Traveler: Milwaukee

Hog Heaven: Harley-Davidson’s anniversary party fêtes Milwaukee’s moto culture.
In 1901, two brash young men named William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson began tinkering with the outlandish notion of motorizing a bicycle from the humble confines of a closet-sized woodshed in Wisconsin. Two years later, Harley-Davidson Serial Number One rolled out of production—a surprisingly plain-Jane, black-framed, single-cylinder bike.

Fast-forward a century or so. Harley-Davidson isn’t just a brand, it’s an entire culture that has grown up around its throaty collection of custom cruiser and touring bikes, and the leather-clad fan base that rides them. To celebrate its 115th anniversary, the company is gearing up for one big-ass party over Labor Day weekend.

The annual Milwaukee Rally attracts tens of thousands of owners and admirers, some riding bikes they shipped in from overseas. But this year is special. It starts with caravans traveling from four corners of the country to ultimately convene at Milwaukee’s lakefront Veterans Park on August 29. (Indy riders can join the pack originating in Fort Lauderdale when it overnights here August 27.) The raucous two-day itinerary that follows includes block parties, hill climbs, beach racing, concerts, and demo rides from H-D dealers.

Serial Number One resides at the Harley-Davidson Museum, located in the Historic Third Ward. The area is populated with see-and-be-seen restaurants and hipster patios, providing plenty of opportunity for bike sightings and people watching. Fill your tank at Fuel Cafe before taking a scenic cruise out to Colectivo Coffee on the lake. It’s not a biker bar per se, but a popular destination for easy riders.

The festival concludes Sunday with a parade of thunder on wheels downtown. Let the good times roll.