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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Oct. 31, 2014

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In Festival Guide Commentary

Tim Dixon, Mary Lou Haen (Road America), Scott Johnson (Rockerbox creator), Colleen Swartz (BUILD). Photo: Mike McGill/LesTension Photography

In Festival Guide Commentary

Bikes, bikes, bikes.

In Festival Guide Commentary

The first time ever, Rockerbox took place somewhere other than Riverwest.

When two great motorcycle events collide


Two of southeast Wisconsin's most unique and authentic motorcycle events combined to bring riders of all makes and models to Road America in Elkhart Lake last weekend.

While Road America has hosted the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association (AHRMA) for 25 years, this was the first time the races were run in conjunction with the Rockerbox motorcycle event, held in Milwaukee's Riverwest neighborhood for the last decade.

As much as I enjoyed the vintage vibe of Rockerbox in the city, it was a different kind of fun riding my Heritage Softail through the beautiful Wisconsin back roads to Elkhart Lake last Saturday. The sights and sounds of entering a race track like Road America through the tunnels reminds me of the feeling baseball fans get when enter the green cathedrals of historic ballparks.

Riding and walking around the Road America infields, it wasn't very long before meeting up with old motorcycling acquaintances and colleagues like John Farris, Joe Haupt, Colleen Swartz, Wes Orloff and Leah Bober Orloff.

The Orloffs show how the family that races together stays together as they both compete in AHRMA classes while enjoying days at the track with their young children and other friends. "These are two of our favorite events and combining them here is just amazing," Wes said. "The racing is more fun with more spectators, the track is one of the best and it's great riding here."

The beauty of events like AHRMA and Rockerbox is the true diversity of riders and their motorcycles. Whether racing , riding or just showing off, there were plenty of vintage motorcycles from Japan and Europe along with the Harleys and Indians from the USA. Even though most attendees were from around here, it felt like you were overseas or in bohemian Riverwest rather than a racetrack in the middle of Wisconsin farm fields.

Besides racing, Saturday's Rockerbox events at Road America included motorcycle stunt shows complete with heavy burnouts, a bike show, vintage bikes and parts sales, bands, beer tastings and a sunset cruise around the track.

An "Easy Rider" Captain America movie replica bike was just one of many eye-catching rolling works of art at the show. Bill Herman of Hubertus built the bike in 2000, riding it up until recently, and is now trying to sell it. "The show is good and it's more of a mixed crowd this year," Herman said of Rockerbox. "Some people might complain about the distance from the city and the cost, but it's just a different vibe."

The weekend was also a chance to showcase five bikes built by area high school students and their mentors through the non-profit Build program. Readers can look forward to an OnMilwaukee.com story with more details shortly, or just go to the website.

Rockerbox co-founder, Fuel Café partner and AHRMA racer Scott Johnson noted that helping charitable causes like the Build program and the Steel Shoe fund for injured racers was part of the benefit from the proceeds of moving Rockerbox from Riverwest to Elkhart Lake.

"It was time to pass the torch and this was the perfect fit," said Johnson, who spent most of the weekend at the event. "Road America is a great place and the way to begin a new chapter for Rockerbox.

Johnson had helped found Rockerbox with a few friends 10 years ago as a small event near the Fuel Café and other businesses on Center Street. "It was really just for the motorcyclists and it was not brand specific," he said. "Once it started taking off, it just got too big to manage in that small space. Getting that big was never part of the plan, so we wanted to go out on a high note on Center Street."

For those of you wondering where the Rockerbox name comes from, it's basically part of the motorcycle engine above the cylinder heads that controls valves. When it comes to an event like this, it really just sounds right and looks cool on the posters and T-shirts.

Ride, eat and ride some more at Wisconsin Harley-Davidson: Motorcycle riders and barbecue aficionados can get more their fill of food and fun at the second annual HOG and Steer State Championship barbecue competition and festival at Wisconsin Harley-Davidson in Oconomowoc this weekend. A $10 ticket lets you enjoy some hot cooking, eating, drinking, live music by Reilly and more Friday-Saturday, June 13-14, with proceeds benefiting the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight. Click here for more details.


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