Written by Wes DeBow
When you’re turning 110 years old, you don’t want to celebrate for just one day. An accomplishment that large calls for a drawn-out, bombastic commemoration full of burned rubber, eardrum-pounding exhausts, fantastic company, and even better rides. That's exactly the course Harley-Davidson is taking, as the company clocks 110 years of American motorcycle awesomeness into the history books. H-D has quite literally kicked off a year-long, worldwide party in tandem with the launch of a sick 2013 lineup that includes limited edition anniversary models and HCC (Hard Candy Custom) paint options.
The party has started with two epic simultaneous rides in early August. The first, a scenic ride in the Northwest from Seattle, WA to the Black Hills of Sturgis, SD, while the second crew was led by H-D’s Chief Marketing Officer Mark-Hans Richer through the Tibetan Plains of China.
We were fortunate enough to attend the recent festivities in Milwaukee, where H-D hosted one of Milwaukee’s largest Bike Nights and served up a bevy of activities for the weekend.
A stay at the Iron Horse Hotel, just a stones throw from the Harley-Davidson Museum, was the perfect spot to take it all in. The Iron Horse is plush and the lobby is decorated with all sorts of motorcycle paraphernalia, including the World Champion “Black Cadillac” Rambler built by local boys Dave Cook, John J.P. Persitza and Matt Drew of Cook Custom Choppers.
The first day out, we took a small posse on a Steel Toe Tour of their Pilgrim Road Powertrain Operations facility in Menomonee Falls. Later, a tour and tasting at Lakefront Brewery put me in good spirits and some time exploring the H-D museum had me inspired and waxing nostalgic. Photos of the humble shed where Harley-Davidson started back in 1903 put into perspective just how incredible H-D’s storied history and current domination truly is. The Evil Knievel tribute was awesome, as was the Captain America and Avengers display that we were geeking out on. All of the old bikes are gorgeous and we even got a sneak peek into the H-D archives at this crazy reverse trike concept bike.
The day just kept getting better as I was provided an opportunity to chat with CMO Mark-Hans Richer and the man himself, Willie G. Davidson. Richer spoke of his recent ride through China and the local who painted the symbol for Freedom on his leather jacket that will now spend the year being worn and adorned by riders around the world. He shared that H-D’s perspective is “about the individuals” and that H-D “want(s) to underline the adventure.”
Willie G. projected a vibe that oozed "cool," yet he has managed to remain real, approachable and laid back. After almost 50 years of being in charge of design for the world’s most popular motorcycles, Willie remains in touch, and although he's slightly removed, he stays involved in the future of the brand. With security pacing the halls to extract the legend, Willie spent a few minutes talking with us and a couple other journalists about celebrating 110 years, his continued fascination with the company from a design perspective, and reminiscing about his father's riding prowess.
Willie G. and Richer were quickly escorted from the small, secure room and reappeared to the thousands of onlooking riders to present the 2013 line of bikes and talk about some of the upcoming opportunities to ride and celebrate with H-D. A couple of riders on new Harleys burned rubber in the shape of a giant #HD110 on the cement in front of the museum ending with one guy shifting through all five gears and blowing molten rubber all over anybody with a front-row spot. The crowd erupted as the clock began the yearlong countdown of global parties culminating back in Milwaukee.
The next day we finally got the chance to sample some of the exciting new 2013 steel with a ride out to Holy Hill. Sportsters, Street Bobs and Softails aplenty, we spent the afternoon throttling through the sleepy Wisconsin countryside and eventually rolled back into town for lunch at Fuel Café.
We dropped the bikes off back at H-D headquarters and I began the “planes, trains and automobiles” ritual back to the Left Coast. On the flight home I couldn’t help but wonder what lies ahead for Harley-Davidson in not only this celebratory year, but the next 110 to come.