My friend Spaz, formerly known as Corvus to some, is now blogging/vlogging at Spaz on Wheels. This guy rides a lot, does a lot of bike customization, and should have a lot of interesting stuff to say. He’s got a Harley Ultra Limited and an Indian Chieftain Dark Horse, both heavily customized. Go check him out.
Here I am at the 5th Annual Brewtown Rumble on June 2nd, 2019. What’s the Brewtown Rumble, you ask?
The Brewtown Rumble is a ride-in vintage motorcycle show. It doesn’t matter the make, model or condition of the bike. It just matters that you ride it! Everyone is welcome – riders and motorcycle enthusiasts alike.
The Rumble also features live music, a pin-up show, vendors and food from some of Milwaukee’s best cafes, restaurants and food trucks.
Proceeds from the Rumble support the BUILD Moto Mentor Program. Come see the BUILD bikes in person, and see which team wins the BUILD Cup.
The sun is shining, ABATE of Wisconsin has a booth, there’s bikes, beer, food, and music. This is my third time attending the Rumble, and I have to admit I was a bit concerned by the bikes this year. Between years of Momma Tried and the Brewtown Rumble, I’ve already got pics of a lot of the bikes within riding/trailering distance of these Milwaukee events. I tried to take pictures of bikes that I haven’t shown before, but I make no promises.
As I mentioned, my main reason for being here was to help set up and work the ABATE of Wisconsin booth.
We had a lot of traffic and conversation, but something was missing. The same thing that’s always missing: people under 50 signing up to be members. I continue to marvel about the degree to which everyone involved in motorcycling at all is now grappling with the question of how to create the next generation of riders. More on that in a minute, first I had to stop next door and say hi to my Indian Motorcycle friends.
Does Royal Enfield Get it and No One else Does?
Across the street was the Royal Enfield lot. The got themselves a lot of space this year and I had to go check it out.
I do not get Royal Enfield. They are 1-cylinder bikes that ride funky to me. Who’s their target demographic? Are these retro bikes? Hipster commuter bikes? Bikes for dedicated Anglophiles who can’t get behind Triumph? I walked over and talked to a young lady who turned out to be involved with brand management and marketing for Royal Enfield’s North American headquarters. Within moments it became clear that she could teach things to me and perhaps others in the ABATE of Wisconsin crew.
Since she’s awesome and willing to talk to us, I’m going out of my way not to out her. The bottom line is that Royal Enfield is killing it, growing sales year over year at a time when most brands are struggling to slow down the decline. What have they figured out?
Royal Enfield has a story to tell that’s different from Harley or Indian. I don’t want to fuck up paraphrasing it here, so I’ll save my interpretation of their story for another time after I’ve been able to do more research.
I asked my guide if there were… certain stereotypes that I could guess about RE buyers. Did they also have man-buns, anachronistic curly mustaches, and perhaps have an affinity for mechanical typewriters, Polaroid cameras, and bizarre IPAs? She cut me off “Yes, it’s OK to say it: hipster boys buy these bikes”. These are 1 cylinder bikes with plenty of space around the main components: you can learn to work on these bikes easily. Royal Enfield has “shop days” in dealerships where interested folks can show up on weekend mornings and learn how to wrench on their bikes from certified mechanics: more on this later.
Royal Enfields are also inexpensive: my guide claimed that every single RE bike was under $7,000 and here’s an additional kicker: she claimed the bikes are nearly always naked on the showroom floor. There is no bait-n-switch or upsell where you fall in love with a bike on the dealer floor only to find that the beauty you’ve been talking yourself into buying is sporting thousands of dollars of extra parts. What you see is what you get and they hand you a catalog to make it your own. My guide quoted figures that are all to familiar: Millenials and Gen Z have student loan debt and credit card debt. They are less likely to own homes and start families than their parents and grandparents; their economic outlook is decidedly pessimistic. Being able to get a new bike with a great warranty for under $7k? Royal Enfield may be exploiting a great market niche.
