Milwaukeeans know a good biker party when they see one. We only host one of the biggest biker bashes in the world when the Harley riders come to town every five years.
Besides the massive economic and emotional impact of the big Harley anniversaries, there are many other motorcycle events in the area. While a post-Harley anniversary summer like 2014 sees a decrease in the motorcycle traffic around town, there is still plenty going on for riders and enthusiasts.
The parties continue throughout our area at dealerships like Wisconsin Harley-Davidson in Oconomowoc, hotels or restaurants like the Iron Horse Hotel in Walker’s Point, or the many roadhouses and biker bars in the rolling country hills.
Believe it or not, the actual riding is just a slice of the larger motorcycle experience. As fun as it is riding from place to place, it’s the experiences and people you enjoy once you get there that really matters and creates lasting memories.
I’ve been in the middle of massive motorcycles events like the last three Harley anniversaries to small casual bike nights at places like Culver’s in Brookfield. The big events are fun for some, but there are definitely advantages and cool connections to be made to the smaller events.
Wisconsin Harley-Davidson holds many events over the course of the riding season.
"We try to develop a consummate Wisconsin experience through all of our special events to appeal to riders and the community as a whole," said Dianne Crowley, marketing manager at Wisconsin Harley. "Our HOG and STEER State Championship Barbeque Competition, the Green and Gold Packers Tailgate Party and the Honor Celebration for military veterans are a few examples."
Former Packer Gilbert Brown participated in the Harley Tailgate Party event earlier this summer. The legendary defensive lineman is a well known motorsports enthusiast who has kept close ties here since his time on the Packers in the 1990s. He works to support numerous local charitable causes and hosts youth football camps.
"Things like the tailgate party are a great way of giving back to the community," Brown said. "Harley is so big in the Milwaukee community, and it’s just an honor to team up with them. I come back here every year because I love giving back, especially doing it with Harley, the kids and everyone who comes out."
The Iron Horse Hotel is well known for catering to bikers, but its Thursday bike nights and other events attract diverse crowds. Iron Horse events also help support the local community, especially the BUILD motor mentor program, according to General Manager Michael Falkenstein
"Arriving on everything from a vintage café racer, a brand new Euro-style, a Milwaukee signature Harley-Davidson or even a scooter, you’re guaranteed to find an interesting cast of characters and a bevy of beautiful bikes at our Thursday night Bike Nights," Falkenstein said. "We are proud to be a hotel that celebrates the art and lifestyle of the cycle, and everything from our unique motorcycle amenities for guests to our upcoming Winter Moto Month supports that mission."
While the typical tough guy and gal biker stereotype certainly rings true in some cases, there is also an element of inclusion and increasing diversity at many biker events.
"Whether you’re a seasoned rider, or have just walked into our dealership for the first time, we strive to provide a fun, social and entertaining environment through our year round events," Crowley said. "Live music, great food and cold beverages are almost always key elements."
Besides catering to hard core bikers, local motorcycle events simply seek to attract a mix of people who just enjoy a good party.
"Our dealership is not just a place to buy your bike," Crowley said. "It becomes your home base, your social hub. I’ve seen so many friendships develop simply because of our events."
Milwaukee-area Harley dealers have worked to maintain the motorcycle party momentum in the off-Harley anniversary years with the Milwaukee Rally. This year’s event is coming up Aug. 28 through Sept. 1, with thousands (not hundreds of thousands) of riders and bikes, street parties, music, a women’s ride and more. I’ve attended this event for years, and enjoy the chance to ride and party on a more low key fashion.
Mike Morgan rides retro, whether on his 1976 Harley Aermacchi 250 or Heritage Softail. Mike has been a motorcyclist since 2001 having ridden in Sturgis, Daytona Beach, the California coast, New England and everywhere in between, including in the last three Milwaukee Harley Anniversary parades.
Mike worked in communications and marketing at Harley-Davidson for more than 12 years, writing and editing all kinds of content, including award-winning media kids in 2009 and 2012. He had ridden the Harley several times before Brewer games at Miller Park, and ran in one of the last sausage races at the old County Stadium when he was Communications Manager for the Stadium District Board.