Harley’s centennial: It’s time to rock, ride

OK, so maybe you’re a little wacked out – excited or nervous – about all those bikers taking over Wisconsin later this month, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Harley-Davidson.

As the promo goes, get ready to rock, roll and rumble.

About 250,000 Harley enthusiasts from around the world, in all their thundering glory, are expected to converge Aug. 28-31 at Milwaukee’s lakefront Summerfest grounds.

Nanc Ulicki wants you to put it into perspective. She and her husband, Keith, are co-owners of Uke’s, which she says is the state’s oldest Harley-Davidson dealership.

“The buyers in the last 10 years have changed,” she says. “Nobody needs a Harley – it’s a want. My doctor and my dentist both have them. I didn’t pick ’em that way. It just happened.”

The higher-end cycles cost more than $20,000. A part of the deal is that, when dressed in leather and bandanas, “no one knows anybody’s background, and no one cares,” Nanc says. That means there is room for both the millionaire CEO and the hell-raising nomad to yak, dance, size up bikes, each other and drink beer.

“More women are getting their own bikes, too,” Nanc observes. “They’re getting tired of riding on the back, where they can’t see and aren’t in control.”

Does she ride? “Of course.” What does she ride? “Whatever’s around. Like my husband reminds me, everything’s for sale, so don’t get too attached.”

She also sees more interest in Harley riding as a family event, because of the dealership’s sale of sidecars. And there are more kinds of bike adaptations to make it easier for aging baby boomers to ride, ride, ride.

All of these factors – plus the stereotypes that we all whisper about – make for pretty interesting conversations, observations and speculations. So forgive, or relish in, the gawking.

The Greater Milwaukee Convention and Visitors Bureau has put together a guide for bikers that includes Harley activities being organized around the state – at Harley dealerships, in suburbs, off of rural roads, within museums, neighborhoods and city parks.

“We’re getting hundreds of calls,” says Vanessa Welter, public relations director for the bureau. The guide is free for the asking: call (800) 554-1448 or send an e-mail to visitor@milwaukee.org. Although the contents of the guide is not online, go to www.milwaukee org. to find out more about what will be cooking in that city.

The list, availability and rules regarding Milwaukee’s official Harley-Davidson events are at www.harley-davidson.com. Tickets are gone for the final two days of the celebration; a limited number of single-day tickets remain for the first two.

You don’t have to ride a Harley to get into any event, except the parade, for which only 10,000 will get the credentials to ride. The parade begins at the Milwaukee County Zoo at 9 a.m. Aug. 30, heading east on Bluemound Road, then Wisconsin Avenue, until moving south on North Milwaukee Street to the Summerfest grounds.

At least 200 Harley owners, each of whom has raised at least $5,300 for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, will be at the head of the parade.

Not available for public consumption yet is the official Harley-Davidison museum, which seems to have been moved to a back burner. A Milwaukee location has yet to be selected for it, says a publicist for the manufacturer.

But other venues have been quick to step in as temporary substitutes.

The Milwaukee Art Museum is presenting “Rolling Sculptures: The Art of Harley-Davidson,” which includes previously unpublicized sketches and models of Harleys. “The Bikeriders: Pictures and Audio from the 1960s” is the title of a Danny Lyons photo exhibit about the motorcycle culture in the Midwest, particularly cycle racers and clubs in Chicago and Milwaukee.

Both shows are at the museum until Sept. 14; call (414) 224-3200 or go to www.mam.org for details.

Another unconventional Harley gathering spot in Milwaukee is the Pabst Mansion, which will display four rare Harleys from a private collection. One is a 1912 Indian. The show is in place through September; call (414) 931-0808 or go to www.pabstmansion.com for more.

Head out of town, and there is extensive Wisconsin Rapids publicity for “Hogs to the Bogs: Recommended Backroad Routes for Harley Riders.” The scenery on four motor routes – quick to leisurely – includes cranberry bogs, historic rural areas, Amish farmland, brewery and cheese tours.

To get a copy of the map, call (800) 554-4484 or go to www.visitwisrapids.com. Online, the motorcycle manufacturer suggests four cross-country routes to get to Wisconsin and the big party; the northwest option starts at La Crosse before winding its way eastward.

For the Ulickis, in Kenosha, there’s the hope and hunch that the Harley homecoming will make her dealership a hot stop for travelers coming from the east and south. She calls Uke’s 70-foot tower of motorcycles, lit up every night, the world’s tallest.

Activities from Aug. 25 to Sept. 1 will include 40 vendors, a food court, bands and a stunt show. The latter features Bubba Blackwell on Aug. 30, doing ramp-to-ramp jumping with his XR-750.

That’s in addition to Kenosha’s city activities, which are being called “Habor Thunder,” 6-11 p.m. Aug. 28 at the lakefront. For more, go to www.kenoshacvb.com or call (800) 654-7309.

Billed as a community festival, it begins with a parade of Harleys. (There are about 500 people in the Kenosha club for Harley riders.)

“Kenosha County alone stands to receive a $1.7 million boost to its local economy through visitor spending” because of the influx of Harleys in Wisconsin, the city’s convention bureau says.