From Da Vinci to Botticelli, Donatello to Michelangelo, the Medici family’s greatest legacy is not their vast wealth, political power nor their control of the Vatican, but the great works of art they commissioned through their patronage and support of the Renaissances’ greatest figures. A year ago to the day, the world lost the great Bobby Haas, a hugely successful financier and aerial photographer who went on to support our industry like no other and despite his passing, his legacy only grows. He was quite simply ‘The Patron Saint of Custom Bike Builders’, and he facilitated our great masters to harness their passion and pursue it with an absolute commitment to excellence.
The art world would not be what it is without the Mona Lisa, David and the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel, and nor would the custom bike world have lived to its fullest potential without “The Killer” by Craig Rodsmith, “Stingray” by Jay Donovan and the endless remarkable works of Max Hazan. For all of this and so much more we have Bobby to thank, and then he went and built our Mecca! The Haas Moto Museum & Sculpture Gallery in Dallas, Texas, is home to the greatest collection of custom motorcycles on the planet. But whereas the Medici family was about money and power, Bobby Haas was about the Brotherhood and helping others to extract the absolute best from themselves.
It didn’t start easy for a young Bobby, illness at an early age, a fatal house fire in the family and further life-threatening illnesses early in adulthood, death was never too far away in his 74 years on this earth. But he was going to decide on what terms he’d live his life, and he left a troubled home at just 16 years of age to make his own mark on the world. A brilliant financier, he and his business partner leveraged the buyouts of brands like 7-Up and Dr Pepper and then sold them off for a cool $600million. That would be enough for most, retire to Florida and relax, but not Bobby, there had to be something else and in 1994 he headed to Kenya on Safari with a new camera.
He was quick to learn and it wasn’t long before he was hanging out of the door of a helicopter, camera in hand, taking some of the most spectacular images of nature ever seen. National Geographic published many of his works, including a number of full books of his wildlife and landscape photography. He wasn’t even at retirement age and he’d already concurred two completely different industries. Then he found motorcycles, in his 60’s he started riding, he then began to collect the bikes that spoke to him and hired Stacey Mayfield to assist him in the endeavour.
First came the 5000 square-foot Haas Motorcycle Gallery at Dragon, followed by the single greatest collection of vintage, classic and custom bikes on the planet, the 25,000 square-foot Haas Moto Museum. Bobby and Stacey worked hand in hand, together they not only commissioned incredible custom builds but along the way formed a relationship of absolute love of their own. They met and worked with Hazan, Rodsmith and so many more. Freed from financial constraints thanks to Bobby’s incredible generosity, builders could take his advice, harness their own skills and knowledge and go on to achieve results that simply blew us away.
There is many a Haas commissioned motorcycle that remains that builder’s magnum opus! Just as Bobby had reached the top in three completely unique industries through his genius and dedication, he encouraged and drew out that same excellence in others, never with a harsh word, but with the guidance of a man who had mastered life, revelling in helping others to master their own. It wasn’t just that a builder’s work was better because of Bobby, they became better versions of themselves, we all did in Bobby’s presence, even with the briefest of encounters. He cared about people, “It was just really heartwarming, that someone gave a shit.” Craig Rodsmith recalls, following his first call with Bobby having just been diagnosed with cancer.
Rodsmith survived and thrived, partnering with Bobby to commence a new journey that would see Haas look to attempt a land speed record on a bike/sidecar combo he’d commissioned from Craig. On seeing the bike come together Bobby was blown away, “Jesus Christ, it looks dangerous to me, it looks pretty fucking fast!” Yep, Bobby was a biker and his friendship with Rodsmith only grew. Discussing a build with the legendary Shinya Kimura, Bobby turned to the great builder and said, “we’re all a little bit weird”, his presence and words instantly giving permission to others to truly be themselves. A bond he formed with many others, including ‘Sarge’ a member of the Lone Wolf, a veteran with PTSD, who Bobby called “My Brother”.
