• Costa Rica Coffee Guide

Exhibit takes visitors on ride through history

May 19, 2011

Enrique Piedra ran his hand over the handlebars of a motorcycle he knew all too well. He said he used to own a similar model over 50 years ago. Piedra, now 70, excitedly recalled driving his German-made Quickly N moped through the streets of San José at the age of 18.

“I don’t remember it being dangerous,” he said. “I remember how exciting it was.”

The NSU Quickly N moped is one of more than 40 historic motorcycles on display at the Contemporary Art and Design Museum in downtown San José. German-made NSUs, Belgian FNs, Royal Enfields from England and U.S.-made Harley-Davidsons are among many other models on display. The exhibit, titled “Design in Motorcycles from 1900 to 1975,” showcases the progression of European, North American and Japanese motorcycles for the greater part of the 20th century.

Motorcycles 1

“Design in Motorcycles from 1900 to 1975”: On display at the Contemporary Art and Design Museum in San José, 1930 Harley-Davidson V-twin 750 cc.


Jessica Phelps

Marco Guevara, the museum’s design curator, said the exhibit is set up to accentuate the motorcycle’s progression from the rigidly simple yet powerful bikes of World War I to the user-friendly, fine-tuned models of the 1970s. Guevara put special emphasis on the large collection of Vespa motorcycles featured in the exhibit.

Engineered by Italian manufacturer Piaggio shortly after the conclusion of World War II, the Vespa’s iconic design propelled the moped into international prominence several years after it rolled off the assembly line.

“Costa Rica was one of the first countries to have a Vespa distributor,” Guevara said. “I remember when I was a kid, Vespas were like an icon for our generation.”

The Vespa’s international acclaim soared to new heights in 1952 when Audrey Hepburn hopped into the sidecar of Gregory Peck’s Vespa in the feature film “Roman Holiday,” sending sales of the Italian bike through the roof.

“In the ’50s and ’60s, everyone drove Vespas,” Guevara said. “In the ’70s there was a transition to more affordable, faster bikes.”

The faster, cheaper, finely tuned bikes of the 1970s were the result of Japanese manufacturer Honda making its way onto the motorcycle design scene. Built with an unprecedented level of precision and ease of use, Japanese motorcycles supplanted their European counterparts as the world’s premier racing and leisure bikes. Several early-model Japanese motorcycles are included in the exhibit. Piedra said he recalled the Japanese bikes being easier to operate and less imposing than European models.

“They were built lower to the ground and easier to ride,” he said.

The success of Japanese manufacturers Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and finally Kawasaki is readily apparent in the crowded streets of present-day San José.

Motorcycles 3

1939 Zündapp KS 600.


Jessica Phelps

“I wouldn’t drive a motorcycle in this city today,” Guevara said. “It seems like suicide.”

Despite his reluctance to join the throngs of modern-day motorists, Guevara said the exhibit is well worth a visit for both motorcycle enthusiasts and pedestrians by choice.

“Design in Motorcycles from 1900 to 1975” will run through June 4 at the Contemporary Art and Design Museum in the National Culture Center at Avenida 3, Calle 15. The museum is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $3 for foreigners, ₡700 for Costa Ricans and residents, ₡500 for students with ID and free for children and seniors. Admission is free for everyone on Mondays. For information, call the museum at 2257-7202 or 2257-9370, or visit www.madc.cr.

You may be interested

Fight against Covid a ‘countrywide achievement,’ Costa Rica says at commemoration
Costa Rica
1232 views
Costa Rica
1232 views

Fight against Covid a ‘countrywide achievement,’ Costa Rica says at commemoration

The Tico Times - March 8, 2021

The Costa Rican government on Sunday aired a national broadcast in commemoration of the anniversary of the first coronavirus case…

How 6 Exotic Animals in Costa Rica Got Their Names
Environment and Wildlife
6369 views
Environment and Wildlife
6369 views

How 6 Exotic Animals in Costa Rica Got Their Names

The Tico Times - March 7, 2021

When it comes to pointing out animals, some people in Costa Rican can be extremely unspecific. Sometimes it seems that…

Slothy Sunday: Restrictions are lifted, now what? See sloths, what else!
Sloth Sundays
2564 views
Sloth Sundays
2564 views

Slothy Sunday: Restrictions are lifted, now what? See sloths, what else!

Mariana Diaz / Toucan Rescue Ranch - March 7, 2021

This is officially the first week we are all allowed to drive again on both days of the weekend, how…