Learning to Appreciate Harley-Davidson

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Harley-Davidson Museum

Harley-Davidson. What comes to mind when you hear that word? Speed…..Power…..Rebellion…..Noise? Do you picture a bunch of boomer travelers trying to recapture their youth as they zoom around the U.S. — and the world — on motorcycles? Alan used to ride a Harley but he sold it before we met. Guess what he did with the proceeds? He bought a piano for me. I don’t think his Harley brethren have ever forgiven him.

When I spoke at the Boomers in Groups meeting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I had the opportunity to learn more about the venerable motorcycle maker. Thanks to Visit Milwaukee and Harley-Davidson, conference attendees toured the Harley-Davidson Museum on a sunny, Saturday afternoon that was ideal for roaming the 20-acre riverfront campus.

Riverfront Plaza at the Harley-Davidson Museum

As our bus pulled into the museum’s driveway, a contingent of Harleys roared out of the parking lot for a planned ride through Milwaukee and beyond. I quickly discovered that the museum complex isn’t just a celebration of Harley-Davidson’s success, it’s a destination for motorcyclists and their families. They buy Harley paraphernalia that can only be found at The Shop, the Harley-Davidson’s museum gift shop. Two restaurants — Motor and Café Racer — serve up road trip food that trigger memories of that last ride — asphalt custard anyone? And a selection of behind the scenes tours  satisfy even the most ardent Harley fan.

Inside the two-story museum, families with children, boomers and young couples roamed the galleries that display the Harley-Davidson timeline from the very first bike to the latest model. This is where I learned to appreciate Harley-Davidson’s contribution to history. Vehicles from World Wars I and II, police motorcycles, ambulances, even postal service delivery machines (do I dare call them motorcycles?) were on display along with explanations of how and why they were used.

Riding on the wall

In one gallery, a group of men and boys stood ogling shiny, silver engine parts — the powerful guts of a Harley — displayed on a bright orange wall. Next door, motorbikes were mounted on a slanted track, seeming to defy gravity. Downstairs, a teenage girl stood in front of the interactive Make Your Own Bike station. Behind her, Harleys were posed on a racing ramp. Of course Elvis Presley’s bike was on display, as well as the one Peter Fonda rode in Easy Rider. In the last gallery, I had the chance to sit on a Harley, probably the closest that I’ll ever come to riding one.

Pretending to ride a Harley

After exiting the museum, visitors who’ve caught the Harley bug stop by the JUMPSTART interactive demo. After signing release forms, they sit on a machine and rev that baby up — under close supervision, of course.

In 1998, Alan rode his low rider Harley from the West Coast to Milwaukee to celebrate Harley-Davidson’s 95th birthday; but he doesn’t remember visiting the museum. I think he was having too much fun.

Have you visited the Harley-Davidson Museum? Which was your favorite part of the exhibit? Did you explore the archives or take The Steel Toe Tour? Come join the conversation at the My Itchy Travel Feet page on Facebook. Or send us an email with your thoughts.

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Disclosure: I have included an Amazon Link to Chicken Soup for the Soul: Love Stories for your convenience and curiosity; however, My Itchy Travel Feet does receive a small percentage for purchases made at Amazon.com.

Visit Milwaukee and Harley-Davidson Museum provided this travel experience.

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