Nestled in the mountain town of Maggie Valley, North Carolina, is a truly unique motorcycle museum. Unlike other museums that are polished and perfectly curated, this one embraces the rust and dirt that come with older motorcycles. As soon as you step into the building, your nostrils are immediately filled with the smell of motor oil. Some very friendly ladies will greet you and get you squared away. Then walk through the doorway and catapult back in time to the origin of the motorcycle.
A Little Wheels Through Time History
Started over twenty years ago in 2002, these vintage museums are housed in a 38,000-square-foot warehouse. However, upon stepping inside, it looks like anything but. While motorcycle fanatics from all over the world have wondered through the displays of motorcycle memorabilia, you don’t have to have a passion for two wheels to appreciate the displays. Great care was taken in creating an immersive experience that allows you to literally step back into the history of motorcycling.
The collection of motorcycles began with a man and a dream in 1969. Dale Walksler started collecting in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. He later moved his collection to Mt. Vernon, Illinois. By 2002, his Harley Davidson dealership was no longer big enough to house the entire collection. At this point, Wheels Through Time was formed. While the majority of the museum is dedicated to Harley-Davidson motorcycles, you will find plenty of other antique motorcycles. However, there is a serious lack of street bikes. You’ll see a lot of dirt, board, and rare motorcycles.
As you stroll through the museum, you’ll see little plaques everywhere. These are incredibly helpful for telling you more about each individual bike. There are also iPad stands located throughout the museum that gives you even more information. Swipe through, and you’ll see photos and videos from the glory days of these bikes around you. See the bikes in all of their glory and action.
Start the Bikes Up
So, no, you cannot sit on the bikes and start them up or take them for a ride. However, there are plenty of museum staff members wandering around the museum. Grab one, and they will be more than happy to chat, give more information, and even start the bikes up for you. Every motorcycle you see in the museum actually runs and is kept in working condition. Obviously, this is a monumental task, especially with older bikes that tend to be needy. Take a peek under any of the motorcycles, and you’ll see a fancy antique silver tray. They are under every motorcycle, all with varying levels of motor oil that’s been leaking out.
You Can Bring Motorcycle History Home
Each year, the museum gives away a beautifully restored motorcycle. For 2022, it’s a 1937 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead in a brilliant one-year-only Delphine Blue, striped in Teak Red, and edged in Gold. Buying raffle tickets not only gives you a chance to own the motorcycle but also helps maintain the museum. Unlike those sketchy “win this bike” trailers you see at bike events, the raffle motorcycle actually makes its way to a new home. Check out all of the past winners on the museum’s website.
Our Visit to Wheels Through Time
My parents own a home in Highlands, North Carolina, which isn’t too far from Maggie Valley. One of my father’s favorite things to do is take a cruise on his motorcycle over to Wheels Through Time and wander through the museum. Every time he goes, he sees a new exhibit or motorcycle that he hasn’t seen before. This is partly because they are regularly changing up the displays but also because there are just SO MANY MOTORCYCLES to see. I’ve been trying to go with him for several years now, but it never seemed to work out on past visits. This year, we made it a priority. I’m so glad we did, but it was so worth it! Everything from the ride there to the actual museum and even the local town was well worth the visit.
You Can Miss It
Keep an eye out as you drive down main street because you can easily drive right by the museum and not even know it. There’s a wood bridge with an arch overhead. You’ll want to turn and drive back into the property. A large dirt parking area makes it easy to find a space. However, you’ll want to bring a kickstand pad. My ZX14 and my husband’s Pan American both easily sank into the grass/dirt. Looking around the parking area, it was obvious that I was in the minority on my sportbike. However, everyone we encountered was friendly and ready to chat. We even met some Harley riders there were from 20 minutes away from our home time.
Plan to Spend Some Time
We took our time and slowly made our way through the downstairs portion first. There were four of us, and three are motorcycle enthusiasts. The fourth enjoys looking at the history and uniqueness of the bikes. It took us almost two hours to make our way through the entire downstairs. It could have easily taken us much longer. Before heading upstairs, we took a break and got some lunch. Then we went back and made our way upstairs. It took us another 45 min to an hour to walk around upstairs. Thankfully, you only have to pay once and you can come and go as you like for the rest of the day.
Interested in Checking Out Other Motorcycle Museums?
If Wheels Through Time doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, there are plenty of other options! Perhaps you take a road trip and visit all of them. Start in Henderson, NC and swing by Wheels Through Time and then make your way to Alabama Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. Swing up to Pickerington Ohio and visit the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum. Drive through Kansas or Iowa and make your way to Colorado to see the Rocky Mountain Motorcycle Museum. Then finish your transportation museum road trip in California at the Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum. You’ll see everything from all American motorcycles like Harley Davison to imports like BMW, Honda, and Ducati.