Images by the Girl About Town herself.
Clink-clang! In a matter of two hours, I heard that noise three times announcing proud new Harley owners. It’s not just a major purchase; it’s a rite of passage, worthy of the ceremonious gong.
Believe it or not, I was at the House of Harley-Davidson (6221 W. Layton Ave.) this weekend checking out motorcycles. Well, learning about motorcycles. A free Sobelman’s bloody Mary (sans slider) and friendly staff greeted everyone at the door. House of Harley (HOH) hosted their free annual co-ed boot camp on Saturday so I figured this was as good a time as any to step out of my comfort zone. I have ridden on a motorcycle just twice in my life and I have a scar on my calf to prove it.
The event was meant for new riders to learn about the culture in a relaxed atmosphere. Led by experts, we heard about motor clothes, bike styles, customization and service as we snaked through the store like a giant, flamboyant parade. There were people from all walks of life. As I looked around at the two dozen people in the group, I noticed two things: I definitely looked like I didn’t belong and more than half of the participants were women. That trend is also consistent with the clientele at HOH.
I talked to rider and salesperson Erica Erickson about the increase in women riders. “It’s a huge movement," she says. "It’s super fantastic and I’m so proud of it!”
She rode on the back of her uncle Arlen’s bike growing up and when he passed away seven years ago, she had to learn how to ride herself. She started buying bikes at HOH in 2008 and after buying four bikes, she started working there in 2012.
“The Harley all of a sudden became the man’s pair of pants. It wasn’t Harley’s fault, it just happened like that because the men were the riders,” she says.
Naively, I asked, “So why do you think people are so crazy about riding?”
Erica smiled, “Oh, silly child,” she was likely thinking, but answered back politely: “A lot of people do it for the engine, the freedom and the adrenaline, but I am a photographer so when I am on my bike, I feel like I am not filtered at all. I look at it as a sensual photographic point of view where you can see everything.”
Clients have called her a “wind therapist” because once she gets you on a bike, nothing matters, and it’s just you, your bike and the road. “It’s a hobby, sport and lifestyle,” she explains. “Going for ice cream on your Harley-Davidson is one of the coolest thing ever.”
Touring bikes for highway riding are the biggest sellers and HOH offers Riders Edge classes for people interested in learning how to ride. The classes include time with instructors who are both Wisconsin and Harley-Davidson motorcycle safety certified.
The group urged me to hop on the V-Rod, Harley’s award winning bike meant for racing. I didn’t actually go anywhere, but I learned how to properly swing my leg over the exhaust pipe this time, and I also learned that every rider needs a jacket, gloves, helmet and boots.
The store is stocked with everything you need to live the Harley-Davidson lifestyle, including hundreds of pre-owned and new bikes ranging from $4,600 to $25,000. Or, you could spend thousands more to customize your bike.
One sentiment I was unable to share with the other boot camp guests is that everyone would have rather been out riding. Another salesperson Jesse assured me that just as soon as we get a hard rainfall to wash away the salt on the roads, the riders will be out in full force.
Though there are no additional boot camps planned just yet, don’t miss the Leprechaun Launch next Saturday at the store from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. with discounts, activities, food and entertainment.
Follow me on Twitter as @jkashou to stay on top of what's happening around town or search #GirlAboutTown.