Harley-Davidson customers are fiercely loyal. In large groups, Harley-Davidson customers can also be a bit intimidating. But that didn’t stop the venerable motorcycle manufacturer from inviting thousands of them to its 85th-Anniversary bash last month in Milwaukee. Even company executives climbed onto bikes to lead the various motorcades that set out for the party from as far away as Los Angeles and Vancouver, kicking up excitement and picking up new riders along the way. When the 34,000 Harley enthusiasts roared into the beer capital of America and settled into Festival Park, it was hog heaven: a little bit Woodstock, a little Altamont and a lot of freewheeling.
The fashion theme was basic black: Harley T-shirts for the men, lace-edged Harley tank tops for the women, accented with leather, studs and tattoos. Here and there in the sea of black vests and red necks (from the cross-country trek), snowy-white T-shirts identified company employees. They tried not to gawk as bikers, eschewing scheduled events, indulged in some traditional biker entertainments, such as hoisting their sweethearts onto their shoulders for a little breast-baring to the sounds of Charlie Daniels, Waylon Jennings and Bachman-Turner Overdrive.
A $10-a-head entry fee, individual pledges and an auction of Harley memorabilia raised more than $600,000 for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and MDA poster boy Mikey Neufeldt got a rock star’s welcome. But the most sentimental moment came when thousands of bikers flicked their Bics in the darkness and sang “Happy Birthday, dear Harley.” Even the guy in the I’d Rather See My Sister in a Whorehouse than My Brother on a Honda T-shirt got a little misty.