More than a century of motorcycle design and development – and a look to the future of two wheels – will be on show in Brisbane this November.

Photos: Various, courtesy of QAGOMA

An art exhibition with a difference will hit Brisbane this November, when ‘The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire’ opens at the Queensland capital’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA).

Recognising the motorcycle as a design object, The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire will feature over 100 machines that document more than a century of motorcycle history – from the 1870s to the present day.

Modelled on the hugely successful ‘Art of the Motorcycle’ exhibition first held at New York’s Guggenheim Museum in 1998, The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire was curated by the same team – Charles B. Falco and Ultan Guilfoyle – that curated that groundbreaking exhibition, but what will be on show in Brisbane’s GOMA is no mere rehashing of what was presented 20 years ago.

Firstly, many of the bikes in the exhibition have been sourced from Australian collections and have significant Australian history. Rarities, one-offs, race bikes and Australian-made specials will feature, while the boom in the custom bike scene is also covered. More importantly, the current shift from internal combustion engines to electric power is also showcased – an element unseen in previous motorcycle art exhibitions and one that “looks forward” to the future of the motorcycle, as well as looking back at motorcycling’s past.

More than a year in the planning and curating, The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire has sourced bikes from all over the world, chosen for their significance in motorcycle development, groundbreaking aesthetics, built-for-purpose simplicity, or just because they’re beautiful pieces of design.

The exhibition opens on 28 November, 2020 and runs to 26 April, 2021, so hopefully the worst of COVID-19 will be over and those outside of Queensland will be able to travel interstate and see this exhibition for themselves.

Until then, here’s a sneak preview of just some of the 100+ motorcycles that will feature in The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire.

Special Thanks to Michael O’Sullivan, Design Manager at QAGOMA, for assistance with this article.

1906 Spencer

While not the oldest motorcycle in the exhibition, the Spencer is perhaps one of the most significant, at least from an Australian perspective, as it was one of the first bikes to be almost entirely manufactured in this country. While many veteran-era Australian motorcycles matched imported engines to locally-manufactured frames and cycle parts, almost everything on the bike released by David Spencer in 1906 was designed and built in-house.

One of ten built and thought to be the only compete example, the Spencer on show is also a very “local” bike, as it was built in the Brisbane suburb of Auchenflower, only minutes away from the exhibition space at GOMA.

The original timber castings for the engine will also be displayed with the bike.

Source: The Australian Motorlife Museum, Wollongong – Paul Butler Collection

Photos: Penelope Clay

1912 Henderson Four

The tandem seat layout is the first thing you notice about the American-made Henderson, but what was more important was its mechanical componentry, which was advanced for the period and exceptional given this was the first motorcycle Henderson produced. The specification included a crank-start 965cc (60ci) four-cylinder engine with mechanical valves and splash lubrication, dual pedals for the rear brake, a magneto and a clutch – the latter feature virtually unheard of when this bike debuted in 1912.

Two American adventurers had enough faith in the Henderson Four that they attempted to ride a pair of them around the world. One rider dropped out within days, but the other rode on, completing the journey ten months and more than 18,000 miles later.  

Only six Henderson Fours from the first year of production are thought to exist worldwide.

Source: Clyde Crouch Collection

Photo: Robert La Prelle

1920 Indian Scout streamliner

No, this isn’t the streamliner you may remember from The World’s Fastest Indian, nor the one you may have seen in Invercargill, but it is a genuine Burt Munro Indian streamliner.

Munro refined and modified his design across the course of his numerous visits to the Bonneville Salt Flats, but shipping the bike and all its components back and forth was expensive. As such, Munro would leave frame, streamliner bodies and other parts in the US, bringing just the engines and gearboxes back with him to New Zealand for further development.

Claimed to be one of two surviving genuine Burt Munro streamliners, this bike was used in 1967 – Munro’s seventh and last Bonneville campaign – and the one on which he set an SA 1000 class land speed record that stood unbroken for 50 years.

Source: Clyde Crouch Collection

Photo: Robert La Prelle

1929 Douglas DT5 speedway

With speedway being born in Australia, the curators felt it was important to present a motorcycle representing that history and selected this restored example of the type of early speedway machine that would have been seen both here and in the UK in the 1920s and early ‘30s.

Born from Douglas’s RA model that had been particular successful in Australia, the DT5 (Dirt Track 500cc – a DT6 600cc version was also available) carried the signature Douglas inline flat twin engine and was one of the most competitive speedway bikes of the late 1920s. Despite being such a narrowly-focussed machine – no clutch, no brakes, etc. – the popularity of speedway in the UK meant that more than 1,300 Douglas DT motorcycles like this one were sold there in 1929 alone.

Source: Private collection, Sydney

Photo: Penelope Clay

1940 Indian Chief outfit

Before Charles Falco and Ultan Guilfoyle even came to Australia to search for bikes to include in The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire, they were aware of Peter Arundel, as his collection of historic Indians is not only the best in Australia, but arguably one of the biggest and best in the world, too.

Significantly, many of the bikes from Arundel’s collection have long Australian histories, either in civilian, military or competition use.

