
Smith: I always thought that the story of the people and the acquisitions was interesting so I added it to the displays. The hunt is a big part of what I enjoy. You meet interesting people who share their homes and their stories with you and who want to know why some guy from America has come all that way to get a machine that has been sitting in their old barn for decades.
CV: What motorcycle would be the “holy grail” of your collection ?
Smith: There is really no one machine that is the holy grail. I would like to add a Vincent and a Brough Superior. Maico had a model called a Typhoon, Velocettes had an LH. There are several desirable designs out there that would be great additions. Some scooters as well.
CV: Which is your favorite machine in the current collection and why ?
Smith: The Bohmerland. It is such a unique machine.
CV: How do you hope that the museum will evolve ?
Smith: In several ways. I hope to create a distinct scooter gallery, I hope to further increase the variety in the collection, and I hope to be able to get a full time Curator to keep up with the care of the collection.
CV: It would be perfectly normal to charge admission for a collection like this. Why free ?
Smith: We actually started out charging admission, and discovered that charging for hosting events was far easier and made more sense, so we dropped admission charges. It also makes the museum much more accessible. There are only so many motorcyclists, and we can appeal to others who appreciate history or just an interesting museum.
CV: You have a unique concept with a restaurant and dealership attached. What lead to that concept ?
Smith: There was no grand design. The museum came first, and then with meetings, we always needed catering, so a restaurant made sense. It opened a little over a year later. I don’t own the dealership, but I am an investor. Ducati NA actually approached us for that deal, and it works well for everyone.
CV: How much riding do you do these days ?
Smith: We have done multi-day tours in Europe, and have another one coming up which will include Romania, Hungary, Austria, etc. I also compete in Enduros and Hare Scrambles.
CV: What brings you the most personal satisfaction ? Serving the public ? Having the collection?
Smith: I would say that there are two primary things. First, taking delivery of an interesting machine such as the BK350 or the Guzzis. There is a real thrill to finally take possession of the item you have been chasing. The second is giving tours to the public. I enjoy educating and sharing the stories behind the motorcycles.
See our previous blog post covering our visit, and if you are ever in St Louis, Steve Smith’s Moto Museum is a must visit.