Categories: Features
30 | Updated 01

Sneak Peek: Robb Talbott’s Moto Museum

Robb Talbott is late. We agreed to meet at the site of his forthcoming motorcycle museum in Carmel Valley, but the guy is nowhere in sight. Just then, a late-model pickup comes rattling up the drive, towing a trailer. On the back is something you just don’t see everyday: a single-cylinder, brakeless, fire-breathing, on/off switch of a motorcycle that looks like it could pitch you into the grandstands faster than you could say “JAP.” The owner, a former European speedway champ, now in his 80s, just gave him the damn thing, along with all his trophies and memorabilia. After all, what was he going to do with the stuff? Robb might as well have it.

Then, while we’re standing there, slackjawed at the raw muscle of a vintage speedway bike, some guy with a French accent walks up, and by the way, would Robb like to come over to his house and see a couple of old Triumphs he has in a barn? “No problem,” says Talbott, caving faster than a tire that just encountered a broken Coke bottle. “Be there this afternoon!”

Welcome to the world of Robb Talbott, heir to the Robert Talbott clothing company, owner of Talbott Vineyards, and unabashed gearhead. Where motorcycles are concerned, Talbott emits a giant sucking sound. People want him to have this stuff, because they know he loves motorcycles more than anything in the whole world.

Business owner, vintner, and motorcycle nut Robb Talbott on his 1964 DOT scrambler. “Somewhere along the way, motorcycles developed into art objects for me. These bikes take your heart. So why not devote a museum to that?”

For the last 15 years, Talbott has been collecting bikes and dreaming up his yet-to-be-named motorcycle museum in the bucolic town, next to his tasting room. He plans to open it to the public sometime in 2016. And he was kind enough to give us a walk-through – despite the fact that the museum is decidedly a work in progress.

“I’ve been riding since ’64,” says Talbott, now 67. “When I first had a motorcycle, and rode across Colorado, I just couldn’t believe the freedom. And I still have the passion, 50 years later. That’s pretty cool. I just love riding.” And he means it. Talbott spent years racing motocross. He recently rode the Motogiro, and after we met, embarked on the 850-mile Moto Melee – on a 1965 BMW R69S. In 2011, he circumnavigated the country on a BMW GS. The guy is saddle-certified.

There is no logic to the Talbott museum, other than the most logical thing of all: it’s full of stuff Robb likes. This means three large categories: vintage dirt bikes (especially those he raced); MV Agustas and all things Italian; and piddling, 175cc, pre-1957 Motogiro bikes.

Little Italian screamers hold a special fascination for Talbott, who’s a veteran of the famed Motogiro event. All have number plates, displace less than 175cc, and date from ’51 to ’57. Molto bello.

Despite donations, the museum is definitely not built upon the charitable impulses of others. Robb figures he’s already put a couple of million into the project. But that’s okay. He can. He’s Robb Talbott, after all. Why shouldn’t he?

When finished, Talbott’s museum will cover about 6,000 square feet and encompass two floors: road bikes upstairs, and mostly dirt bikes downstairs. Another dozen or so machines will reside next door, in the Talbott Vineyards tasting room. All told, the museum will feature about 100 bikes, stored in racks two and three high. There will also be a “barn find” room of unrestored machines, and a few vintage bicycles for good measure (pedal bikes are another Talbott passion). The nonprofit museum will be open four days per week, and will also be available for special events.

One other thing about Talbott: he likes his bikes a bit scruffy. Some are untouched; others are internally reworked but tatty on the outside. Only a few are complete, concours restorations. “I like barn finds,” says Talbott. “If a bike has a neat story, I’ll never restore it. After all, it’s the only bike in the world with that story.”

The Quail Motorcycle Gathering 2015 Report

The best example of this leave-’em-be philosophy is the 1965 BMW R69S that won the “Spirit of the Quail” award at the recent Quail Motorcycle Gathering. The bike was originally owned by a recluse in the Big Sur mountains. When a fast-moving wildfire threatened his property, the owner simply dug a hole with a loader and buried the bike – for a month. Talbott acquired the Beemer, had it reworked internally, but left the outside dirty and paint-chipped, as a testament to the conflagration – and to Talbott’s eclectic tastes.

“I raced a Yamaha DT-1,” says Talbott. “I ran that thing into the ground, and did all my own driving through the night, wrenching, racing – and crashing. I also raced a BSA 441 Victor Special. I was always at the bottom of the podium, or just off it. I didn’t win because I wouldn’t take the risks.”

“This is my Motogiro bike,” says Talbott of his 1956, one-cylinder Gilera 175 Sport. “It did 550 perfect miles. I put it together myself, in about a week, and I’m going to run it again this September. I love these little bikes. It’s like going back to where I started in motorcycling.”

No genre of motorbikes is off-limits as far as Talbott is concerned – including this Vespa scooter, one of a few dozen developed as promotional schwag for COACH clothing.

Talbott studied art in college, and perhaps no motorcycle speaks to him like the MV Agusta F4, which was featured in the Guggenheim’s “Art of the Motorcycle” exhibit and has been called one of the most beautiful motorcycles in the world. This special edition is one of only a few dozen examples.

Long before the water-cooled, two-stroke Suzuki Water Buffalo, there was the Scott Flying Squirrel. “It’s so cute,” says Talbott of this 1938 example. “It’s beat up just the right amount. I love the patina.”

Throwback: 1939 Scott Flying Squirrel

Talbott is a personal friend of AMA Hall of Fame dirt-tracker Don Castro. This short-track bike has a Trackmaster frame and Montesa engine. “In ’72 his van was stolen, with everything in it,” says Talbott. “He didn’t have time to nickel-plate the frame on this one afterward, and I plan to leave it that way. He said the scratches in the number plate are from Mert Lawwill’s roost. I have Don’s pictures, leathers, helmet, and a Triumph he owned. I plan to show it all together.”

“They called this the widowmaker,” says Talbott of the scary-fast and ill-handling 1969 Kawasaki H1 Mach III 500. “I bought this from a soldier at Fort Carson, Colorado. He said it almost killed him. I had one back then, and it almost killed me, too.”

Several years ago Robb Talbott and Talbott CEO Bob Corliss circumnavigated the country on matching BMWs, visiting business accounts and covering 14,000 miles. Nice work if you can get it.

“Everyone wants a Goldie,” says Talbott of this 1961 BSA Gold Star Clubman. “I waited years to get the right one. This is a 98-point Concours bike.”

“I’m not a Harley guy,” says Talbott. “But I had to have this one – a 1922 board track racer.”

Geoff Drake ( is the former editor of Bicycling and VeloNews magazines, writes regularly for moto mags, and has written books about motorcycles and bicycles. Randy Wilder is staff photographer for the Monterey Bay Aquarium.