My guide seemed a little confused: maybe thought I was drunk, hitting on her, angling for a photo, or any of the other bullshit that women have to deal with at trade shows. I explained that I was with ABATE of Wisconsin and that the question of reaching younger riders was something of an existential issue for us. I said I would really appreciate it if she had any advice for us.
ABATE of Wisconsin marketing badass Doris was primarily responsible for our being at The Rumble this day, I went back to her and said “You need to meet this individual.” Doris talked to her and this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship: again, I don’t want to “out” anyone but this was a very productive day and I’m grateful.
When I come to events like this, I’m always energized. I try to figure out how to put into words whatever it is about this motorcycle culture that so captivates us. Those of us who are “into it” often wind up being really into it. It becomes less a thing we do and more who we are. I believe it’s less about the self reliance of wrenching on your own bike, and less about an excuse to drink beer and look at tatooed young people while a loud, obnoxious band plays.
I will talk more about this in the near future, but I believe the Fellowship of Those Who Balance on Two Wheels is simply a strong connection and shared experience, and we have reached a point in American history where those things are rare. No one at work understands why I’d want to ride from Milwaukee to Idaho – at the Brewtown Rumble I can talk to any random person in the crowd and they’ve either done a ride like that, plan to do a ride like that, or wish their knees were healthy enough to do a ride like that. If I talk about wanting to buy an offroad bike so that I can just leave the road, enter a national park, and truly disappear: every single person I talk to at least understands why even if it’s not “for them”.
It’s good to be among one’s people. It’s good to have people, to have a tribe. I used to have trouble making friends, and by most practical definitions I still do. But I do have people. Thanks to technology, I can enter the Internet and come out the other end with a group of fun bikers at a bizarre alien-themed bar in Campbellsport, WI 120 miles from home where the locals at the bar just down the road warned us to only drink from bottles and cans because “Those alien weirdos don’t do their dishes very well”. Me, a guy with all the social skills of a potted plant, could have burgers with Good People™ every single day of the week both during and after riding season. All because there’s something special about this motorcycle culture. Going to an event like the Brewtown Rumble is like a more intense version of “the wave” you get from another biker rolling past you. You are surrounded by your people, and that’s a good thing.
Maybe I’m full of shit. As the creator of This Motorcycle Life points out, there’s a would-be philosopher underneath nearly every motorcycle helmet. Maybe someone else has already said it better.
Of course, it’s a ride-in show and it’s always about the bikes. I don’t think I have taken pics of any of these bikes before, but I also didn’t go back and check.
I had the joy of traveling for work recently: Milwaukee, WI to San Jose, CA. It had been a while, and I forgot how much I hated air travel.
It’s not that flying bothers me: it’s amazing to travel thousands of miles in a few hours. It’s not that packing bothers me: indeed I rather like planning and compressing my needs for a week down into what I can carry. Rather, I hate the ceremony and the complete loss of control that comes with modern air travel.
“The Ceremony” is simple: if you fly in America today you have a taste of what it’s like to live in a police state. You need various identifiers and identification; if your name does not appear exactly on your driver’s license as you booked your flight, you may not get to fly. The US Government can put you on a “no fly list” without telling you, and without giving you any due process of law that would allow you to see why you are on the do-not-fly list, and without a clear legal path to getting off of it. Furthermore, in the United States you will soon need a “Real ID”, much closer to- or equivalent-to a Passport in order to fly.
All this to fly domestically. In the “land of the free”.
So you need “your papers” in order to fly: something the average middle-class traveler in Soviet Russia would certainly understand. But wait, that’s not where your privacy violations end. You are going to get SCANNED.
