How A Sleepy Iowa Farm Town Became Every British Motorcycle Fan’s Nirvana

Pulling into Marne, Iowa, in search of the legendary Baxter Cycle, we, my wife Gail and I, figured there had been a screw up. Maybe there was another Marne in Iowa? This town, surrounded by seemingly endless acres of corn fields, was nothing more than single-family homes, a Mason’s Lodge and a Methodist church. No grocery store. No Subway sandwich shop. No Home Depot or Target store. The town is so tiny that city officials offer free lots if you promise to build a house on it.

Sitting smack dab between Omaha, Nebraska, and Des Moines, Iowa, (but not on Interstate 80) it didn’t feel or appear to be a mecca for serious British motorcycle fans. Ready to throw in the towel (the GPS couldn’t even figure out where the shop was), we cruised one more street and found (by pure luck) the modest metal building housing Baxter Cycle.

Walking into the shop, we were even more puzzled. The modern, well-stocked, well-merchandised shop (with a mezzanine accessory area) was filled with late-model Triumphs and the revitalized Royal Enfield brand. This shop would not be out of place in a city like Los Angeles or Seattle, but it was not what we were expecting. When a salesman asked if he could assist us, I embarrassingly said, “I thought you guys had a big vintage selection.” The salesman put on a wry smile because I’m sure he had encountered more than one bewildered seeker. He motioned for us to follow him down a corridor to a warehouse behind the modern showroom. There we uncovered the promised Nirvana.

It was so unexpected to find the quality and quantity of vintage Triumphs, BSAs and Nortons in such a tiny Southwestern Iowa town, but here they were in all their glory. This was a British steel collection that you’d only expect to find in California or New York, but you won’t because they are in Marne, Iowa. The salesman laughed at our expressions of pure disbelief and invited us to take all the time we needed to explore the inventory.

Baxter Cycle does the lion’s share of business by shipping vintage bikes and parts all over the world so they are as close as your internet connection. That said, if you are a fan of British motorcycles, an internet connect is not going to cut it. You need to make a pilgrimage to this hold-out of pure mid-century British motorcycling dominance. We left with a shop T-shirt and the knowledge that this wouldn’t be our only visit.

The new. A fantastic motorcycle shop, but not what we were looking for.
The old. A narrow corridor from the modern sales floor leads to Baxter Cycle’s treasure trove of vintage British bikes (and fuel tanks).
These guys look as beautiful today as they did on the sales floor when they were new in the mid-sixties.
We were lucky that Big Red (our Sprinter van) was packed for our 15-state road trip or this little Beezer might have found its way to Somis.
It was the Bonnie tank with the orange rally stripe that caught my attention more than the Triumph Trident road racer in front of it. That little tank would look sweet on my Bonnie.
The inventory was astounding. Any self-respecting British bike fanatic could easily spend hours at Baxter Cycle. They should charge admission to this room.
Need a tank for your restoration or project bike. Baxter has got you covered.
A drone-eye’s view of downtown Marne. Well, actually, that is all of Marne. I’m not telling which building is Baxter Cycle. Half the fun of your first visit is finding the place.
Baxter Cycle has more than vintage motorcycles. Their parts selection will assist anyone still putting miles on old British motorcycles.
British motorcycle fans will freak out entering this store.

UPDATE: The cool folks at Classic British Motorcycles.Com have posted this story. Their website is also a “Must-Visit” for any British motorcycle enthusiast. Click here to read their version.

 

 

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