The 1940 Chief outfit was selected for the exhibition due to its distinctive design features, notably the deeply valanced mudguards that debuted on Chiefs that year, while the factory sidecar is a design object in its own right. Other Indians from Arundel’s collection in the exhibition include a 1916 8-valve racer, 1926 hillclimber and a 1928 ‘401’ four-cylinder model.

Source: Arundel Collection

Photo: Anne-Marie De Boni

1941 Harley-Davidson knucklehead chopper (1973 build)

This motorcycle has a JUST BIKES connection, of sorts, as it was on display with long-term JUST BIKES advertisers Antique Motorcycles in Cheltenham.

Representing chopper design from the 1970s, this knucklehead-based custom has all the category’s signature styling cues, from the extreme rake, to the hardtail rear, ape hanger bars, candy twist springer fork, modified lighting, front brake delete and custom paint job.

Several original-era choppers were considered for the exhibition, including an Easy Rider ‘Captain America’ bike, but this one was chosen as it not only represents the style but is also Australian-owned.
Built in New York in around 1973, this chopper was part of a collection in New Jersey for many years before it came to Australia sometime in the 1990s. The current owner purchased it from Antique Motorcycles.

Source: Private collection, Mackay

Photo: Andrea Beavis

1956 Tilbrook

Australian-made motorcycles were an important consideration when curating this exhibition, and this one comes from the post-WWII period when Australian-designed and made bikes were becoming rarer and rarer.

The Tilbrook name is rightly associated with sidecars, but Rex Tilbrook also sought to build an all-Australian motorcycle. The first example rolled out of Tilbrook’s Adelaide factory in 1947, with commuter and competition bikes following. Most were powered by Villiers singles in 125cc and 197cc capacity and identified by oversized fuel tanks to cover the distances typically travelled in Australia.

While Tilbrook racing bikes were successful, motorcycle production never reached the heights Rex dreamed of, with only around 55 built in total. The bike in the exhibition is the last Tilbrook built, differing from its predecessors with its bathtub-style fairing and a conventional twin-shock swingarm.

Source: Dennis Martin Collection
Photo: Brayden Mann

1960 Vespa GS150

A motorcycle design exhibition simply couldn’t be held without a Vespa being included – it’s a name that’s become synonymous with scooters!

The significance of the GS (Gran Sport) 150 is that it moved Vespa from purely utilitarian transport into the realm of style and speed. With a high-revving engine and four-speed gearbox, the GS 150 could hit close to 100km/h and do it with better roadholding than most of its contemporaries.

This example came from the collection at Vespa House in Melbourne, which has been run by the Tonon family for three generations.

As a mirror to the Vespa – and an additional demonstration of two-wheel transport being adopted by “non-riders” on a large scale after WWII – a 1960 Honda Super Cub is also exhibited.

Source: Vespa Houise and Frank Tonon

Photo: Anne-Marie De Boni

2009 Deus Ex Machina ‘Drover’s Dog’

With Deus Ex Machina being such a major part of the new millennium custom motorcycle scene – and as much of a lifestyle brand as they are a motorcycle brand – it was a natural decision to include an example of one of their creations. The problem was which to choose. As Deus’s output has been so prolific, narrowing the options down to just one was difficult. Ultimately, the curators were attracted to the sense of escape and very “Australian” lifestyle represented by the ‘Drover’s Dog’ with its custom surfboard carrier.

Based on a Yamaha SR500, the Drover’s Dog was built by Jeremy Tagand in 2009, but the bike and surfboard (created by Paul McNeil) became separated some time afterward, leading to a replacement board being commissioned. It will be reunited with the bike at the exhibition.

Source: Joseph Mildren / Deus Ex Machina, Sydney

Photo: Deus Ex Machina

2015 KTM 450 Rally

Although some competition motorcycles feature in this exhibition, it’s about design, not Australian racing history, so don’t expect to see the likes of Gardner, Stoner or Doohan GP bikes. That’d be a 100+ bike exhibition in itself! This KTM 450 Rally is an exception, though.

The machine on which Toby Price won the Dakar in 2016, this racing KTM is running a 450cc single, but that engine sits in a frame that’s actually based on a larger 690 model to make access and removal easier.

Being built for competition, every element of the bike’s design has a purpose, which made it interesting from a design perspective.

Price apparently still rides and tests on this machine, which was gifted to him by KTM after his breakthrough Dakar win.

Source: Toby Price Collection

Photo: Future7Media and KTM Group

2016 Bandit9 ‘Eve MkII’

While some custom bikes are built to ride, others are built to look at and the ‘Eve MkII’ from Bandit9 in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam definitely falls into the latter category. That being said, Bandit9 do produce copies of their designs to order, some of which no doubt see some action on the road.

Sleek, streamlined bodywork and custom swingarms are a hallmark of Bandit9’s creations, most of which are based on the kind of Honda 50cc, 90cc and 125cc mopeds and scooters that are prodigious in Vietnam, so there’s no shortage of base material to work from.

The example in this exhibition is one of thirteen late-model custom bikes that came from the Haas Motor Museum in Texas.

