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 don’t have a lot to say this year that I didn’t say about the 2018 show. I had various dad duties on Saturday, or I might have gone to the Chicago Motorcycle Show instead.
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.
On the morning of Saturday, September 15th, 2018 my buddy Corvus and I headed to the Tomahawk Fall Veterans Ride & Rally in Northern Wisconsin.
This event is well known in Wisconsin, but I had avoided this event for years. Firstly: big rallys are not precisely my thing. I ride to be mindful, to think, to smell the world anew with no metal cage in between. To be quiet, to see stars. 4,000 bikers descending on a town that’s home to 3,000 permanent residents is not my usual thing. I had also avoided the event because my Wisconsinites consider the event to mark the end of the riding season. This seems pretty lazy to me: warm weather is brief and precious in Wisconsin, but I also have leather chaps, heated gear, and a touring bike with a fairing. I don’t put the bike away until there’s salt and ice on the roads.
I needed to get away, and to see if there was any chance I’d enjoy the bigger rallies like Sturgis or Daytona Bike Week. So I gave Tomahawk a try and the most popular way to do it seemed to be camping at Bubba’s Big Party.
We Rode Up
Many states suffer from being identified primarily based on a small number of well known areas. New York state is known for New York City, yet get out into the country away from Manhattan and you are in a different universe. So it is with Wisconsin: I’ve lived here for more than 20 years and I think of this state as Milwaukee and Madison and maybe Port Washington. Riding through the North Woods in September, though, I am reminded that less than 200 miles from home lies a world of pine forests, hundreds of lakes, and close-knit tiny towns. Were you to parachute blindfolded into the woods surrounding Tomahawk you’d be forgiven if you guessed you were in Northern Canada, Iowa, or really any remote area.
As we ride North away from Lake Michigan where it’s just slightly cooler during the day (and much cooler at night) the trees have just started turning. Every shoreline is a postcard, or at least a Leinenkugel’s commercial. When I think about buying land to wait out the Zombie Apocalypse (which is totally going to happen), I always think about something a little warmer like Kentucky or North Carolina. Maybe I need to give WI a chance.
Bubba’s Big Party
We arrived at Bubba’s campground and it was an unseasonably warm 90 degrees. Once we found out where to buy wristbands for the party and camping it only took us a few minutes to set up camp. Bubba’s campground is 180 acres and we went to the very outskirts of what was already populated. It may look like we’re camping in the middle of nowhere, but over my shoulder is at least 80 acres of tents and campers of all sizes.
I have slightly augmented my camping gear since I last went motorcycle camping. I have added a Thermacell setup and a heavy tarp. The 20mil 6’x8′ tarp is meant to both cover my tent & sleeping back on the bike but also serve as extra protection above or below in a real rain storm. The thermacell setup is a butane + neurotoxin setup that keeps mosquitoes away from you in a 15′ sphere but is not food safe since it’s blasting chemicals into the air. A 20mil tarp is pretty thick and does not fold easily but after a couple of tries I got my tent and sleeping bag neatly wrapped up in it. Add some Rock Straps to that and my bagger became a camper no problem.
Anyone who’s ever ridden with me knows I’m likely to get us lost. I ride to lose myself which is both a good and a bad thing. Good: sometimes we accidentally find cool shit. Bad: I space out, I miss turns, and with no visual GPS I generally make a mess of things. I had a chance to consider the performance of Corvus’ new 2019 Ultra Limited with the new 114ci Milwaukee Eight in it. Damn, I need to ride one. We sat down at a bar half an hour away in some random direction (West?) and after hanging out a while decided it was time for food.
We sat down at The Thirsty Giraffe because we’d passed it before and “Ribs, broasted chicken, and prime rib” sounded really good. You can also tell from the road that it’s on a little lake and there was seating out back. Northern Wisconsin in September can really be amazing.
We had a great meal here, especially the broasted chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy. After a meal we checked out the vendors on site at Bubba’s, but I wanted a patch and they were out, so we headed downtown…
Having mostly done research online and word of mouth, I thought Bubbas party was the Tomahawk rally. Uhm, no. There are plenty of private parties during this event, and by all accounts the private parties are the way to stay, but the rally proper is downtown. If you’ve seen one Midwest Rally I suppose you’ve seen them all, but I never get tired of rows of bikes and live music. You can’t beat Northern Wisconsin prices either. Where else can you get get two cans of beer for $5 ?
