January 16, 2019

EASY RIDER

The revved-up world of gallerist and motorcycle enthusiast Bobby Haas

The Joule’s lobby-turned-sometimes-gallery boasts a strong collection of blue chip art and rotating exhibits ranging from a nine-foot-tall mega beast to a giant bird’s nest filled with crystals. But none of them have had as much torque as the current display: a lineup of rare motorcycles from the Haas Moto Museum & Sculpture Gallery that blur the line between badass transportation and sculptural art.

Bobby Haas, the gallery’s curator and owner, talks with us about what fuels his passion to ride, collect, and exhibit motorcycles in his 20,000-square-foot space featuring world-class vintage, classic, and one-of-a-kind finds.  

You rode your first motorcycle at 64. What motivated that?
I was on a Caribbean island in 2011 when I came across an article in the New York Times about a Russian sidecar (an Ural Retro) designed for “older, easier riders” who longed to cruise the open roads on something more stable than a big-throated Harley. I thought: this is  just the ticket to pursue my dream to be a biker. I dashed back to Dallas, bought a new Ural, barely passed the motorcycle-licensing test, and initiated this phase of my life.

And what kick-started your desire to collect?
The first cycle I acquired as a piece for my collection was a 1952 Matchless, a British cycle that I purchased in an eBay auction. It’s a stunning piece of rolling art and it stands proudly in the Haas Museum.

How did Haas Moto Museum & Sculpture Gallery come about?
Nearly two years ago, we had the Haas Motorcycle Gallery at Dragon—which is still open—but the collection had grown to about 70 cycles and my insatiable thirst for collecting vintage and one-off custom cycles was still at full throttle. So I decided to design, build, and curate a large motorcycle museum to tell the story of biker culture in a highly aesthetic and customized way akin to a niche art museum. The Haas Moto Museum & Sculpture Gallery, which opened just 9 months ago in April 2018, is the result of fulfilling that passion.

How is the museum curated?
The cycles are a broadly diversified mix—from vintage cycles dating as far back as 1901 to custom, one-off cycles from the finest designer-builders here and abroad. In fact, we are confident that we own and exhibit the largest array of custom cycles in North America.

At first, selecting for the collection was relatively straightforward. I would gravitate toward cycles that were particularly appealing from an aesthetic point of view or were of historical significance. But now it’s different. With such a broad and diverse collection spanning 12 decades from over a dozen countries, a cycle must be as close to unique as possible in order to fill a perceived gap in the collection.

Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, my Director Stacey Mayfield and I use the “eyebrows on fire” test to decide. Is the cycle so compelling that it singes our eyebrows? We regularly rotate our cycles between the Haas Moto Museum on Oak Lawn Avenue and the Haas Gallery at Dragon Street, just two blocks away.

You’ve amassed an impressive number of bikes.
Inclusive of 10 custom bikes that are “in process” (ranging from the drawing board to virtually complete), we are right at 200 cycles.

For someone with such an enviable collection, why does the sidecar continue to be your go-to?
Its riding experience is somewhat different from a two-wheeled cycle—and in some ways more challenging since cornering requires you to contort your body in the direction of the curve. But it’s what I’m used to, and the sidecar allows me to have a passenger (usually Stacey, my Museum Director) and therefore combine the freedom of riding with the companionship of a fellow biker.

What’s been your favorite ride?
It’s difficult to compare one to another, such as urban cycling to long distance cycling. But when I took a 2000-mile ride from Texas to California along the old Route 66 (“the Mother Road”) with a bunch of Brits who were quite a raucous bunch, it was a very memorable experience.

I’ve cruised all over the country—literally from coast to coast, along the oceans, through the desert, and in the mountains. The precise geography doesn’t matter—give me a patch of blue sky and an open road, and I’ll twist that throttle.