The Trooper goes home (almost)

Milwaukee is the home of Harley-Davidson, and I couldn’t visit the city without also visiting the Harley-Davidson museum and factory. I’d booked into my hotel in Milwaukee for 2 nights, expecting to hang out with Thomas and Travis in the evenings, so I thought I had the whole day to visit the museum and I wasn’t in rush. I was thankfully managing to sleep in a little later, and had gone downstairs at the hotel at around 8am for a coffee and a smoke. While I was standing around outside smoking, a couple of other biker’s were loading their BMWs, and we got to chatting.

One of the first things people on the road tend to ask each other is “Where you are from?” Angel and Monica were from Mexico City and had ridden up to Milwaukee on the 2 BMWs over 4 days with their friend whose name, I’m embarrassed to say, escapes me. They’d been to the Harley-Davidson Museum the day before and were going back again that morning for the Steel Toe factory tour. I asked what time it started and it is just as well I did because it was 9am, and if I didn’t get my skates on, I was going to miss it.

Harley-Davidson Museum From ChicagoMilwaukee

I went back up to my room to get my gear, and when I came down Angel and Monica were just finishing packing the bikes, so I asked if I could tag along with them. The Trooper followed the BMWs through the wet streets of Milwaukee. At the junction into the Harley-Davidson Museum, there was a hairy moment on the slippery wet road as the Trooper’s back wheel locked up and we slid a little. Luckily balance was restored before crashing into Angel, and we all pulled into the museum.

The Trooper with the BMWs and Angel, Monica and friend outside the Harley-Davidson Museum From ChicagoMilwaukee

There is a special parking area right at the front of the museum especially for bikes with the sign “Bikes Only. No Cages”. We’d arrived early, so I grabbed a photo of the three of them with the bikes outside the museum. They said that they’d had some disapproving looks the day before from the Harley riders there when they pulled up on the BMWs. I had no qualms about parking with them, but when I left the parking later that afternoon the Trooper was all alone on that side of the lot, all the other Harley-Davidsons were parked on the other side of the lot.

When we went inside to get the tickets for the Steel Toe factory tour, there was only one ticket left for the 9am tour, and no other tickets until the following day. Angel, Monica and friend were a threesome and one wouldn’t go on their own. I felt so bad for them, they’d stayed an extra night in Milwaukee especially so they could take the tour. I wouldn’t have even been there if they hadn’t told me it started at 9am – but I was the one who got the last ticket.

From ChicagoMilwaukee

Harley-Davidson produced it’s first motorcycle in a wooden shed in Milwaukee in 1903. Today Milwaukee is still home to the Harley-Davidson’s corporate headquarters, design facility and museum, but all production is now done outside of the city, since “Big Twin” powertrain (engines and transmissions) production moved outside the city to the Pilgrim Way plant in Menomonee Falls last year. Assembly is done at two other facilities, in York, Pennsylvania and Kansas City, Missouri.

The Menomonee Falls Steel Toe factory tour starts off from the museum with a 20 minute bus ride out to Pilgrim Way. The tour is of a working factory, so you get a safety video on the bus ride and yes, you do need to put steel toe protectors over your boots, and wear safety goggles. The tour starts with a brief, informative explanation of how a Harley engine works, including why it makes the distinctive Harley-Davidson “da-dum, da-dum” sound.

Then it’s off around the factory proper. Harley-Davidson make as much in-house as they can and where it’s not economical for them to do so, they tend to source as locally as possible. They don’t, for example, run their own foundry, but they do machine almost all their parts from slugs provided from a local foundry – that’s true at least as far as the powertrain plant is concerned.

Most of the machining at the Pilgrim Way plant is performed by robots, and over half the tour takes in this mechanised part of the factory – seeing the various stages of production, with explanations, along the way, of the various heat treatments, waste metal recovery and recycling, etc.

The last part of the tour is around the engine assembly, which is done primarily by humans with computer assistance. The assembly line at Menomonee Falls produces 24 variants of 6 basic engine types.

The tour is low-key, informal but professionally presented. It’s definitely worth a visit if you have more than a passing interest in motorcycles, especially Harley-Davidsons, or if you are a factory geek. The tour lasts about 3 hours, including the bus rides there and back. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed in the factory, so I have no photos to show.

