Harley-Davidson’s 115th Anniversary Celebration
Words by Ben Giese
When the folks at Harley-Davidson called and invited me to attend their 115th anniversary celebration in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, initially I wasn’t all that excited. Sure, I knew the trip would be fun, and I can recognize the impressive legacy of this American manufacturer and the massive influence it has had on American culture. But for some reason I have never really felt a personal connection to the brand. I’ve always had an image of the Harley-Davidson rider to be like something from the movie Wild Hogs. Weekend warriors and outlaw bikers wearing leather vests with club patches, chaps, bandannas, and tassels hanging from one place or another while riding a gigantic motorcycle. Obviously that was a very silly stereotype, and there is much more diversity to this iconic brand than I ever realized.
I went into this trip feeling like an outsider, not really knowing what to expect. Little did I know that the experience and the people I was going to meet would completely change my perspective on what it means to ride a Harley-Davidson.
When I arrived at the historic Pfister Hotel in downtown Milwaukee I was greeted by Harley-Davidson’s very own, Jennifer Hoyer. Jennifer went above and beyond to arrange some amazing accommodations for me and assure that this weekend would be one to remember. Upon meeting the warm and welcoming staff, and when Jennifer handed me the keys to a brand-new Sport Glide for the weekend I immediately went from feeling like an outsider to becoming part of the Harley-Davidson family.
The following day I woke up early and rode to a nearby coffee shop to feed my caffeine addiction before starting the day. Sitting on the curb outside drinking my coffee I witnessed literally thousands of motorcycles ride by within 30 minutes. I spent that morning riding the highways and back roads surrounding Milwaukee getting familiar with the motorcycle and that experience was much the same. There were thousands upon thousands of bikers and each one of them would give a wave, thumbs-up, peace sign, or some sort of a “hello” acknowledging that we all share a common thread and these motorcycles bring us all together. No matter who you are, what you look like or what model of bike you are riding, we are a community. That’s pretty cool if you ask me.
That afternoon I met up with Harley-Davidson’s VP of Styling, Brad Richards to talk all things design and motorcycles. Brad leads a team of designers responsible for the design and styling of Harley-Davidson’s motorcycles. Listening to Brad explain the Harley-Davidson design process, philosophy and vision for the future left me feeling inspired and buzzing with excitement. He then proceeded to walk me through the features and design of Harley’s new Pan America adventure bike and Livewire electric bike and it was clear that the next generation of Harley-Davidson motorcycles are forging a bold new direction.
One of the most exciting aspects of Harley-Davidson’s 115 Year Anniversary was all of the racing action happening throughout the weekend. The competition started with Flat Out Friday, an indoor flat-track race on a Dr. Pepper syrup soaked surface inside the UWM Panther Arena featuring several different classes ranging from the highly competitive Open Expert and Open Hooligan classes, to the more fun and light-hearted Boonie & Goofball classes. The following morning we woke up early and drove about 45 minutes north, in the rain, to watch the Harley-Davidson Hill Climb at the Little Switzerland ski resort. The event featured several different classes starting with many of the same hooligan riders that were competing the night before in Flat Out Friday on the same machines.
And as soon as the action at the Hill Climb in Little Swizterland was over riders loaded up and headed straight to the Bradford Beach Brawl for some old fashioned beach racing!
For the first time in over 100 years, bikes were battling it out on the sandy shoreline of Lake Michigan. Vintage and new bikes battled it out on the oval paying tribute to the early days of racing. The race classes included Walksler's Period Modified, TROG 45" (w/brakes), 45"(brakeless), Hollywood's 80", Open Hooligan, Hooligan Amateur-Pro, Vintage Sportster, Dealer and Employee.
Watch all the racing action below!
One of the most special moments of the Harley-Davidson 115 year experience was meeting the Harley-Davidson Museum Curatorial Director, Jim Fricke and museum PR Director Tim McCormick. During one of the busiest weekends ever at the museum with literally thousands of people swarming the complex to enjoy the brand’s rich history, Jim set aside a few hours to personally walk us through the beautiful museum the he curated. The brand’s impressive heritage goes without saying, but what I was most impressed by was the immense archives and preservation of that history. The folks at Harley-Davidson have saved everything from 100+ year old photography, advertisements, and at least one of each motorcycle they have ever produced including Serial Number One, the oldest bike in their archive built 115 years ago.
Not only has this trip completely shifted my perspective on the Harley-Davidson image, but meeting Jim Fricke has opened my eyes to the diversity, rich preservation of history, and legacy of this legendary American Motorcycle manufacturer. My conversation with Brad Richards has filled me with excitement for the new direction Harley is taking with their next generation of motorcycles, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the future as a newfound Harley-Davidson fan and rider. Thanks to Jennifer, Brad, Jim, Tim and the entire Harley-Davidson staff for giving me an unforgettable experience at the #HD115.