When Kirk Barron rides his motorcycle down the streets of Dubuque, heads turn.
The curiosity is understandable because Barron’s motorcycle, Excalibur ‘09, is what he calls a “retro-antique.”
It is designed to resemble a 1909 motorcycle, but it isn’t a restoration project. Rather, it is a custom-built creation, modeled on turn-of-the-century motorized bicycles.
“When I started building it, it was just a challenge to see if I could make it work,” said Barron, who created the motorcycle from 2009 to 2012 at his home in Dubuque.
From the frame to the light, most of the bicycle’s parts truly are a century old. Barron found them online, at local swap meets and in his own bicycle collection. What he couldn’t find, he designed and made, including the bike’s Edwardian-style logo.
“He’s very creative in how he makes things,” said Bill Stoffel, a friend with whom Barron collaborates. “He’ll find something that’s a shape he likes and make something out of it, like a saltshaker or a pipe fitting off an antique bathtub.”
Some old-fashioned parts are included more for looks than for function, such as the bathtub fitting, which serves as a mock gas cap. But the bike features an authentic, single-cylinder engine from the time period.
Barron also has made a few modern additions for safety, including a hand brake system, since the bike reaches speeds of 28 mph on level ground.
Barron has tinkered with gadgets since his childhood.
“Toys were always taken apart and figured out before they were played with,” he said.
As an adult, he worked for many years at the Dyersville-based Ertl Toy Co., first as a concept illustrator for instructional kits and later as a toy designer. He uses his graphic design knowledge when working on his many recreation projects, including Excalibur ‘09.
“I usually don’t make drawings,” he said. “I have a process that myself and some of my friends call ‘creative staring,’ where we just sit down and look at it for a while and try to imagine it.”
In addition to mechanical know-how, historical research is equally important.
Barron, a self-described “history nut,” said he “dove into” the history of motorcycles to design Excalibur ‘09 and his other custom-built bicycles. His love of history also fuels his other interests, which include house restoration, antique drums and his current project: a functional 1909 airplane.
“And then there’s the medieval armor and swords, but that’s another story,” he said with a laugh.
Stoffel described his friend as meticulous, detail-oriented and hard-working.
“Kirk will take his grinder and a block of steel and cut something almost impossible out of it by hand, just by spending hours and hours on it, and he’ll get the same result as I would on a machine,” he said. “That’s something I’m most impressed with.”
Barron views the projects as a series of problems to be solved.
“It’s just one little problem after another, and I like that kind of challenge,” he said.