The realization that I was the sole editor on HOT BIKE covering Harley-Davidson's 105th Anniversary Celebration didn't hit me until I was on the plane. Since this was my first time in Milwaukee for an H-D birthday, I was excited and fortunate with the opportunity. Celebrating in true Harley style, with four days of non-stop activities, concerts, and exhibitions, I knew I had to be on top of my game.
In route to Milwaukee on August 28, 2008, I took advantage of the long flight to relax and sleep...urrr...work. Since the 105th anniversary started on the day I was flying and ended on August 31st, I had some catching up to do planning my itinerary. FYI: In pre-celebration style and in one of the most ambitious organized rides in H-D history, thousands of Harley enthusiasts rode to Milwaukee via 105 different official starting points and along 25 major routes across the country August 17-27. The celebration took place the following day, with several exclusive ticketed events, as well as many activities that were free and open to the public.
Once I arrived in Milwaukee and had my rental, I beat it over to Miller Park and joined the Harley Owners Group (HOG) for its 25th Anniversary. With the parking lot packed to the max and the concerts being the only noise you could hear over the thousands of bikes, I knew fun times were in my brink, and of course, working. Musical entertainment at the HOG 25th included Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Sugarland, The Billy Bob Thornton Band, and the brass: Kid Rock. Prior to the concert, Willie G. Davidson and family gave a warm welcome and thanks to the crowd. Besides being packed in like a sardine for the Kid Rock concert, some cool props here were all the large TV screens set up outside the area so people could enjoy the tunes and their own personal space.
Exhausted between traveling and the HOG 25th, I caught a good night's rest at the hotel. I spent most of the next day at the H-D Museum, where I began my tour on the second floor, and immersed myself in the Motorcycle Gallery Part 1, which is a 3-foot-wide, 180-foot-long line of unique bikes that tell the story of H-D's first 50 years. Then I went through the Harley-Davidson Journey, which are five interconnected galleries of the stories and events that took place over the first five decades of Harley's history. Other galleries on the second floor that I perused include the Engine Room, with some features as a display that shows the evolution of the H-D engine from its earliest to latest incarnation; the Clubs and Competition gallery features a 13-foot-tall replica board track and vintage racers; the Poster Wall, with more than 75 model-year posters covering the walls; the Tank Wall, with over 100 tank designs chosen for their beauty and historical relevance.
Finally, I meandered to the first floor of the Museum, which covers H-D's history in the latter half of the 20th century. I went through the Motorcycle Gallery Part 2, which features bikes built from 1940 onward; Part 2 of the Harley-Davidson Journey is another incredible set of galleries that feature some of H-D's more recent history; the Custom Culture gallery is dedicated to the customization movement and the cultural phenomenon that presented itself in motorcycling; the Design Lab exhibit covers the engineering and styling of H-D motorcycles including prototypes; the Experience Gallery features many bikes you can throw a leg over and enjoy a video similar to real-time riding experience.
After I grabbed a late lunch at the H-D Museum's restaurant and checked out its merchandise shop, I headed to the Roadhouse at the Lakefront grounds, which was another major venue with all kinds of festivities and concerts, such as the Foo Fighters and Three Days Grace. I walked around the massive grounds and snapped photos of the H-D Kiddie Drag Races, the Harley fashion show that featured the company's latest in apparel, and met a few celebrities along the way, including Danny Trejo who's been in From Dusk Till Dawn, Desperado, and many others, as well as Robert Patrick or Liquid Cop in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. As night closed in, I walked to the Summerfest grounds where many other concerts and events were heating up. Since the bulk of my final day at the 105th was going to be spent at Summerfest, I mainly checked out some Harley seminars for women, the Sports Zone, with such UFC fighters as Brock Lesnar, and the highly anticipated, ZZ Top. Everything was great at Summerfest, although more crowd control officials needed to be present to handle the massive crowd going to ZZ Top.
Since I had to be up early with the roosters the following day, I got another good night's rest to attend H-D's parade in the morning and enjoy the festivities throughout my final day. No wonder thousands of spectators lined up on 35th Street and Wisconsin Avenue and along the route to the Summerfest grounds to see the 105th Anniversary Parade with coolers and folding chairs in tow; it was truly a cool event. There were 7,500 motorcyclists in the parade that were selected through a random lottery, and included riders from H-D executives to dealers to HOG members carrying flags from Italy to Australia. Afterwards, I fought traffic to get back over to the Summerfest grounds, which wasn't too bad because it gave me a chance to soak in the city of Milwaukee transformed by hundreds of thousands of riders; even the buildings seemed to emit the thunderous sounds of all those motors.
Back at Summerfest, I spent most of the afternoon indulging in all the entertainment and events. The woman-rider scene was strong there, considering H-D offered seminars from maintenance and safety checks, to Rider's Edge course info and demos on picking up a motorcycle. Concerts ranged from Puddle of Mudd and Peter Frampton to Daughtry, and many others as well as a live Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) auction. Speaking of the MDA, the Motor Company celebrated its 28-year relationship with the MDA to help raise money to find a cure. After talking with lots of people about their 105th experience so far, I started to head to the Roadhouse at the Lakefront grounds but made a pit stop at H-D Designing Customs. Located in Discovery World between Summerfest and the Lakefront venues, the Designing Customs exhibit showcased the latest in customization for the newer model H-Ds. As the day was closing in, I walked to the Roadhouse grounds to catch all the bitchin' customs at the Ride-In Show, which had a $500 cash prize and trophies awarded in each of the 15 classes, and checked out the street parties neighboring the area. Closing out the night and the end of my stay was Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, which packed a full house at the Roadhouse and was complemented with fireworks.
With a claimed 125,000 105th Anniversary ticket packages sold, the four-day celebration was fantastic and seemed a huge success, with a few minor mishaps when it came to crowd control at some of the premier concerts. Overall, I have to commend H-D and the city of Milwaukee for its hospitality. From the outstanding organization of the 105th anniversary itself to residents aiding the lost with directions to the police being patient and very tolerant, it was as if the red carpet had been rolled out for all who attended the 105th anniversary.