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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Dec. 19, 2014

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There's never a shortage of strong opinions, friendly jabs and caustic comebacks when bikers, especially biker couples, get together.

Harley boot camps bring bikers together


There's never a shortage of strong opinions, friendly jabs and caustic comebacks when bikers, especially biker couples, get together.

In fact, my wife Janice and I were pretty much the quite ones at a recent motorcycle "boot camp" with six other couples at the Wisconsin Harley-Davidson dealership in Oconomowoc.

The Harley dealership promoted the boot camp gathering on its website as a chance to simply learn more about motorcycles with your significant other. All we had to do was register and show up. As much as we all wanted to ride our bikes there, it was a typically cold, rainy Wisconsin spring night. While we had to drive, we wore our boots and Harley gear just in case.

We were greeted at Wisconsin Harley by marketing manager Dianne Crowley, along with food, refreshments and just a few fine motorcycles. After some brief introductions, we got right into it with a little friendly competition.

The contest was about as unique as it gets. It was the guys against the gals to see who could do the best job of packing a three-wheel Harley Ultra Tri-Glide aka Trike for a long road trip. After getting the ground rules from Jodi Howland, the guys were busy packing and debating what to pack, and packing and debating what to pack, and well, you get the picture.

As might be expected, the women packed more for hygiene and style, while the dudes focused on cool T-shirts and tools. While the guys won in a close call by Jodi, it could have gone either way. One interesting recommendation from Jodi was to pack old clothes that can actually be tossed during a long trip to save space for the swag you buy along the way.

The couples then mixed up to compete in a Harley version of "Family Feud." The questions ranged from as easy as naming Harley's styling guru and icon "Willie G." to matching historic Harley engine nicknames. After this learning experience, we did a little shopping and talked motorcycles and more.

For years, Harley-Davidson has worked to reach newer customers like women, minorities and young adults. Part of those efforts include these boot camp or garage party concepts aimed to get these groups of potential riders together at Harley dealerships to get a taste of the biker lifestyle in a tamer, almost unbikerlike setting.

Downtown Milwaukee residents Ivan Araya-Schraner and friend Kari Stower don't ride Harleys, yet. He rides a Honda cruiser and she hopes to learn to ride very soon, possibly through a Harley Riding Academy class.

"Harley is a great place to learn about motorcycles," Kari said. "We're trying to learn all that we can. We're also looking to ride safely when it comes to the right helmets, jackets and things like that."

Harley's outreach efforts are part of the motorcycle industry's success in increasing growth, participation and increasing sales to new audiences. At Harley, it's sometimes referred to as "extending the brand."

Harley Softail rider Dan Kurth and passenger Lori Gunderson enjoyed the event and did some recruiting for their local Harley Owner's Group (HOG) chapter. They appreciated and enjoyed the chance to talk to competitive bike riders like Ivan and Kari.

"Harley is about the bikes, but it's also about the people you ride with," Dan said. "The more events, the more people you get to meet and the bikes bring people together."

Lori is happy riding on the back of Dan's Harley and is not looking to ride herself. "I feel like a princess when we're riding," she said. "We can talk, enjoy the scenery and I like being the navigator."

As much as getting more people on motorcycles is about new riders, it's also about passengers and other enthusiasts, which includes a lot of couples.

If nothing else, events like Harley boot camps show that the biker stereotype of being intimidating, unapproachable and just plain scary is more of a holdover from the 1950s to the 1970s than the reality of motorcycling in the 2010s.

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