You may not find that mythical tomato-can carburetor, but if legendary Harley-Davidson craftsmanship gets your engines revved, then take a ride to South Yarmouth this fall.
The Cultural Center of Cape Cod is hosting “Art on Two Wheels,” a major exhibit of vintage motorcycles and artwork from the collection of David McGraw, who has spent much of his life acquiring and restoring old Harley-Davidson racing bikes.
The exhibit features dozens of rare and unusual machines dating back more than 100 years. How rare and unusual? Try a 1915 K Board Tracker, a 1927 Pea Shooter, and a 1936 EL Knucklehead. If that’s not enough, there’s a 1949 Flat Track, a 2005 Destroyer drag bike, and 38 others – each meticulously restored by McGraw, who scoured swap meets, journeyed to junkyards, and surfed eBay to track down elusive parts.
In total, the “Art on Two Wheels” collection features 43 motorcycles, along with an eclectic mix of motorcycle posters, signs, and artwork.
“We’ve hosted hundreds of amazing exhibits since we opened in 2007, including rare Hollywood memorabilia and costumes, and every kind of art you can imagine,” said Cultural Center Executive Director Robert Nash. “But this one will take the cake.”
The Cultural Center will celebrate the exhibit with “Leather and Lace,” an evening reception on Sept. 20, before the exhibit’s public opening on Sept. 21. The show runs through late November.
Patience, Passion and Style
McGraw says it can take years for him to restore a single motorcycle, although he typically works on four or five bikes simultaneously. His method is painstaking and pursued with the passion of a cross-country ride.
“When I find enough parts, I amass everything I need to assemble the bike,” he said in an interview with the Cultural Center. “But before I restore it, I fit everything, do the body work, then take it all apart, clean it up, paint and polish, plating, and then put it all together again.”
It was a friend who got him started.
McGraw says he restored antique cars for a business, but he always loved motorcycles so he decided to build his own from scratch. The bike came out beautifully, McGraw says, but his friend told him nobody else would appreciate the effort that went into the project, suggesting that he restore old motorcycles instead. So McGraw bought a 1928 Harley “two-cam,” went to work, and got hooked. “That one bit me,” he said.
Although McGraw’s collection is full of unique machines, there is a common thread:
“When I finally decided that I was going to concentrate on bikes for a collection, my father told me, ‘You’ve got to pick one thing and try to be a little distinctive,’ ” McGraw said. “So I picked racing machines, because they have a history and they’re hard to find. Usually they’re thrown away,” he explained. “But I wanted my collection to be the full era – from start until now – of Harley race bikes.”
McGraw prefers a modern Harley for long-distance rides — sometimes from coast to coast and often to Sturgis and other iconic destinations — but he usually travels the Cape on the bikes he’s restored. His heart belongs to the storied machines in his collection, he says.
What’s his favorite bike? “That’s a tough one. I’d say one of my favorites is the Harley two cam,” he told the Cultural Center. “I had a black one that I rode for 15 years. I just loved the look of it … and it was Harley’s racing engine, de-tuned and put into a street bike … so right from the dealer in 1928 it could go 85 miles an hour. And in 10 minutes of tuning you could hit 100. But no road could handle that back then. So it was only on a track situation. But it was very expensive. It was $390 in 1928. You could buy a very nice car for that back then.”
If you Go….
Before you push off, there’s a few key things you should know about the biking laws in Massachusetts. Follow these rules and regulations to keep yourself and others safe from harm:Cyclists are required to obey all local and state traffic laws and regulations
Tickets to “Art on Two Wheels” are $10 for a full day and $50 for the “Leather and Lace” pre-opening reception. They can be purchased at the Cultural Center, 307 Old Main St., South Yarmouth, 508-394-7100. Find more information on the Cultural Center of Cape Cod website: cultural-center.org, and a separate “Art on Two Wheels” website, artontwowheels.org,
“The excitement is building,” Executive Director Nash says, “and we expect to see visitors from around the world who have planned their travel to coincide with this great opportunity to experience something unique and memorable.”
Andy Tomolonis is an author, travel writer, blogger and freelance writer.