About four years ago, I dropped in on a friend in Dallas, the first time I’d been back to the city in years. To say things had changed since my previous visit was an understatement. Apart from its obvious trappings—a tradition-rich oil town and home to some exemplary Texas BBQ—the city had acquired an extra dose of design consciousness, adding galleries and arts districts where once-vibrant warehouses and factories had slowly slid into decline.
Amidst these reborn properties stood the Haas Motorcycle Gallery at Dragon—brand new at the time—that housed a fine collection of motorcycles. As I happened upon the place by accident, the clean space with its pristine bikes perched atop pedestals was a real shock to the system, and for a motorcycle enthusiast, like discovering a chest of chromed, polished and pinstriped treasure on a desert island. Today that location houses about 60 bikes, but the mainstay of the collection is showcased at the new Haas Moto Museum & Sculpture Gallery, a brilliant, 20,000 square-foot space with about 230 cycles and related sculpture.
Many of these fascinating objects engage visitors on a purely aesthetic level, regardless of one’s depth of motorcycle knowledge or experience. History runs deep, though, and about 70 examples comprise a field of significant machines spanning the last century. Anyone interested in art and invention on two wheels now has a fine excuse to book a ticket to Dallas, great BBQ notwithstanding.
That many of the examples within the Haas collection are really art-for-art’s-sake—insofar as being unique creations that happen to be called motorcycles—is expressed by the vast number of custom, one-off bikes that founder and CEO Bobby Haas has acquired or commissioned from some of the most notable builders around the world. Robb Report covered a few of these fabricators in a recent feature on the Handbuilt Motorcycle Show, held annually in Austin, Tex. The cliché “from mild to wild” applies here: some of the bikes are as subtle as one of pianist Erik Satie’s “Gymnopédie” compositions while others are as defiant as Hendrix’s guitar-shredding “Voodoo Child” classic.
Haas built his first career in finance from the ground up, orchestrating the sale of a soft drink empire at the age of 41 and walking away with sufficient resources to retire for many lifetimes. He reinvented himself as a freelance aerial photographer for National Geographic, with three impressive coffee table books to his credit. Career three began at the age of 64—unwittingly—with the purchase of a motorcycle that led, in turn, to more two-wheeled acquisitions. The collection and the commissions multiplied exponentially, culminating with the Haas Moto Museum & Sculpture Gallery.
Haas decided it was time to tell the story behind the motorcycles with a feature-length documentary called Leaving Tracks. The film introduces prominent builders in the custom motorcycle community, including Jay Donovan, Bryan Fuller, Max Hazan, Shinya Kimura, Kiyo Kiyonaga, Michael LaFountain, Dirk Oehlerking, Craig Rodsmith, Walt Siegl and Cristian Sosa. Many of the motorcycles commissioned by Haas are pure flights of fancy—answers to questions that no one had previously asked—like “The Killer,” Craig Rodsmith’s aluminum creation powered by a small three-cylinder radial engine, made from scratch and mounted in the bike’s front wheel.
As executive producer (and underwriter), Haas envisioned the film with Stacey Mayfield, his partner in life and business. The idea was to have the subject matter deal not only with motorcycles and the museum, but be about life’s challenges and the relationships forged by this newfound brotherhood. Filmed over the span of 18 months with Nick Davis Productions, Leaving Tracks was begun prior to, and made throughout, the recent pandemic. It documents how progress on projects and record speed runs ground to a screeching halt for the better part of a year, breaking everyone’s momentum and, ultimately, leaving plenty of time for the museum’s founder to completely rethink the collection’s legacy.
“From the outset, this documentary was always about more than simply bending metal into masterpieces of rolling art,” says Haas. “It was about how the Museum itself and our patronage could shape the lives of others. That is the true meaning of Leaving Tracks.” The film’s surprising and emotional final moments should be required viewing for any major patron of contemporary art, and here, Haas proves what it is that elevates a true mensch above the mere collector with boundless resources.
Leaving Tracks, released earlier this year in 100 countries and in 11 languages, is already garnering awards at international film festivals and is available on multiple streaming platforms like AppleTV, iTunes, Google Play, YouTube, and VUDU. Partial proceeds from film sales are being donated to the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride which, in turn, will be helping men’s mental health and prostate cancer research.