Source: Bobby Haas and the Haas Moto Museum

Photo: Grant Schwingle

2016 Max Hazan Motorworks ‘The Black Knight’

Arguably one of the most original creators in the contemporary custom motorcycle scene, Max Hazan is a builder whose bikes are closer to sculpture than engineering in most instances.

Looking like a land speed record bike from days gone by, ‘The Black Knight’ is based on a 1949 BSA 500 single engine, but virtually everything attached to it was built from scratch. Standout styling features include the fully-enclosed rear wheel, girder fork-style front end and glass oil bottle, to name a few. Interestingly, that glass tank was settled on after brass and aluminium tanks were made, but deemed to be unsuitable aesthetically.

This particular bike was built specifically for Bobby Haas and is one of more than 200 bikes in his museum.

Source: Bobby Haas and the Haas Moto Museum

Photo: Grant Schwingle

2018 Craig Rodsmith ‘Corps Leger’

The humble BSA Bantam never looked like this! While the 150cc engine is the same at that which powered hundreds of thousands of Bantam commuters, postie bikes and farm bikes in the early post-WWII years, everything else is bespoke and from the creative mind of Craig Rodsmith.

Like the Max Hazan bike, Rodsmith’s ‘Corps Leger’ (‘light body’ in French) was created for Bobby Haas and followed Haas’s purchase of another Rodsmith creation.

The name came from the extensive use of lightweight aluminium for the body and disc wheel covers, while the Bantam engine is attached to a completely bespoke frame and suspension. Even the wheels were scratch built.

While the hand-beaten body gives Corps Leger a futuristic, Jetsons-style twist, the white rubber tyres evoke veteran board track racers.

Source: Bobby Haas and the Haas Moto Museum

Photo: Grant Schwingle

2019 Cake Kalk OR

Electric motorcycles are a particular focus of this exhibition, with the Swedish-built Cake Kalk OR representing the future of motorcycling.

With so many electric motorcycle companies coming and going, choosing which electric motorcycles to display could have pulled the curators in a dozen different ways, but being a design exhibition, the Cake won out for its brutally simple (and dare we say, very Scandinavian) aesthetic and monochrome palette.

Visible within the Kalk OR’s 6061 aluminium frame and carbon fibre body is an 11kW electric motor, powered by a 2.6kWh battery, which can be fitted singly or as one of a pair for extended range. Being Cake’s off-road model, the Kalk OR has 300mm ground clearance, knobby tyres and MX-spec Öhlins suspension, which offer 204mm front and 205mm rear travel.

Source: Cake

Photo: Cake

2020 Savic Alpha

A new player in the industry, Savic is bringing a new energy to the electric motorcycle scene, too. This Australian-made bike completes the circle of local motorcycle production that started with the Spencer more than a century ago.

The unit to be displayed in Brisbane is the premium C-Series ‘Alpha’ with 60kW and 180Nm output from its 3-phase electric motor and a 200km range from its 11kWh battery pack. To this, Savic adds a backbone frame and single-side swingarm, while the bodywork has shades of café racer in the tank and tail treatment.

At time of writing, more than half of the 49-unit run of C-Series founder’s editions had been accounted for, which shows this Aussie startup has hit the right mix of technology, performance and style that electric motorcycle adopters are looking for.

Source: Savic Motorcycles

Photo: Jason Lau

The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire – opening soon!

If this preview has whetted your appetite, and if COVID restrictions in your area allow, make sure you get to this exhibition when it opens at Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art on 28 November.

The chance to see more than 100 motorcycles representing the history and future of motorcycle design can’t be seen anywhere else in Australia other than GOMA in Brisbane – the exhibition will not travel to other Australian cities.

Even if you’re not an avid motorcyclist, there’s an abundance to see and experience at this exhibition, including:

  • a cinema programme that explores depictions of motorcycles in movies from around the world, from classics like Easy Rider and The Wild One, to anime, arthouse films and even the Finke Desert Race!
  • Interactive activities, including virtual rides on a 1950s Vespa, 1960s dirt bike and electric ‘future bike’
  • Motorcycle helmets individualized by fifteen cutting-edge Australian artists in the ‘Full Face: Artists’ Helmets’ display

The exhibition has a COVID-SAFE plan in place, including limited entry numbers and contact tracing, both on arrival at GOMA and at the exhibition ticket desk.

A high-quality, 320-page hardcover book – written by Charles M. Falco and Ultan Guilfoyle, with 400 colour photos and featuring all the bikes from the exhibition – has been compiled and is currently available to pre-order ahead of publication in November.

Tickets for The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire are now available for pre-purchase, with prices starting at $25.00 for adults, $20.00 concession, $10.00 children (5-12yo) and $60.00 for a family. Discounts are available for QAGOMA members.

To purchase tickets, go to:

For more exhibition information, including updates and more details on GOMA’s COVID-SAFE plan, go to:

The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire

28 Nov, 2020 – 26 Apr, 2021

Queensland Gallery of Modern Art

Stanley Place, South Brisbane


New Ford Puma safety tested


Wipe out: California to ban combustion engine cars

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Check Also