Ken Kaplan took a decaying remnant of Rockville’s manufacturing past and brought it roaring back to life.
In 2012, Kaplan’s real estate-holding company, Kaplan Millworks, bought the tax lien on the Hockanum Mill complex, which dates to 1814 and had been vacant since 1954. Since then, Kaplan has spent $6.5 million repairing the enormous complex and turning it into a shrine dedicated to his passion in life: motorcycles.
The grand opening of New England Motorcycle Museum is being celebrated with a party on Oct. 13 and 14. “Rocktober” will have 10 bands, food vendors, Harley-Davidson stunt riders, mini trike racing, a mini bike throwdown and museum walk-throughs. Motorcyclists are urged to ride their bikes to the party.
Kaplan also founded Kaplan Computers and Kaplan Cycles. On the side, he raced Yamahas for 20 years.
The museum has about 200 carefully restored bikes from as far back as the 1920s and as recent as 2014: Kawasakis, Suzukis, Hondas, Harleys, Nimbuses, Indians, Husqvarnas, BMWs, Derbys, Yamahas, Shelbys, Triumphs, Ducatis, Rupps, Vespas, Matchlesses and BSAs. The museum has dirt bikes, minibikes, touring bikes, cruisers, café racers, sport bikes, drag racers and desert racers, as well as standard bikes.
“It’s not about one kind of motorcycle. We love all motorcycles. We are motor enthusiasts. This is a labor of love,” he says. “It’s great to hear people say, ‘This is the bike I wanted when I was 12 years old’.”
Some bikes are loaned to Kaplan for safekeeping. Some are given to him or bought by him. Many are for sale. Among the array of beautiful bikes, Kaplan pointed out a few for us.
1928 BMW R62
The 1928 R62 was BMW’s first motorbike with a 750 cc engine. Kaplan said World War II damaged or destroyed thousands of the German-made bikes, so a pre-war BMW in “100 point” condition is not easy to find.
1937 BMW R17
The owner of this bike nicknamed it “Spawn of the Devil” because its engine was so powerful it once set his leg on fire. Only 436 of these bikes were made.
2016 Suzuki GSX-R 1000
“This bike was made for one thing, to go obscenely fast,” Kaplan says. The lightweight, electric-blue bike is a “factory superbike,” not street legal but for race use only. It has a maximum speed of 210 mph.
1949 Nimbus C
Nimbus motorcycles, manufactured in England, are used by the British postal service to this day. It is the only motorcycle made of “flat stock,” rather than tubular parts.
1939 Indian Chief
Indian motorcycles were made from 1901 to 1953 in Springfield, Mass. The 1949 chief is especially admired by Kaplan because of the beauty of its red, gold and black paint. “The colors are so perfect,” he says.
1956 BSA Golden Flash
The Birmingham Small Arms Company became defunct in 1973, so finding good-condition BSAs can be difficult, Kaplan said. He had never seen a Golden Flash until one came to the museum. Many Golden Flash motorcycles were painted gold. This one is black with gold accents.
Suzuki Reproduction of 1930s service car
This maroon motorcycle, not an original but made to look like one, has a large cargo box on the front, for use by a delivery service or other on-the-go businessperson.
ROCKTOBER is at New England Motorcycle Museum, 200 West Main St. in Rockville, on Oct. 13 and 14 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $15 for one day, $25 both days, kids 10 and younger free. After the event, the museum will be open weekdays 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sundays by appointment, admission $11, free for 10 and younger. The museum is a 501(c)3 nonprofit and accepts donations of old bikes. newenglandmotorcyclemuseum.org