The bus ride back to the museum gives a final opportunity to ask questions. One of questions that got asked that I thought was quite interesting was whether H-D had considered moving the York and Kansas operations to Wisconsin. All through the tour, the guide had mentioned that they tried to keep things as local as possible whenever they had to source things outside of the H-D family. The reason for the H-D operations being spread across the country is historical. During World War 2, manufacturing operations were purposely distributed in case of sabotage. That rational was no longer valid and moving all the operations closer together would certainly save on transportation costs, if nothing else. The tour guide’s answer to this question was quite refreshing. He said that of course it would make sense to move the operations closer together, and that this question was one that often got raised, but that H-D had no current plans to do it, especially in the current economic climate as it would inevitably been putting people out of jobs and that would be irresponsible right now. I was impressed by this attitude and I hope it does truly reflect the H-D corporate attitude rather than just that of the tour guide. So many of the companies I’ve worked with in the UK think very little of the people and local economies that made them what they are, and continually seem to go for cheapest option, putting jobs over to India & like, destroying the local jobs and perhaps more importantly local talent and expertise. Perhaps one day the whole of the US and UK will be working in McJobs, and all the expertise will be on the other side of the world. Off-shoring won’t be so cheap then.

Harley-Davidson Museum From ChicagoMilwaukee

After the Steel Toe tour, I spent a couple of hours wandering around the Harley-Davidson Museum – admission to which was included as part of the cost of the Steel Toe tour ($38).

Harley-Davidson Museum From ChicagoMilwaukee

The museum certainly has a very impressive collection of H-D motorcycles – ranging from the very early ones of the 1900s right up to latest models like the water-cooled V-Rods (all other H-D models are air-cooled, but I’ve heard a rumour this is going to change in the years to come).

 Serial Number One From ChicagoMilwaukee

The museum has “Serial Number One” – the oldest Harley-Davidson in the world, on display.

From ChicagoMilwaukee

There is also a good exhibit on the evolution of the Harley-Davidson engines from the early 1900’s singles and twins, through classic V-twin models like the Panhead and Knucklehead, through to the modern engines like the water-cooled Revolution.

There’s exhibits on Harley-Davidsons in the police, armed services and US postal service, including a prototype desert motorcycle with really fat tyres that Harley-Davidson made for the US Army for the North African campaign in World War 2 – in the end Jeep won the contract for a desert vehicle. The new Captain America movie features a Harley-Davidson. This is actually a modern Cross Bones model dressed to look like a 1940’s era bike – the power of a modern bike was needed for the stunts in the movie.

There is an exhibit on Harley-Davidson’s iconic status – especially in the movies. There are replicas of the choppers used by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in the movie Easy Rider.

Peter Fonda’s Captain America chopper from Easy Rider From ChicagoMilwaukee

 And numerous examples of heavily customised H-Ds – several of which cross well into grotesqueness – but are impressive nonetheless for the amount of time and effort the customisers have put into them.

I’d recommend the Harley-Davidson museum to anyone with even a passing interest in motorcycles and American culture – it’s well worth a few hours of your time.


Greetings from Silverdale, Washington

The Trooper is sick. Rear wheel bearings are shot. Bad juju. Metal welded to metal. That ain’t meant to happen. Looks like I’ll be grounded in Silverdale for a day or two. Still it ain’t all bad – the local brew here (Silver City Brewery) is excellent and the seafood ain’t bad either. I haven’t crashed or broken-down in the middle of nowhere, so all good! I might also start making some in-roads to the backlog of blog posts!

On the subject of blog posts, I get to see the stats for page views to the blogs. I see a lot of views to the home page and then nothing else. I may be miss using WordPress, but the thing I am updating as religiously as I can is the Right Now! page, followed by the Journey page. If you are looking for updates, these are the pages to check – the Home page will unfortunately come afer these and be updated less often (I’ve decided to try to live it more than write about it).

To live it or to write it?

Despite my best intentions, I’m struggling with keeping this blog updated. Lack of internet access at some places isn’t helping, but the fundamental question is whether to live the journey or to write about it?

If I spend a couple of hours updating the blog rather than riding then that’s going on 100 miles less I will have travelled that day. After a day’s ride, food and a beer are calling. In the bar, I plan the next day’s journey and try to write-up (by hand) some notes for the blog. If I get to chatting to someone in the bar then one beer often follows another and that’s the evening gone. Otherwise I’ll get back to the room and get in an hour or so of internet time, a chunk of which will go toward the blog, as well as answering e-mails, etc. Over the last day or 2, I’ve been struggling to upload lots of photos to Picasa. Time certainly flies when you’re having fun.

I still mean to write the “story” posts of the trip – there is a post about Milwaukee that has been in draft and occasionally added to for nearly 3 weeks now (I will finish it!), but in the meantime I’ve decided to give a bit of a “right here, right now” summary of where I am and what I’m planning. I’m going to do these as Pages, which I’ll try to update daily (internet access allowing).