If you’ve read anything I’ve written before, you know I try to collect a patch from every trip away from home. It took looking at quite a few vendors to find a Tomahawk 2018 patch and luckily they were also sewing them on there, so I didn’t need to do a drunken sewing job. Corvis decided he was going to start sewing memories on his vest that night. Despite being a life-long biker, he threaded his first mementos on that night.
Back to Bubba’s
We parked the bikes at the campground and headed to Bubba’s big tent. My music tastes are all over the place but I love live music so I had pre-determined I was going to have a good time at this party despite not being familiar with the bands (or so I thought).
The highlight of the night was a group called Little Texas. They were tearing it up, putting on a great old school country/rock show. When the lead singer said “Ok, now we’re going to play this song that was one of our first hits…” they rolled into something I somehow recognized. Sure enough, “What Might Have Been” is a song I grew up with. Wow! Just like you sometimes stumble onto a great watering hole when you get lost on the bike, I went to Tomahawk and stumbled onto a childhood memory from growing up in the South and absorbing my parents’ country music radio station. There was actually another band after Little Texas, and not that they weren’t good performers, but man it had to suck following this act.
I don’t put my bike away after the Tomahawk Fall Ride as many Wisconsinites do, but I’ll make this weekend every year I can swing it.
Since there were bikes coming and going at all hours of the night and I had a dozen cheap/watery beers I naturally didn’t sleep for shit since I was either woken up by baffles or pissing in the woods all night. We packed up fairly early and rode the 200-odd miles home. I came away with a new appreciation for the state I live in, and I got very nostalgic looking at the back of my vest at the Tomahawk 2018 patch I’d had sewed on the night before. I started riding in the late 90’s but I’ve only been collecting patches for a few years; I look at this vest and realize “Holy shit, that’s a lot of fun.” Each patch is a memory that helps me through the cold Wisconsin winters. I’ve got it good, and if things keep going on as they have been I’ll be able to look back and not be ashamed that my life lacked adventure. Get out there and get after it.
Rain or shine, I’ll be heading to the Tomahawk Fall Ride in Tomahawk, WI this weekend. Big events with thousands of bikes are mostly not my thing, but new experiences are important. I really love motorcycle camping but this will be interesting with 140+ acres of bikers and campfires. See you there! http://www.tomahawkfallride.com/
Let’s get this out of the way up front: One thousand timesyes!
When the Milwaukee Eight debuted last year, one of the lead engineer’s comments was that it was “Like operating on the pope“, referring to the balance of preserving heritage while making incremental improvements. That really stuck in my craw. They left in things that the old schoolers wanted that are not present in the Victory/Indian/Yamaha/Honda motorcycles that are nibbling into their market share. Disadvantages they could easily engineer out if they chose to do so. In my personal experience, the people who didn’t like the new engine were overwhelmingly grey-beards who are not likely to ever buy a new bagger again. Why was Harley listening to people who just weren’t real customers anymore? Are apparel sales more important that the next generation of riders?
Here we see some seriously bold moves from The Motor Company. Yes, the Livewire was previously announced. But we’re adding to it an off road adventure bike! A liquid cooled engine! An engine with small enough displacement to be competitive in markets where even $6k is too much for a new bike.
I have often said that if I had more time for yet another hobby and more riding I’d want an off road adventure bike. The freedom of the open road that I love so much has made me curious about the freedom of the “No road needed just fucking go that-a-way into the forest” kind of adventure and I’m extremely curious to see what the Pan America ends up looking like as a production model.
It’s possible, even likely, that I don’t wind up buying any of these new bikes. What are the improvements to touring bikes they are teasing? That’s more likely to be my bag(ger). Still, it puts a big smile on my face to see Harley truly getting after it. This looks like a company jumping into the future. Let’s see some shipping models.
On Sunday, June 3rd, the Roadrunner attended the 4th annual Brewtown Rumble in Milwaukee, WI.
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.
