Horsepower has a different meaning in Akureyri than the rest of Iceland. It’s home to the Motorcycle Museum of Iceland, an impressive collection of working vintage motorbikes.
I’d already planned to ride an Icelandic horse while we were on this journey through Iceland. But I’d also read somewhere that there was a motorcycle museum in the town of Akureyri. In fact, it was the only museum about motorcycles in the entire country of Iceland. Akureyri happened to be where Sandy was attending a board meeting for SATW. Tagging along, I had some time to wander and explore on my own.
On our first night in town I had the pleasure of meeting Skúli Gautason and his wife at a dinner sponsored by Visit Akureyri and Visit North Iceland Marketing Office. When I inquired about the motorcycle museum, Skúli pulled a key from his pocket and asked me when I would like to see it. I would later learn that he was one of the local riders who helped build and worked on the new museum. Between his scheduled meetings, he picked me up the next morning for a private tour.
I had to lower the rope across the gravel parking lot so we could enter. After a quick check and the alarm turned off, I stepped through the front door.
The first thing I noticed was the smell of oil, grease and rubber. This was no sterile place where white gloves were required. This was a real life museum and garage.
The museum was founded in the memory of Heidar P. Johannsson, an Icelandic biker that had died in a motorcycle accident in 2006. The first room I entered featured a large photo of Johannsson on his 100th anniversary Harley Davidson. I was so taken by the picture that I didn’t even notice the actual bike parked below. Another wall was covered with trophies, and above a row of classic bikes I noticed another photo of Johannsson. Looking closely, I asked “Is he riding a Buell?”
Skúli said yes, and added that this was the last photo of Johannsson ever taken.
No one will ever know for sure what happened. But shortly after the photo was taken, Johannsson was killed on the bike in the photo. It was a single vehicle accident.
The bikes were beautiful, many fully restored. To round out the USA contingent, there was a 1940s Harley and vintage Indian Chief. Also featured were Triumphs and Nortons, Guzzis and airhead BMWs.
In the center of one room there is a row of vintage Enduros. These weren’t show bikes, just everyday riders, giving a visitor a nice view of what these bikes were like thirty and forty years ago.
I also saw vintage Yamaha, Kawasaki, and Hondas. Hidden between the many bikes I spotted a 1969 750 Honda “Sandcast,” one of the very early 750cc bikes produced by Honda. It’s the bike that would open up the market for this in-line four cylinder.
Only a short distance away, tucked in the corner, I found another unusual Honda: the CBX, the wide in-line 6-cylinder. They were only produced for a few years.
Johannsson had 22 bikes when he died, and these formed the core of the museum, which was built and is run only on donations. Skúli was very proud to tell me that the riders had built this museum and that no “bank funds” were used.
When I asked about the second floor, he took me to see the work in progress. The walls were still being installed and wires were hanging everywhere. When funds and manpower permit, a group of motorcycle friends get together for a work day to keep expanding the museum. With well over fifty bikes already on display already, there will be room for plenty more on the second floor when it is finished.
One bike really sparked my interest. It was a 1975 Hercules, a little-known and rare bike built using the Wankel rotary engine. Next to it was a cut-out motor to show the rotor inside.
When I said something to Skúli about this unusual bike, he replied “It runs great!” I learned that these aren’t just pretty bikes, but they run as well, maintained by the same group of friends who work on and support the museum.
I’ve been to larger motorcycle museums, but I’ve never been to one with so much heart.
Visit the Museum
Located at Krókeyri 2, Akureyri, Iceland, the Motorcycle Museum of Iceland is open daily Jun 1 – Aug 31 from 12 noon to 6 PM, and from Sep 1 – May 31 on Saturdays 3 PM – 7 PM. To arrange a personal visit, call ahead at +354 866-3500; groups are welcome year-round.