The Scores page has been around for a while (have you noticed it?). I’m going to use this to keep a running total of the states I’ve visited and my mileage to date.

I’ve added the Right Now page which will briefly say what I’ve done during the day and what I’m planning for the next. I’ll try to add a photo of the day to it as well. This page will change pretty much every day. I’m using Picasa for putting my photos on-line. There is a link to the web album at the bottom of all the Picasa photos – if you click on this you can go and see all the photos in the album if you are that way inclined.

The Journey page notes where I’ve been each day with a link to Google maps for the route that day, and a photo of the day for most days. I’ve only just started this page so it’s not the complete journey to date yet, but I’ll get that bang up to date over the next day or two and then update it every day (internet access allowing).

And the Story posts will continue as and when I have time….


Here I go again on my own

After two awesome weeks at Sturgis and touring the Rockies and Yellowstone, my Scottish biker chick flew out of Billings, Montana early this morning on her way back to Edinburgh. We’ve had the best time, which may be noticeable from the lack of activity on the blog while she’s been here. Riding off on the Trooper alone this morning from Bill and Les’ place seemed so strange. I’ll really miss her, but Doreen will returning for another installment of the adventure in Texas, probably in late September.

At the moment, I’m heading for Glacier National Park in Montana and then heading west into Idaho and Washington. I might even take a detour up into British Columbia, Canada to visit Vancouver.

Now that I am back on the road on my own again, I’ll be making a big effort to post to the blog regularly and to try to bring the story up to date. We’ve been taking lots of pictures which I need to upload, so things should begin to liven up here after two almost silent weeks.

Scottish Biker Chick?

By Doreen

Greetings from Frederick Colorado – it’s been an amazing week so far – the people, the bikes, the scenery and just being able to be part of Trevor’s big adventure!

I flew into Billings Montana which was a huge bonus as it meant that I got to catch up with one of my best buddies, Bill, and enjoy his generous Montana hospitality. Not to mention I could leave some luggage….one thing that Trevor drummed into me was the need to pack light. Hmmm no hairdryer and no hair straighteners then – I did wonder about buying a pair of leather chaps with a holster and then I’d have room for them there, but decided against that…although when you see the photos you might disagree!

I also got to catch up with Bill’s parents and we reminisced about my previous visits which included shooting at small criters, also known as prairie dogs – yes I know they are cute, but they are also major pests…anyhow I couldn’t hit the side of a barn door, so other than perhaps parting some fur, they are safe from me. I mention it because Bill’s mum was saying that the latest technique for getting rid of them includes buying hundreds of sticks of bubble gum and leaving for the dogs – apparently it had little effect, but I have this image of Prairie Dogs chewing gum and comparing flavours – hmm delish I like strawberry the most what about you?

One thing I wasn’t expecting was that Trevor would ride up to Billings and pick me up as I had booked to fly to Rapid City – but hey this was sooooooo much better and we both got to enjoy watching the local bullriding championship – yeeeehaaaaa -rather them than me…although…but we’ll come to that later.

So 500 miles and one numb bum later we arrived in Sturgis which acts as the central hub for the annual bike rally which attracts…wait for it…this year 600,000 bikers and this was a quiet year – last year which was the 70th anniversary attracted 900,000.  Now would be a good time to point out that I am not really a biker chick..but perhaps one in the making…I guess we’ll see. I have to say it is addictive and I think I’ve been bitten by more than just the mozzys on this trip…

The ride to Sturgis through Montana and Wyoming was stunning – take it from me – enjoying it from a bike is the way to do it. Enroute we made lots of stops and more and more bikes were converging the closer we got which made it fun as we chatted to different people and compared stories and also saw some very impressive bikes on the road.

I think in an earlier post Trevor talks about being over dressed – geez no kidding – picture this – me in full gear, i.e. helmut, protective jacket, protective jeans and gloves…real biker chicks – bikini tops and Daisy Duke shorts. It was interesting when we stopped at traffic lights and I could see them giving me the once over and no doubt thinking -” hey what a loser”…as for me I was giving them the once over thinking “Eggadds! Sunburn and nasty if you do have a spill”….and there were some spills cos we saw some of the aftermaths – not pretty.

Still it all made for some most excellent people watching and bare boobs seem to feature heavily as part of the rally culture – really a lot of the gals seemed like bike fashion  accessories…but what the hell, they were enjoying it for sure. I have to say despite the heavy suggestion of “we are bad ass bikers”, for the most part folks were very friendly and happy to chat…having a funny accent also helps…mind you, that said I wouldn’t like to mess with them.