This is the type of event that’s just good for the soul. It’s been a shitty winter, and while I’m already 1400miles into the riding season, it still feels like I’m shaking frostbite off. It was a great day, and I got there early to help set up the Abate of Wisconsin booth. Last year this even was up in Pabst Park which is a fine outdoor venue and very “Milwaukee”, but moving to South 5th Street this year was a fine move. In terms of a home base, you could do a lot worse than the Fuel Cafe in Walker’s Point.
In addition to all the vendors and bikes, I found a new friend here today: God’s Outlaw. These guys were playing covers of Johnny Cash, David Allen Coe, and Hank Jr – and they sounded good. It sucks going on at 11:45 during a bike show that started at 11, so they didn’t have much of an audience but I’m keeping my eye on these guys. Check their music out on Amazon. Every song these guys played is in my playlist when I’m on my bagger.
I ran into a lot of people I knew, and have ridden with, and that’s an odd feeling. It’s good to have people, to feel like a part of a group. To feel you have something to contribute to a group. As someone who’s been a barely-social-outcast-weirdo his entire life (even among bikers, already a fringe group) it’s beyond strange to run into people I know at an event with thousands of people and hear “Hey, Roadrunner!” randomly while I’m taking pictures. There is a lesson here that I’ll write about more in the future: if you show up, and you do the things, and you’re not an asshole, you will become part of communities.
There’s not too much else to say about events like this. It’s all about the bikes, isn’t it? So many of these bikes are obviously labors of love: carefully maintained machines caressed into staying alive by people who cared. Maybe it’s been their machine for decades, or maybe they have a romantic connection to an engine that’s as old as they are, or maybe they bought a bike from an era they grew up watching racers on.
Maybe it’s just a big smile riding down the road on something that no one else has anything like. Here’s to you, vintage riders! Cheers to the organizers of the Brewtown Rumble for making my day on a Sunday in early June.
The Slimey Crud Run is a grass roots event that takes place twice a year in South Central Wisconsin.
There are no big ad campaigns, no corporate sponsors, no local or regional newspaper or TV promotions, not even the usual obligatory one-size-promotes-all beer banners with the name of the event emblazoned on a huge blank white spot.
Despite all the makings of what should be an unknown event, the Slimey Crud Café Racer Run in southern Wisconsin is attended twice each year, on the first Sunday in May and October, by riders from all over the country and routinely has participants from at least five states in the upper Midwest.
Its origins are nearly as murky as Stonehenge, dating back to the early Seventies, according to one of its co-founders, former Triumph/Bultaco/Matchless racer and former Triumph dealer Lyall Sharer. From humble beginnings, the event has become an organic thing that thrives on its own energy. At each gathering, it isn’t uncommon for anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 machines to show up.
The Crud Run meanders across the scenic Wisconsin River valley from Pine Bluff in Dane county to Leland in Sauk County. The distance between the villages is less than 30 miles in a straight line, but the road mileage can vary from about 70 to, well, who knows? No specific route is prescribed, so the best way to go depends entirely on your imagination.
Despite the name, the event is not limited to the sheathed-in-plastic sportbike set. In fact, while there’s something for everybody in every class of bike, the event seems much more like a rolling vintage and classic bike show.
I set out to see some bikes, get some miles, and represent ABATE of Wisconsin. Yes sir, thousands of bikes descended on the one-stop-sign towns of Leland and Pine Bluff and it was fantastic.
Look ma! Bikers! I would not want to live across the street from the Red Mouse.
I did not go alone. After losing Bart, I started looking for other ways to find people to ride with, and stumbled upon a Meetup group called The Lost Motorcycle Riders of Milwaukee. I’ll write about this at some point in the future, but this turned out to be a great way to find a group.
While there’s no corporate sponsors, a few people do get permission from one of the bars to set up a racing demo station or a brat fry, and of course there are bikes for sale and people looking to be seen.
This year, however, the weather was not cruddy at all. No, this was The Amazing Sunshine run. There are many different ways to get between Leland and Pine Bluff, and you’re encouraged to find your own way. May 6th in Wisconsin there’s still a lot of sand and salt on the roads, but there were plenty of sharp corners and views to make it a fantastic day.