A visit to Sammy Miller’s motorbike museum in New Milton
- Credit: Archant
Where do you put a collection of motorbikes so vast it has outgrown home, garage and extension? Why you open a museum of course. Verity Hesketh visits trials rider Sammy Miller’s personal compilation
If you ask the average biker, “What’s the right number of bikes to own?” You are likely to hear a response along the lines of, “One more than I currently have.”
If you apply this principle to a lifetime, and if you have the space of course, you may end up with over four hundred motorcycles. This is precisely what the renowned trials rider Sammy Miller has achieved, and in his own words: “The garage at home wasn’t big enough, and then the extension wasn’t big enough.”
Sammy invites you to come and enjoy his collection for yourself. The bikes displayed at Bashley Manor come from all over the world and are perhaps part of the most comprehensive and varied collection of their kind. Whether you’re a like-minded engineer, or love the thrilling freedom of riding a motorcycle, it’s impossible not to be intoxicated.
Step inside and you are greeted by a small team of enthusiasts who will happily guide you around the generations of machines on display. Designed to be a family experience, the younger ones will be able to see the progression of motorcycles through the years first hand; from the early concepts of attaching a motor to a bicycle, through to the precision racing machines of today. If you were old enough to remember the days when you needed a drip tray underneath your bike, you may like to reminisce about the bike you rode when you were a nipper, and you will surely be in good company.
The piece de resistance of the racing hall is deliberately placed directly in front of the main entrance, your eye pin-balling from metal surface, to engine, to the bright, white motorbike that stands in the centre. This is Sammy’s famous Ariel “GOV 132”, one of the bikes he first developed, and on which he won over 300 trials events.
The space across the first floor of the museum has been entirely dedicated to show the very first motorcycles, the oldest bike in the museum being manufactured pre-1900. These beautifully crafted machines document the innovations of engineers over the years. Progressing on foot through history in this way, visitors will see bikes taking shape, as materials and advances in manufacturing improve: a lesson in mechanical history.
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Alongside the bikes, glass cabinets line the walls of the first floor, showing off an impressive career of trials riding. With over 1,200 wins to his name, Sammy also needs an extension to house the trophies he’s been awarded over the years; an achievement of hard work, balance and skill. Nothing is standard with these machines; absolutely everything is tampered with in order to produce the lightest and most powerful apparatus.
This cache of automotive gems doesn’t just contain bikes; there is a profusion of other objects that all relate to the motorcycle industry. For instance, a propeller, a relic from World War I hangs on one of the barn’s ancient beams. This propeller serves as a reminder of when motorcycle companies during WWI were expanding their businesses, taking their companies into the skies with aeroplane engineering. With the outbreak of WW1, there was a huge demand to expand the fleet and to replace planes shot down.
World War I is the catalyst for the production of many motorbikes we see today. As a light vehicle to mobilise troops, communicating quickly with the front line, greater resource was placed into motorcycle manufacture; driving production to new levels. Messengers on horses were replaced with dispatch riders on motorcycles, performing reconnaissance personnel and acting as a military police. Triumph Motorcycles sold more than 30,000 of its Triumph Type H model to allied forces during the war. Accordingly, a section of the museum is dedicated to military motorcycle history.
It’s interesting to see first-hand the development of the motorcycle; different countries taking the foundations of a British motorcycle, and branching out in very different directions, to give traits that still symbolise a culture. The American metal that is Harley Davidson; the Japanese race bred Hondas, Suzukis and Kawasakis; the inimitable Italian styling of Ducati, Moto Guzzi, and Bianchi; and of course the classic quality of the British Norton and Triumph.
There are many other lesser known manufacturers that are displayed in the museum that rightly hold their place in history. Patrick, a volunteer, will guide you through the intricacies that the museum holds, with a level of customer service that only a true gent can provide. Be sure to ask about the Brough collection in particular, the museum owns a model that would have closely resembled Lawrence of Arabia’s own beloved 998cc Brough Superior.
There’s an entire hall dedicated to racing bikes, from an era when skill and engineering prowess won races. Where comfort and aesthetics are left at the door, speed and performance are the primary design factors. Housed here are bikes of all manufacture, with one goal, to be the fastest!
There’s been a shift in the last few years, with a new wave of motorcyclists who rebel against the price tags of modern machines in a consumer orientated world. More and more people are looking to these bikes of yesterday, bikes that you could take apart in your garage. Making them lighter and faster, ditching the electronic control for a set of carbs and a cable. Without a computer in sight you can feel the satisfaction of getting a once loved machine past the magical “tonne.”
Sammy can still be found in the workshop “out back” following his lifelong passion of restoring classic bikes and making performance modifications. Having been called upon by Honda to lead design teams with what is commonly described as tinkering; Sammy backs up with a lifetime of skill, design and precision.
Pay a visit
Sammy Miller Motorcycle Museum is located 15 miles west of Southampton and 10 miles east of Bournemouth. Look out for the Brown Heritage signs. Sammy Miller Museum, Bashley Cross Roads, New Milton, BH25 5SZ, 01425 620777 (Museum) or 01425 616644 (Workshop), www.sammymiller.co.uk.
As well as the motorcycle museum, visitors can visit a variety of cuddly animals (including llamas, goats, donkeys, hens and sheep) and refresh themselves in the Bashley Manor Tea Rooms. The museum and its facilities are open 7 days a week. Museum: 10am - 4.30pm; Tea Rooms: 9am to 4.30pm at weekends and 10am to 4.30pm on weekdays