Robert (Bobby) Haas was a wildly successful financier turned world-famous aerial photographer, but instead of retiring, Bobby Haas went on to build one of the finest motorcycle museums in the world
Robert (Bobby) Haas, who died unexpectedly on 28 September at the age of 74 after a brief respiratory illness, only had his first motorcycle ride a decade ago. However, he was immediately hooked by, as he put it, “the joy of engaging in an activity that has hardly changed at all in the past century, the intoxicating thrill of speed and the distinct aroma of danger that you sense in your nostrils”.
Instead of just buying a bike, Haas decided to assemble one of the most exquisite exhibitions of motorcycle artistry you could ever hope to find. Starting with a 1952 Matchless, he went on to collect more than 200 motorcycles of a multitude of vintages. These are now displayed at the Haas Moto Museum & Sculpture Gallery and another nearby facility in Dallas, Texas.
And what a collection it is. There are more than 150 vintage bikes, dating from 1901 to the present day. The custom collection features bikes by such talents as Jeremy Cupp, Bryan Fuller, Max Hazan, Kurosu Kaichiroh, Shinya Kimura, Craig Rodsmith, Walt Segal and Cristian Sosa, as well as creations by lesser-known custom builders.
Haas admired the focus and commitment of the giants of custom building.
“They are driven by passion not money and are selfless in their sharing of their expertise,” he said.
Furthermore, Haas said, while the lives of many of them had been anything but smooth, “somehow they managed to convert personal strife into professional excellence and to share that excellence with the public at large”.
This attitude resonated with a guy who, when he committed himself to a professional path, never settled for something less than excellence as the ultimate goal.
“In this respect, I think I’m no different from what many of our designers and builders of custom cycles bring to their trade,” Haas said.
“That standard is both the fuel for our ambition and an albatross around our neck.”
Famous for the central role he played in a venture capital firm’s acquisition of iconic soft drink manufacturers Dr Pepper and 7 Up in the 1980s, Haas was also the creator of three best-selling National Geographic coffee-table books of aerial photos taken in Africa, Latin America and the Arctic.
Haas found the thrill of riding motorcycles to be a fitting successor to a decade of leaning out of helicopters taking photographs. He said: “In that career as well… we were moving at high speed connected by a harness to an airborne chopper, and there were certainly moments of danger and near calamity.”
Back in 2019, Haas said he felt more rewarded as an artist and museum owner than he did when he completed a successful financial deal.
“At my age, you become much more sensitised to what your legacy will be, and that is hardly ever measured in dollars,” he said.
Haas leaves behind his partner in life and business, Stacey Mayfield, and is survived by three daughters from his 48-year marriage to Candice Haas, as well as four grandchildren.