Once in a Lifetime – The Brittens at Barber

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This past weekend, the largest gathering of Britten Motorcycles occurred at the Barber Vintage Festival at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama.

As many of you know, John Britten was a brilliant motorcycle designer from New Zealand who built a total of ten Britten V1000 racing motorcycles before his untimely death from cancer in 1995, at the age of 45.

These bikes were definitely ahead of their time and Britten’s engineering genius has been admired, even well after his passing.

George Barber, the founder and owner of the Barber Motorsports Park and Museum, was an early Britten backer and owner, who decided to pay tribute to Britten at this year’s Barber Vintage Festival.

Nine of the ten Brittens ever produced were at the event; the most ever gathered in one place, at one time. The only Britten not present was number three, which is owned by the people of New Zealand and is proudly displayed at the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand.

Throughout the weekend there were multiple events that paid tribute to John Britten and the amazing motorcycles he designed and fabricated. This included Brittens on the track during the daily lunch intermission.





Britten’s widow, Kirsteen and their children were on-hand to celebrate John’s legacy. To see one of the machines running is amazing. To see five of them riding together on the track is breathtaking.

George Barber and Kirsteen were perched in the flagman’s tower at the start/finish line and Kirsteen started the 20 minute track session by waving a specially embroidered green flag.

The bikes were ridden pretty gently most of the time, but on Saturday, two of these amazing machines participated in one of the vintage races. While not pushing for the lead, neither motorcycle was treated with kid gloves either.

Andrew Stroud, an original Britten rider, actually wheelied his machine across the finish line in celebration. Prior Britten rider Steven Briggs was also on hand for the tribute events. Besides the bikes taking laps on the track, there were many other Britten events during the entire weekend.






On Friday night, the Barber Museum hosted “An Evening with Britten” which was a fundraising dinner for the museum. The event included all of the Britten owners and gave everyone an opportunity to reminisce about John Britten’s amazing accomplishments and remember his brilliance.

On Saturday evening, the Barber Museum hosted a special showing of the Britten documentary “One Man’s Dream” at the historic Alabama Theater in downtown Birmingham.

Saturday and Sunday morning offered a seminar in the Museum with Kirsteen Britten, Bob Brookland, and Craig Roberts called the “Naked Britten”. Brookland is the man who developed the amazing paint and finishes for the V1000s and Roberts was one of the company’s engineers.

The seminar started off with Kirsteen saying that, “John was passionate about speed”. That led to a very easy going and insightful one-hour talk with all three members of team Britten.

There were continuous question and answers, plenty of insight into Britten’s life, and the opportunity to see the V1000 with its fairings removed. Even underneath the skin, the bike was a piece of engineering art.

Kirsteen was very gracious and invited small groups of folks come up from the audience to get an up close look at the naked motorcycle.




Bob Brookland was asked what Britten was like to work with and he said, “he was driven, but fun. He expected perfection and was tough, but fair. Overall, he was amazing to be around.”

Kirsteen explained that Britten was, “good on four to five hours of sleep per night for years at a time” which allowed him to pursue his passion late into the night.

Yet even with the long hours and the sleepless nights, Britten was a great husband and father who renovated a beautiful home in New Zealand and left an enduring legacy for his family.

Overall, the tribute to John Britten and his machines was fantastic. Every event was packed, which is a testimony to the long lasting brilliance that Britten displayed.

To hear the stories and to see the machines in person was a privilege none of us will soon forget.














Photos: © 2015 Andrew Kohn / Asphalt & Rubber – All Rights Reserved

Andrew Kohn

Space industry professional full time. Motorcycle writer and photographer part time. Motorcycle rider all the time. Ducati and Honda owner. A&R’s own Captain Slow.