I’ve never walked through a museum in ski boots, but here in winter they’re pretty standard. I’m in Austria, at the Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum, about 2,175 meters above sea level, to meet co-owner and curator Attila Scheiber.
Attila and his twin brother Alban were born just 10 minutes apart in 1967 (Alban is the eldest). They have been collecting iconic and rare motorcycles and vintage cars for decades. They are hoteliers, ski school and mountain railway operators, restaurateurs, museum owners – and to top it all off, they own a section of the Timmelsjoch High Alpine Road, a private 33-kilometer toll road famous for motorcyclists (their is the section between Hochgurgl and the Austro-Italian Border).
The road leads through the spectacular glacier landscape of the Ötztal, across the border and on the other side down to the spa town of Meran in Italy, 2,000 meters above sea level. The journey by motorbike from Hochgurgl to Meran takes around one and a half hours and is 60 kilometers long.
â€œI built this place for the bikers, since the main attraction is the street â€“ well, and for myself,â€ Attila tells me. It’s not about speed up here, it’s about enjoying the road and the view, he says. If you need speed, drive on the Autobahn.
As I enter the museum’s main exhibition hall, I am presented with a dazzling display of motorcycles, old and modern, in all shapes and colors spanning over 100 years. The permanent collection includes brands such as BMW, Brough Superior, DKW, Ducati, Harley-Davidson, Henderson, Honda, Indian, Moto Guzzi, MV Agusta, Norton, NSU, Sunbeam, Triumph, Vincent and Zundapp.
In winter, ski boots are recommended in the museum. Finally, the building sits right on a hillside, along with the state-of-the-art Kirchenkar gondola that serves the popular resort of Hochgurgl in Austrian Tyrol, a chic chocolate-box hamlet about an hour from Innsbruck. The multifunctional Top Mountain Crosspoint complex also features a beautiful and spacious restaurant and bar with some exciting Alpine views.
Constructed of concrete, steel and wood, the modern museum is immaculate and was rebuilt after the January 2021 disaster. A violent fire engulfed the original building (built in 2015) and destroyed 352 of the 410 motorcycles in the collection, including irreplaceable historical and modern models, some owned by Attila and Alban, others on loan from international collectors. It was a great loss for the brothers – and for the international motorcycle community. The gondola was untouched, as was the restaurant and a handful of motorcycles. Fortunately, the fire broke out during the night and there were no injuries.
â€œThe only bikes that survived were the US-made Indian bikes on the ground floor because they were in a separate showroom and the floor, walls and ceiling were concrete,â€ explains Attila. His favorite motorcycle caught fire. “The Brough Superior SS100, such a fast 1939 bike and I loved riding it,” he recalls, adding that he will buy another Brough or an MV Agusta 750S if he finds one, but they have become very expensive. â€œMy 1948 Indian Bagger survived and I love this bike,â€ he says. “It drives well, powerfully and loudly. It has a lift system and the whole bike is bespoke, with a picture of the museum engraved on the fuel tank.”
The love of the road and fast cars runs deep in Attila and Alban’s veins. â€œWe started cycling early because we were at a ski resort and it was easier to get around the mountains on a trials bike,â€ says Attila. â€œI had my first bike when I was six and my first motocross was when I was eight. Love is old, since the beginning of my life.” The twins raced each other, but never professionally. â€žMy parents didnâ€™t want it, but I used to bet my twin brother all the time who could climb the steepest mountain, things like that.â€œ
Attila’s favorite hobby is riding his old motorcycles. â€œI want to ride all the motorcycles in the world,â€ he says. He takes friends to Spain and the Netherlands for fun, but they never know how far they’ll get, so they keep a second bike and a mechanic handy.
Even before the fire, Attila had planned to expand the museum with interactive exhibitions. â€œIt is very sad. The 350 or so bikes are gone but there are benefits to rebuilding because they are bigger and better and more people know about them now because of the fire.”
The original museum was a huge success, so a month later, when international supporters persuaded Attila and his brother, they decided to rebuild it. They assessed the damage and their partners, companies and collectors assured them that construction would be completed by the end of 2021. “I said to my wife, ‘Nobody’s going to give us a motorcycle again,’ but I was completely wrong,” he admits. â€žIt was the opposite.â€œ
In fact, they were offered so many bikes that they decided to expand the museum. It now has an exhibition area of 4,500 square meters, displaying 520 bicycles from around the world and 20 to 30 interesting and collectible cars.
They relied on the same architects as for the previous building and began construction in August 2021. Attila and the architect visited the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum in Birmingham, Alabama, the largest in the world, to get some ideas for their own museum. â€œIt is a great museum, but the quality cannot be compared to European museums. Many journalists have said that we are the best motorcycle museum in Europe.â€
Exactly 10 months after the devastating fire, the museum celebrated its rapid reconstruction and reopening on November 18, 2021. In the early summer months of 2022, the museum had 600 visitors a day. Since it reopened, it has seen 60,000 visitors, which is 20,000 more than the year before the fire.
Part of the new exhibition is an interactive 4D element. The brothers want to bring people who have no motorcycle experience to the museum so they can feel what it’s like. I hop into my ski boots on a giant static bike, the room lights dim, and soon I’m riding along the Timmelsjoch High Alpine Road displayed on a giant screen in front of me, feeling every twist and turn as the bike accelerates and then brakes , lean into every corner. It’s intoxicating and leaves you wanting more – trying the real thing.
Photos courtesy of Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum. Read more from our Winter 2022 edition.