He simply treated everyone the same no matter their perceived status, he brought outsiders in from the cold, but through his presence allowed them to be their authentic selves. He taught us to embrace who we really are, rather than running away from it, or hiding small in a corner. His success could be intimidating, he expected your best, but he drew it out of you, often in the most gentle of ways. He was a biker, of that make no mistake, but his machismo didn’t need to be all brawn and bullshit, because simply, he was a beautiful man. His embrace with Max Hazan on another triumphant build, tears shared with German builder Dirk Oehlerking, and always hand in hand with Stacey, his legacy will live on forever. Because Bobby Haas was our renaissance man, 100mph of brilliance, passion, genius and love.
We were lucky enough to ask Stacey – Bobby’s partner and the Director of the Haas Museum – about how the museum came about and its future following the loss of Bobby.
Can you tell us about the history of the Haas Museum?
Bobby only had a handful of motorcycles in his Executive Office at the Crescent is Dallas when I first met him. He wanted to keep collecting and brought me on board to help build out a 5000 square foot gallery, which is now the Haas Motorcycle Gallery at Dragon. We soon realized our passion for motorcycles was quickly growing and there was no end in sight. So we looked around for a larger building which is where the 25,000 square foot Haas Moto Museum now stands. We still have the smaller gallery open as well.
We traveled around the word using a discerning eye to acquire the 232 motorcycles we have today. Along the way, Bobby became more intrigued in the stories behind the bikes. That is how the Custom side of the collection became the heart of the Museum. The relationships we developed along the way and sharing the passion of building beautiful bikes happened organically. It was not the original plan.
How has the Museum supported bike builders from around the world?
Bobby believed in finding ones passion and pursuing it with excellence as the standard. He appreciated the creativity of the Custom builders and respected the struggle that often goes along with the building process. He loved inspiring others to achieve their goals and facilitating builds that may not have otherwise come to fruition. The friendships we found along the way are the real treasures.
Obviously, it was a very unexpected scenario with the passing of Bobby. How has it all been going?
Bobby was everything to me. We spent every day together and this last year without him has been the most challenging of my life I still feel him with me in all that I do, in every decision I make. We shared an office at the Museum with our desks across from each other and that’s where the magic happened. We talked through everything, big or small. I miss that process (Although I still sit across from his desk and talk to him).
Bobby and Craig Rodsmith had an extremely close friendship. Are there any future plans in Bobbys honour?
Bobby and I had several projects in the works when he passed away. One being a second documentary where he was finally going to race Mr. Fahrenheit. We were 80% complete, just awaiting Speed Week at Bonneville. We are finishing this project up in his honor and it should be released sometime next Spring.
I have also decided to learn to ride. I only rode with Bobby in the past, and I miss it. He did not want me to learn when he was here but somehow now I think he is now ok with it. It’s time to stand on my own two wheels. Craig has built a special bike to teach me on and I am looking forward to it (more on the bike later).
The last bike Bobby commission has arrived at the museum. Bobby saw the final computer renders, so it’s a very special bike. Can you share any more details about that project?
Bobby and I commissioned a fourth bike from Dirk Oehlerking shortly before Bobby passed away. The working name was Eleganza. We were very excited about this project. There was a question wether thhe bike could be completed when Bobby passed, but we found a way to continue the build and it has just arrived at the Museum this week. It’s new name is ‘Homage’ in honor of Bobby. It is absolutely stunning. Dirk did a beautiful job and I know it was an emotional project for him as well.
Can you tell us more about Bobbys dreams in the moto community and what the future of Haas Museum looks like?
The Museum will stand proud and continue to welcome guests until mid-2024. We are working on finishing the documentary and also have started the process of publishing a beautiful book of the collection. For now we are taking each day as it comes and appreciating every moment. We are the family that Bobby built – and that will never change.
[ Haas Museum ]