We were camping – 2 person tent – but thankfully mixing that up with hotels – yeah camping hasn’t really changed from what I remember – instead of mints on your pillow – you get huge grasshoppers…not the same at all! But it is a good way to meet people and so the social aspect is cool….unlike the line for the ladies showers…I couldn’t get near the bathroom mirrors for women with…yes you guessed it hairstraighteners…well I guess they rocked up in the flat bed truck, towing a 20ft RV, with the trailer on the back for the bikers. Referee – that’s cheating!

Okay back to the scenery – there are a number of rides you can do and they were all  amazing – I loved the Black Bills – no wonder the Lakota Native Americans treated them as sacred. I also loved the Crazy Horse monument – it’s still being blasted out of the side of the mountain and who knows how long it’ll take them -it really is a labour of love.  The Native Americans wanted it be known that they also have their own heroes. This monument will be 4 times bigger than Mount Rushmore. They also want to include a university on the site and it’s all being done without any government money, even though they were offered a $10M grant (twice!). I found it very poignant and got quite emotional thinking about how such a proud people had been lied to and cheated by us invading land and gold hungry Europeans.

Talking of gold – we also visited the town of Deadwood which was settled illegally by gold hunters – we did a bus tour and our guide was fabulous. I loved Calamity Jane movie as a kid and so it was fun to hear about her – hmmmm she liked to exagerate her talents, but colourful she sure was. We also visited her grave which is next to Wild Bill Hickock. She wasn’t exactly the most attractive woman – bless – but she was a survivor in what were tough times, especially for women and according to our guide she did have a huge personality.

As for the Sturgis night life – as said the constant parade of bikes, custom bikes and people was entertainment enough, but there was also live bands and huge bars offering all sorts of things from tattoos, live bands and bare knuckle fighting to mechanical bull riding – and yes I did try it (the bull thing not the fighting thing) and lasted about 5 seconds…being a girl I got another shot – didn’t do any better – doh!

We saw Def Leppard and they did a great gig, but were totally disapointed when Lynyrd Skynyrd was a no show – still we headed out to Full Throttle and enjoyed the smaller bands there and from there we could walk back to our camp site – although there was “da bus” which served beer and actually was a blast…well what else would it be with bunch of party hard bikers. 

Well I guess I should hand the ‘puter back to Trevor – Trooper has had his service and we can now head into the Rockies…

In case you hadn’t guessed I’m loving being here and a big part of that is cos I’m with Trevor – aw shucks.

 Thanks for letting me share with y’all!



Rocky Mountain High

Wow! What a week it has been. Some amazing riding and crazy nights in Sturgis and South Dakota. I’m afraid I’ve been making the most of the rally and Doreen being here, and I’ve neglected posting to the blog. I am making notes on our adventures and we’ve been taking lots of photos, and I promise to get these written up after Doreen heads back to Auld Reekie next weekend. Until then I’m unlikely to get much written.

We spent a week round and about Sturgis and headed out through Spearfish Canyon yesterday. We’re now waiting in Frederick, Colorado for the Trooper to get some TLC on a 10,000 mile service. The plan is then to head over the Rockies to Utah, before cutting back up into Wyoming to visit Yellowstone Park, and then on up to Billings, Montana where Doreen will catch her flight back to Scotland. I’ll miss her.

The Biker’s Nod is a Biker’s Wave in the US

If you’re a cage (car) driver you might not know about the biker’s nod or wave. There seems to be a fairly universal fraternity amongst bikers, and bikers tend to acknowledge each other when they pass. Some bikers are more snobby about it than others, and will only acknowledge the right kind of bike – for example a Harley rider might only acknowledge other Harley riders, and almost no-one acknowledges scooter riders. But in genera,l most bikers are a friendly bunch and will acknowledge most other bikers, unless they are in the middle of something like changing gear or negotiating a tight bend.

In the UK, the common acknowledgment is a nod, in France it’s an extended boot and in the US it’s a wave or salute.

The US Biker's Wave

In the UK, we drive on the left, unlike most of the rest of the world, which makes hand signals to on-coming riders difficult, since the right-hand is on the throttle, so we nod at each other. When you’re driving on the right, the left-hand is free most of the time (it’s used for the clutch) and can be used for hand-signals.

The commonest signal here in the US seems to be left arm pointing downwards with 2 fingers extended in the peace sign. I found a couple of amusing articles on Motorcycle Etiquette: How Not To Wave Like A Dork! and Secret Motorcycle Hand Greetings: Revealed!