FROM ISSUE NUMBER ONE (click to view larger):
TEXT OF ARTICLE:
The dog days of summer are upon us. And as we rumble over the simmering, blistering pavement, letting the breeze cool the perspiration from our faces – we ponder conditions that make even the most hardy among us sweat bullets: Slick ice. Plunging mercury. And a wind chill colder than the stare you got as you headed out the door to Milwaukee for a long weekend. In February.
Welcome to a sub-culture within a sub-culture: a growing group of custom bike enthusiasts willing to drive hundreds of ice-biting screws into their tires and throttle around a frozen race course at up to 60mph – a sideshow of sorts to the annual Mama Tried Custom Bike Show in Milwaukee.
“On the third day of the show, we like to relax a bit and join the ice racing. You run what you brung – it’s all a bit loosie goosie. Caps off a great weekend,” says Warren Heir, co-founder of the Mama Tried event.
Owners of custom motorized creations get caught up in the moment and roll their showpieces out from behind the velvet rope and on to the ice of McKinley Marina, where only the breakwaters shelter fans and riders from the vast frozen wasteland of Lake Michigan. What these custom bike riders might not have in total preparedness, they make up for in guts.
“It doesn’t really get more mid-west. What else are you going to do in the dead of winter? I’ll tell you: you race on the ice,” adds Warren.
Everybody has their own opinion of what length, what orientation and how many screws to use. Kold Kutters are popular – available in varying lengths and stud shape – the most fitting for icy conditions being the “Canadian.” Figures. Zealots spend hours further sharpening the screws one by one for tighter turns. How you pattern the screws for optimum grip is a subject best debated over a few cold ones (preferably from Milwaukee).
“Tracking on the ice. It’s a whole different mindset; it’s almost backwards,” muses our photographer and occasional ice-racer, Josh Kurpius, “but once you get over the fact that you’re riding on sheer ice – your traction is actually MUCH better than it is on the pavement.”
After you, Josh.
FROM ISSUE NUMBER TWO (click to view larger):
TEXT OF ARTICLE:
The sun hangs over a French border country meadow, extending a peaceful summer afternoon for those who know the place. Here, locals gather for a bit of wine, a bit of solitude and a bit of relaxation after a long week.
But today, the mood is going to be decidedly different: solace is replaced by the roar of straight pipes, crunching gears, and squeaky wheels pouring into the open field. A horde of rag tag bikers roll over the grass, and park – anywhere – to dismount. They shut off their growling motors one by one, until finally the silence returns.
It is a silence that is enthusiastically broken by the unloading and opening of precious cargo fresh from Germany: A fine Bavarian pilsner. As is tradition for these Harley Brothers, it is offered to the locals, and then shared among the riders who bungeed it to the back of their aging panheads a few hours ago. In another hour, they’ll be back on the road.
Harley Brothers. It’s a motorcycle club – of sorts – an affiliation of riders that all share a love of old Harleys and a good time. There is a clubhouse somewhere, but mostly what they have is a kindred spirit; one that burns within during their day jobs and is released when they hit the open road.
And that’s what this weekend is about: riding. As they say, “the journey is the destination” and for this group it’s particularly true – because there is no hard and fast destination. Which is decidedly un-German, says Ben, a rider from its industrial heart. “Normally, you’d expect us Germans to have a plan. A schedule. Detailed maps and GPS. Designated meal and fuel stops. That’s what Germans do. But I don’t think anyone brings a map – or even a change of clothes.”
So if plans don’t bring these riders together, the old Harleys do. Many on this year’s ride run their own custom shops – giving new and interesting lives to old bikes. During the week they are biker businessmen, competing for the cash that pours in to investment-grade vintage Harley restorations. But these are not those bikes, and this weekend they are not those people. They have temporarily shed their positions, their jobs, their cares and even in some cases -- their names. It’s all about the ride, and the freedom that comes from putting these old machines to the test without the burden of a schedule or a profit margin.
Or rules. In Germany, when the bike is older than 30 years, normal inspection and safety regulations are relaxed. One is allowed to stretch the rules of what’s street legal – a custom builder’s paradise. Every bike is unique, every bike has a story, and every bike has a particular set of quirks - which often dictate the pace of the ride.
No matter; breakdowns are part of the fun. Calling for a part and waiting while someone rides 300 kms to deliver it means more time for partying and another adventurer to join the band. Harley Brothers may not pack plans, camping gear or toothbrushes, but among them they pack the collective knowledge to make any repair – even in the middle of nowhere.
If luck has it, the travelling circus meets up on the last day with other riders at Harley Brothers Clubhouse in Luxemburg. But because so much can happen over 48 hours – and often does - it’s only a “maybe.”
The spirit of Harley Brothers lives on the road.