Written by KYLE JORREY
Photos by MICHAEL COONS
Daniel Schoenewald can still describe in detail the bike that birthed a lifelong obsession.
A British-made Norton Commando, the motorcycle belonged to a man from Libya’s Fezzan region named Salah. Schoenewald, 14 at the time, the son of a Mobil Oil geologist living in the historic city of Tripoli, was en route to the beach with two friends when they spotted a dust cloud rising from a nearby sand dune. Out from the dust rode Salah on a bright red Commando, its engine screaming.
“I yelled ‘Hey, hey, come over here!’ and waved him down. And we got to talking, and talking and talking, and pretty soon, the girls take off to the beach and I’m still sitting here talking about the motorcycle,” he recalls.
“I went home that night and put a sheet over my head and . . . all I could hear was the parallel-twin (engine), thehemispherical head. I knew then what a motorcycle should look like, what it should sound like. And I said, ‘When I grow up, I’m going to buy a bike just like Salah’s.’ And now I have all of them.”
Schoenewald’s complete set of Commandos—one of the sport’s most sought-after models—is like few others in the world. But the 11 bikes made between 1968 and 1976 are just a small taste of what the successful businessman has in his one-of-a-kind collection.
Since 1993, Schoenewald has taken into his possession no fewer than 120 motorcycles, 118 of which he currently stores on the second floor of his Camarillo business, Advanced Motion Controls, a leading manufacturer of servo drives, essential components in motion control systems used by a wide range of industries.
“I’ve sold a few bikes, and I’ve given a few bikes away. . . but since ’93, I decided not to let many go,” he says, trying to hide a smile.
“I look at that bike and I see art, the art of the motorcycle,” he goes on, pointing to a vintage Indian Triumph just a few feet from the over-sized elevator used to transport the bikes to the street. “There’s a balance between engineering and art. You find a really good balance in a motorcycle; it’s part art, part finely engineered product.”
Arranged row by row, grouped according to year, make and model, Schoenewald’s fleet of high-performance sport bikes (there’s no Harley in this lot) is one of Ventura County’s best-kept secrets, stowed away in a nondescript 85,000-square-foot industrial building off Flynn Road. But more impressive than the sight of so many rare Ducatis, Triumphs and Kawasakis in one place, is the fact that nearly all are in perfect riding condition.
Schoenewald, who says he’s ridden all but two of the bikes, doesn’t label his motorcycle mecca a museum because it’s more of a super garage, a place where the bike fanatic can keep his play things, because, well, where else could he park them?
A CEO of an international company responsible for 140 employees and millions in annual revenue, Schoenewald still regularly rides a motorcycle to and from work. When he’s not on the job, the father of two loves nothing more than to grab a few friends and take his toys out on the road, usually at high speeds. He’s taken groups on rides from Seattle and St. Louis to California in recent years.
“There’s nothing like having six great friends on all these bikes that look alike,” he says of his Norton collection. “You’re coming through town—the sound, the fury, the smoke, the glamour. There’s nothing like it.”
The speeding bikes help quench the 61-year-old’s lifelong thirst for adventure, a trait he picked up from his father, a native of Casper, Wyoming. Born in Anaco, Venezuela, Schoenewald spent the first 16 years of his life living abroad while his father chased new caches of oil, including in Libya, where Schoenewald saw the bike that started it all.
“Up until that point I was all about baseball. Baseball, baseball, baseball. But the moment I saw that bike, I mean I was just mesmerized,” he says.
In spite of his obsession, the younger Schoenewald wouldn’t get his own bike until after high school, when his father finally bought one to “shut me the (heck) up,” as he tells it.
Having traveled so much of the globe, Schoenewald has a unique appreciation and understanding of world history, and his collection is no exception.
Besides the impossible to find Japanese, Italian and British sport bikes, the Schoenewald Collection also includes Steve McQueen’s beloved 1942 Indian Scout and a 1937 Vincent Black Lightning, the same type of motorcycle used by the legendary Rollie Free to break the land-speed record in Bonneville Salt Flats in 1948. One of his most prized? A Rickman Metisse he bought from a local pharmacist for $8,000. The bike is valued at over $20,000.
“It’s the Holy Grail,” he says of the Metisse.
So how can you see Schoenewald’s collection? Well, you can’t, at least not without a personal tour from the collector himself. He does lend out his motorcycles for exhibit from time to time in support of local nonprofits like the Santa Paula Oil Museum, but otherwise, the bikes are mainly for family and friends to enjoy. At least for now.
Schoenewald, who calls the motorcycles his “401(k),” says he may one day open up a “collection within a collection” and display a few of the bikes at a time. For now, he’s too busy enjoying them.
“They find me, and I find them,” he says of his motorcycles. “Sometimes I’m just minding my own business and a bike shows up. . . . Motorcycles are like drugs, they’re everywhere. Only I can say ‘no’ to drugs.”