Back in time: On the ground at the 2023 Barber Vintage Festival

For baseball fans, it’s Fenway Park. For golfers, Pebble Beach. But if you’re a fan of vintage motorcycles, the Barber Motorsports Museum is your mecca—and the Barber Vintage Festival is the event of the year.

The 18th running of the festival was no exception. Hosted on the 880-acre grounds of the Barber Motorsports Museum in Birmingham, Alabama, and presented by BMW Motorrad USA, the 2023 Barber Vintage Festival was three days of vintage motorcycle bliss.

Enthusiasts started arriving on Friday morning—and by the end of the show on Sunday evening an estimated 85,000 attendees had passed through the venue.

The Barber Museum houses more than 1,600 motorcycles over five floors, but for the Vintage Festival, the moto goodness spills over onto the surrounding grounds. This year’s highlights included a BMW fan zone with a ride-in bike show, open to any BMW that rode in on its own power.

2023 Barber Vintage Festival show report
Revival Cycles hosted it, offering a spot in their Handbuilt Show to the best BMW in each category. The mix was quite eclectic, ranging from a BMW R1200GS with a sidecar to an R90S café racer, complete with beautiful silver and gold leaf accents.

Elsewhere Vahna Magazine and Triumph curated a collection of 20 custom and classic Triumphs at the ‘Isle of Triumph.’ Visitors could scan a QR code to vote for their favorite bike; my vote went to the mint One of a Thousand-made 1977 Jubilee Edition Triumph Bonneville 750.

If that left you inspired, you could wander over to the swap meet area, which boasted over 500 vendors from across the United States.

While some festival-goers were looking for that elusive part to finish a project, others were browsing just for the sake of curiosity. And if you were without a project, there were plenty of collectors who were looking to sell partially-built and complete bikes too.

The swap meet generated such a buzz, that the social media was brimming with attendees trying to connect with sellers after the event.

While the camp areas and parking lots are not officially part of the show, it pays to walk around with your eyes open. Barber’s Vintage Festival boasts some of the widest offerings of any motorcycle show I’ve been to. From highly customized mini bikes to a camping area dedicated exclusively to vintage Nortons, there’s something for everyone.

It’s more than just a massive conglomeration of classic motorcycles though. Attendees to the festival who were looking to advance their knowledge could also take in a variety of seminars. Topics ranged from ‘Superbike: An Illustrated Early History’ hosted by Kevin Cameron, John Owens, and Matthew Miles, to old-school pin-striping with Michael Swain.

For those looking for a little more excitement, the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association was on site with its vintage race series. The weekend saw 600 riders across 40-plus categories take to Barber’s 2.38-mile [3.83 km], 17-turn road course.

Those lucky enough to walk through the paddock were treated to a wide variety of motorcycles. From modern liter sportbikes, to vintage Ducatis, BMWs, and Nortons that prove that vintage iron still has plenty to offer.

There was also a ‘Proving Ground’ demo area, where marques like BMW, Ryvid, Indian, and KTM had literal truckloads worth of bikes to test-ride. Many of the demo rides were booked well in advance and one could easily spend an entire day testing the newest offerings.

If you’re considering attending the Vintage Festival next year, travel is easy. The Barber Museum is 15 miles from the Birmingham airport and two hours from Atlanta, Georgia, making it easy to get to. Barber does a great job with scalable event prices too; attendance starts at $35 a day (without admission to the museum), and kids under the age of 15 get in for free, ensuring the next generation of gearheads.

On-site camping is available for an additional fee for those who like to be close to the action, but there are also a variety of hotels in Birmingham, just 25 minutes away.

My biggest regret was not giving myself enough time to take it all in. I could easily have spent three days in the museum alone—but with the festival mixed in, I could have stretched that to a week. If you consider yourself a fan of vintage motorcycles, go ahead and add the Barber Museum and its Vintage Festival to your list of must-attend events.

With thanks to BMW Motorrad USA | Images by Tom Gosselin