Saturday, March 16, 2013

Continued… Day 2 – Madison to Milwaukee to Chicago

“A fool flatters himself, a wise man flatters the fool.”  Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton

To many Americans the name “Harley Davidson” is synonymous with “Motorcycle”.  Most of those people don’t know what “synonymous” means.

Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton, in his novel Paul Clifford, gave us the phrase “The Great Unwashed” in contrast to those who bathe regularly and live cleanly.  The current image of Harley Davidson celebrates the Great Unwashed.  Motorcycle gangs, leathers and chains, contempt for authority and a blind commitment to a brand are just a few identifying characteristics of the current Harley Mystique.

This mystique is not necessarily what Harley Davidson had in mind nor a reflection of their roots.  Harley Davidson started in 1903 in a backyard shed and by 1920 was the largest motorcycle producer in the world with dealers in 67 countries.  They built their brand on the guiding principles of intensive research and development and listening to their customers.  They were heavily invested in competition and building ever higher performing engines.

Just one example of listening to their customers is found in their frame design.  At the time riders were requesting lower seat heights.  To accomplish this they sloped the top tube allowing them to lower the seat.  This iconic design feature continues to define the cruiser motorcycle today.

 The Harley Davidson museum in Milwaukee is an homage to the early years.  The top floor of the museum covers 1903 to 1947 with historical displays of their motorcycles and collections of period items.  This is the most intensive part of the museum which picks up again in 1948 on the lower floor.  You can purchase an audio guide on a provided Ipod that lets you enter an exhibit number for exhibits with audio so you are free to roam and see the museum in any order you desire.

It’s not my intention to give a full review of the museum, but one point of focus is worth mentioning.  When the Great Depression came Harley Davidson no longer had the capital to invest in the intensive research and development needed to design new engines and bring them to market.  In order to stay competitive and to define the models year to year when significant changes in technology were not occurring, Harley offered new tank paint designs.

This development continues to define Harley Davidson with the design focus seeming to start at the tank.  Harley has devoted an entire wall, about a hundred feet long and 15 feet high, to a history of the gas tanks from the Depression forward displaying multiple representative tanks.

 I’m not a devoted fan of Harley Davidson, but I can say that the museum is well executed and I really enjoyed learning more about the early history of the company in the contexts of the times. 

Across from the museum is a bar/restaurant, sandwich shop, and gift store.  It is quite an impressive facility and worth stopping in if you happen to be passing through.

My dad first turned me on to Crawdaddy’s, and I’ve been stopping in when I am in town since 2006 when the company I worked for was headquartered in Milwaukee.

I showed up between lunch and dinner, but they had a pot of jambalaya on the stove, so they offered me a bowl.  It was quite tasty, but the neighborhood seems to be even more sketchy than I last remembered.

Nothing excited my desire for a motorcycle more than the character Arthur Fonzarelli on Happy Days.  The Fonz was cool and he told people to “Sit on it.”  Quite the rebel.  But when you are 9 years old and discover a character like this you are thinking he is one “bad dude”.  His trademark two thumbs up and guttural “Heyyyyy” are permanently impressed on my brain.

I love you, Fonzie. 

I really, really love you.


In 1998 a motorcycle race from Milwaukee’s Fuel Café to Bob’s Java Hut in Minneapolis was born.  Inspired by the 1963 British movie Leather Boys, which has a scene with a motorcycle race starting at the famous Ace Café, the Milwaukee to Minneapolis Tourist Trophy cafe race (M2MTT) was an official Fuel Café event until 2001 when the owner decided things were getting a little out of hand.  Now it is “unofficial” taking place the first Saturday after the Forth of July.

My experience with the M2MTT saw it as a mix between the Gumball Rally, Smokey and the Bandit, and the Dukes of Hazard.  Covering twisty county back roads all the way to Minneapolis, this is quite a challenging race.  At least one rider was known to wear a catheter to save time on stops. 

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