Consider first the “millimeter wave” scanners deployed at almost every US airport now. Depending on which article you read, this may or may not present TSA officers with a high resolution contour of exactly what you look like naked. The thing that people forget about TSA officers is that they are just like all other officers: they are just people. That means they are no better or worse than the average American. Some of them will be ethical and honest, with their mission in the forefront of their minds as they do their jobs. Others will behave as though they were a 14 year old boy who suddenly had X-ray vision into the girls’ locker room.
The TSA can also simply embarrass you. Suppose you, like my father, have various iron and titanium pins in your legs due to severe injuries from motorcycle accidents. The metal detectors are going to alarm as you walk through. You’re going to have to explain yourself at the very least. Maybe you’ll get “extra screening”.
Finally, the TSA can search your luggage at any time and for any reason. If you have a diver’s computer, a special piece of hardware for work, or maybe a particularly flashy pack of condoms in your luggage: someone with close to zero training is going to be flagged that they should look through your luggage. Did you bring a pair of fuzzy handcuffs on your vacation with your wife, or did you bring something to clean your CPAP, or are you traveling with a few things to spice of the bedroom while you vacation in the Caribbean? The TSA can poke, prod, and confiscate any of that.
Here’s the thing: once you reach a certain age, a doctor is going to poke around your most private parts and ask you uncomfortable questions. This is a part of getting older: we get pap smears, testicular cancer checks, breast cancer scans, prostate checks, and so on. But being a doctor is not easy: when you drop your pants for a doctor you are doing so for someone who has gone through 8-12+ years of school and has seen it all before and has everything to lose from being accused of sticking their finger in the wrong place. A TSA agent is different from a doctor in all the wrong ways.
Once you are physically on your flight, you lose even more freedom. You must obey a US Air Marshal or any random Southwest employee or face felony charges. Sure, nearly every flight goes well, but how do you feel about the idea of being beholden to someone who didn’t like the political message on your jacket? Remember, people are just people…
If, by Odin’s grace, you don’t make your flight, you are likely fucked. Did you get trip insurance, or did you get the kind of tickets that will not be refunded? You see, Americans have decided over the past 25+ years that all they care about is the cost of a flight. It doesn’t matter if they are sitting literally on top of someone who is hand-pumping their colostomy bag out into their neighbor’s coffee, if they can get to Vegas for $50 less they’ll deal with it. They will not remember this experience and vote with their dollars to have a more dignified flight next time. So, you are likely missing a day or more of your vacation if you miss that flight. Does it matter that it’s Spring Break and Airline X didn’t staff their counters enough? Nope, go back home loser.
Maybe you get bumped from an overbooked flight. Maybe you have to hand over a prized pocketknife you had in your jeans out of pure habit. Maybe the counter was too busy and they leave without you…
But the Road Won’t Leave Without You
Now, suppose you are instead packing for a motorcycle trip. Assuming that everything you’re packing is legal, you have nearly zero concern for anyone looking at it. The chances of you getting pulled over and searched are, anyway, incredibly small.
Suppose it’s spring break for some local schools and you start out a little late?
Oh well, you sit in traffic a little bit. You don’t miss your flight, you don’t lose a whole day of your vacation.
Suppose a tornado tears across the road a few miles in front of you? OK, you wait, and you move on when it’s safe.
Suppose the thunderstorm of the century tears across the state you’re riding through and you find yourself stuck in a rest area in Knoxville?
