It all started on a borrowed Dream. Over fifty years ago, a barely teenage Robb Talbott, of Carmel Valley, California, secretly swung a leg over a friend’s Honda Dream. He was hooked. The love affair with motorcycles has waxed and waned throughout his life, but has always been a key part of his most memorable adventures. Highlights include mid-winter racing up Pikes Peak for the Annual Snow Run Race and the CAN-AM International in the 1960s on his beloved Yamaha RT1 360. While attending college in Colorado, he scraped knees riding in amateur dirt races and knuckles restoring old cars and trucks. Returning to California, he sowed a living planting grapes, always keeping at least one motorcycle as a companion. Half a century and many bikes later, while taking several months to tour 34 states on a BMW R 1200 GS, an idea took root. Talbott’s lifelong motorcycle love affair was about to take a new turn.
Although many an avid motorcyclist has fantasized about what their next bike would be if money were no object, few ever get to realize it. Even fewer share their dream if it comes true. Much like another American motorcycle enthusiast, Alabama businessman George Barber, who parlayed his “milk money” toward his passion for motorcycles, Talbott has found a way to fulfill his dream. By taking the “grape juice” proceeds from the sale of his lifework, a luxury estate vineyard, to wine giant Gallo, he is now able to embrace his motorcycle passion wholeheartedly. The well-known and respected California vintner recently started the Moto Talbott Collection, a non-profit foundation focused on education, preservation, restoration and, most importantly, giving back to the local community.
The Collection resides in one of the best motorcycling locations in the country: Carmel Valley, California, an area surrounded by cool coastal woods and agricultural roads, a stone’s throw from Big Sur and the famous Laguna Seca Raceway. Inspired in 2001 by a book he received as a gift, “The Art of the Motorcycle,” featuring the Guggenheim Museum’s 1998 motorcycle exhibition, Talbott started acquiring bikes. Since the sale of his winery last year, his collection has grown rapidly and to date exceeds over 150 motorcycles.
The majority of the current Collection reflects Talbott’s eclectic taste. A degree in fine arts, along with his preference for pre-1980s motorcycles, makes for an interesting assortment of machines. The oldest bike in the collection is a restored 1911 Indian board tracker, followed by a 1922 Harley-Davidson. Vintage European bikes include a 1925 BMW R37 racer, a 1929 Gillet 350 Tour du Monde and a 1938 Rudge Special 500. The majority of the collection hails from the 1950s through the mid-1970s, with the newest being a 2016 MV Agusta Stradale. The strangest is perhaps a tie between the 1969 Bonneville 650 “Rat Chopper” and the 1968 “Aerdaka,” a Hodaka 100 engine in an Aermacchi Rapido frame. Sometimes it is best to not ask why, and simply smile. That would also go for the bike called “Steen;” you need to see that one for yourself. However, there are some noteworthy beauties, many of which are restored mid-‘70s dirt bikes from all parts of the world, or Italian small displacement jewels from the ‘50s. The “Von Dutch” 1949 Triumph 6T and an ex-Steve McQueen 1931 Harley Davidson VL are handsome, as is a rare and immaculate 1965 Grenada Red BMW R69S. The 1957 Mondial 125 GP Dustbin looks toy-like in comparison to the very manly 1974 SFC Laverda. My personal favorite is the 1971 Benelli Pasolini Replica Racer, the sound of which will make the hair on your arms stand and salute.
A few bikes were acquired from locals, such as the legendary #11 Don Castro flat tracker, or a Jawa speedway bike donated by Olle Andersson, a Swedish champion who raced at the world level in the ‘50s, and which includes his period leathers and gear. Most recent is “Gold Star Ron” Halem’s BSA, which he raced nationally and at the Isle of Mann. There is something that will appeal to everybody, including Dinky toys, pedal cars, posters and lots of memorabilia. And if that doesn’t do it, the B-17 radial airplane engine mounted in the bed of a truck just might, a tribute to Talbott’s father who served in World War II.
Acquisitions for the Collection are made through popular channels: eBay, Craigslist, auctions, estate sales and friends, although the most fun for Talbott are the barn finds. The relationship with a bike sometimes begins years in advance of actually acquiring it. For example, a Bultaco Sherpa T took six years of searching before the right candidate was found. Talbott, a storyteller at heart, says a bike’s history weighs heavily in his decision to acquire it. His favorite daily rider is an unrestored BMW R69S that was once buried. All motorcycles are preserved if salvageable, and bikes that need more work undergo full restoration by former factory Honda race mechanic Bobby Weindorf, an experienced restorer and now the Collection’s head curator.
The Moto Talbott Collection is planning to open in early summer 2016. Along with the foundation’s permanent pieces there is also a revolving collection of loaned machines, the first being Wayne Rainey’s championship-winning MotoGP race bike.
The Moto Talbott Collection is located in the heart of Carmel Valley Village, east of Monterey, California, home to many excellent riding routes. There are several local cafes and coffee shops, and riders are encouraged to come park and picnic at the tables and benches on the grounds. The site will also host motorcycle clubs and is available for special events.
Moto Talbott Collection
4 East Carmel Valley Road
Carmel Valley, CA 93924