Fine, that’s great. Survive. There is no large insurance company who will not let your bike take off without considering a billion variables: you can leave whenever you feel like you can ride. If you take off and discover that the roads are really terrible, you can pull off on the side of the road and sleep anywhere you’re equipped to sleep. Sure you shouldn’t build campfires on someone’s private property but you can judge for yourself. You are in control. Maybe you do pull off the highway and park your bike in a ditch and throw your bivy over yourself. Rain pours, lightning strikes. Thunder follows. A man who is shurely Clint Eastwood reincarnated rides a horse near the tree you’re camped under and politely but firmly asks what the hell you’re doing on his property. Flustered, you explain how you’re on a motorcycle trip and you pulled over to escape the storm and you meant no disrespect to his property rights…
There was a time when he might have said at best “Why don’t y’all come up to our cabin” and at worst “Y’all take care, feel free to camp on my land, but ride up and tell me if you’re staying past tomorrow.” The way we treat each other today, that’s a topic for another day…
You see, the Road won’t leave without you, and the Earth won’t refuse to let you sleep there. When you are traveling on your own steed, you have so much more freedom. An airplane cannot decide to camp underneath an overpass. An airplane cannot ask the bar owner if you can pitch a tent out back. Your saddlebags know that anything packed in there is not for anyone else to know about. You can pull over to the side of the road and wait out traffic if that’s what makes sense. If not, you roll on by in your rain gear.
If you make a mistake, you leave a little late. If the road is unsafe, you choose another road. You decide how much risk to take, you decide how long the “layover” is. You travel with your rights and dignity intact. You can even carry a bottle of water if that suits you.
The airlines will leave without you, they’ve already got your money and quite frankly you dropping dead in the check in line or not is all the same to them. Out on the road, though, you’re in control. There may be challenges and decisions to make, but the road won’t leave without you.
In A Tale of Two Test Rides, I talked about riding two 2019 baggers back to back and riding one home. What I didn’t mention is that my buddy Spaz (formerly known as Corvus) came with me because he had never ridden an Indian before and was curious. I’ll let him tell his whole story when he gets his act together and gets his own blog, but to cut to the chase he bought a bronze 2019 Chieftain Dark Horse a few days later. I asked him if he’d submit to a brief interview here.
You rode Harleys for a lot of years. How did you land on Harley? Did you start there or did you ride other bikes first? Did you grow up in a Harley household?
How important is “Made in America” for you when it comes to motorcycles? How important has it been to you that Harley is a big employer and local icon in the Milwaukee area?
Talk a little bit about your riding style. Mostly 1up or 2up? Poker runs and bar hopping? Camping? Commuting? Cross-country touring?
I’ve noticed you do a lot of performance tuning work, what’s the allure of fast cruisers for you? Do you have a similar obsession with fast custom cars?
Comparing an Indian Chieftain to your batwing-style fairing Harley is a much better comparison than the Road Glide I rode. What differences stood out to you right away between the Chieftain you rode and your Ultra classic when it comes to the ride, handling, power, Infotainment, and engine/exhaust sound?
You’re jumping right in to customizing your Dark Horse. How has your experience so far been with Indian aftermarket vs. Harley aftermarket.
What on earth possessed you to add a Chieftain Dark Horse to your garage?
What are your motorcycling plans for the future?
I’ve been wanting a new bike since Victory was killed. I’ve come up with tons of reasonable-sounding justifications, like parts getting scarce and so forth. The reality is: who doesn’t want a new bike if they can swing it? There’s shiny new things like touch screen nav systems and loud new stereos. Bigger engines with more torque. I was determined to swing it this year.
I wound up riding Victory for the past four years for a few reasons: I really liked how they were styled, they were extremely good values, and here around Milwaukee there are so many Street Glides I couldn’t bring myself to join that crowd: yes I wanted something different and as long as you’re not buying garbage or spending a fortune to prove a point that’s fine.
Someday I’ll think about why it is that I’ve never “gotten” Harley people, it’s just not a community that’s ever called out to me (I realize how loaded that statement is). They are expensive, and at least when I started riding in the ’90s, there was no dealing: this is the price, fuck you, there’s 11 guys behind you if you don’t like it. The Motor Company, however, has been doing a lot of good work. First, they are focused on building riders in addition to motorcycles and this is huge. They upgraded their infotainment; they engineered some of the vibration out of their new bikes. The Motor Company is moving forward, but are they competitive with folks who didn’t grow up lusting for the shield and bar their whole lives?
I decided to ride two bikes back-to-back. I cannot stand the “batwing” fairing on the Harley Street Glide, it’s too retro, it’s too much like a C5 Corvette. However the “Shark nose” fairing on the Road Glide is unique and excellent. If I was to get a Harley, it would be a Road Glide.
As for Indian, I recognize that I was giving Polaris another chance to screw me over. Still, when they started offering bikes without the front fender sweep and came out with their new Ride Command system, I had to try one.
2019 Road Glide Special
First I headed to Milwaukee Harley Davidson to ride a 2019 Road Glide Special in Denim Red. If possible, I would get the burnt orange color shown at the top of this post.
The last Harley I rode was the 103 engine, and it shook, a lot. I know this is part of the appeal for a lot of people but it just wasn’t for me. I’ve also long preferred the blacked out look to the chrome look; I could say I liked this “before it was on-trend” as Harley marketing says, but the reality is the first blacked out bike I ever saw was the now-extinct V-rod Night Rod. Not good for long trips, but this bike forever changed my mind on how a motorcycle should look.
The 2019 is a much more refined experience, very little vibration. While it took me a minute to get used to drive-by-wire, I found this bike to be powerful and enjoyable despite what felt like a lot of weight compared to my Victory. It was easy to pair my phone with the Boom system so I could hear some familiar tunes on the new radio.
Given what I had heard about the 114, I expected the engine to tear my head off with power, but it didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, it was very powerful with low end torque and plenty of get up and go all the way through the RPM range. I think word-of-mouth had just left me with expectations that couldn’t be met. Still, a great bike anyone would be happy to own.
I got a number for my trade in and discovered that it would only take them two weeks to get the burnt orange color in.
2019 Chieftain Dark Horse
Next I headed to Indian Motorcycles of Metro Milwaukee to ride a 2019 Chieftain Dark Horse. My buddy Corvus came with me since he’d never ridden an Indian before.
Fixed fairing vs. fork mounted fairing. Harley vs. Indian. How were they different?
Firstly, despite tipping the scales at very similar running weights, the Chieftain is a little lower and it makes it feel lighter than the Road Glide. I’m 5’9″ and this bike felt more maneuverable to me.
Secondly, in “standard” ride mode the ride by wire on the Chieftain feels even more twitchy than the Road Glide and I never got quite used to it.
The Thunderstroke 111 feels more torquey than the Milwaukee Eight 114 through the lower 75% of the RPM range. The Milwaukee Eight has more room to run through the top end of the range and particularly in 6th gear.
From the handling perspective, the Chieftain felt much more nimble. It corners like a cloud, and felt natural and controlled through roundabouts. The suspension was also fantastic: Wisconsin roads are generally terrible but even going over railroad tracks was very easy going.
Finally, I do think the RideCommand is a little bit better, and the 100watt stereo has power power than I’ll ever need even at 80mph in the rain: most songs are too loud at 3/10 on the volume dial.
So what did I decide?
In the end, the feel and the ride of the Chieftain Dark Horse was clearly the right ride for me, and I rode it home. My 2015 Victory Cross Country, whom I affectionately called Red Sonya, is no more. Say hello to Black Sunshine.
She’s totally stock for now, as I fight a cold Wisconsin “spring” for break-in miles. The exhaust and engine sound so good stock I don’t think I’ll be messing with it for a while, but a bigger windshield, back rest, highway pegs, etc. will be on the way soon.
It’s hard to believe that two years ago it was more than warm enough to ride to Mama Tried in February. Really, that’s what makes this part of the year in Wisconsin so difficult for me: I’m constantly staring at the extended weather forecast because we could thaw out any day now.
I did not spring for a press pass this year, so it was cell phone camera only, and I took some monumentally shitty pictures this year. Some people did ride through the snow, good on you guys.
Anyway here’s some bikes.
It’s not a high-res picture, but I found this clipping from an old ABATE newsletter showing yours truly ready to engage the public at the 2018 Brewtown Rumble.