The legendary ride marking the H-D/Sturgis 75-year deal
Text By Tyler Greenblatt
Photos by Josh Kurpius
On January 15, 2015, Harley-Davidson announced that it had signed an unprecedented 75-year deal with the town of Sturgis, South Dakota, to be the Official Motorcycle of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. As part of the announcement on that frigid, gray morning in Milwaukee, a H-D employee, mounted on a new Street 750, began yanking bricks from the wall of the famous Motorcycle Only parking area outside the Juneau Avenue headquarters. The high-revving, liquid-cooled twin did burnout after burnout, until 73 bricks were free. He repeated the semidemolition process once more at the historic entrance to the original factory location a couple hundred feet away, and again at the H-D Museum.
These 75 bricks, honoring 75 years of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and representing The Motor Company’s past, present, and future, were destined for use in constructing The Harley-Davidson Rally Point, a new year-round, open-air plaza in downtown Sturgis. The plaza sits on the corner of Main St. and what is now officially called Harley-Davidson Way (formerly Second Street). And for the occasion Harley also announced that on March 23, the bricks would be packed onto motorcycles and ridden the 900-plus miles to Sturgis, making Harley Owners Group (HOG) and dealership appearances along the way.
A couple weeks later, I received a phone call from The Motor Company asking me to join the ride. As a Wisconsin resident, I know that icy conditions, below-freezing temperatures, and probable snow storms are still very much a factor that time of year. As if anticipating that very notion, the next sentence of my invitation stated that I would also be provided full heated gear and a 2015 CVO Street Glide for the ride. I couldn’t say “yes” fast enough.
A few weeks later I awoke bright and early in Milwaukee’s Iron Horse Hotel for the ride. It was Monday, March 23rd. Bursting with enthusiasm, I flung the curtains open to enjoy the view of the H-D Museum and the sun rising over Milwaukee’s distinct skyline. What I got instead was a snow shower that had already begun to show its white aftereffects on the museum and downtown Milwaukee.
But to my pleasant surprise, we got the green light to fire up the bikes and hit the highway for our westward adventure. Our first stop would be Wisconsin H-D in Oconomowoc about 30 minutes outside Milwaukee. We brushed off our snow-covered steeds, cranked up the heated gear, and to perplexed onlookers and motorists exited away from the brick entrance to H-D’s headquarters on Juneau Avenue for the first leg of our journey. I couldn’t help but notice that the entry had one brick missing as I motored past.
The ride to Oconomowoc took nearly an hour as our caravan clawed our way out of town, carefully staying within the clean tire tracks laid out by the cars ahead of us. The CVO Street Glide felt surprisingly stable in such conditions, thanks in large part to the bike’s low center of gravity. The Dunlop tires never lost grip, and the 110″ engine’s power let me comfortably select a higher gear to minimize, or even eliminate, wheel spin. We’ll have a full report of this bike in a future issue.
Enthusiastic employees, offering hot cups of coffee, greeted us when we arrived at Wisconsin H-D, which was supposed be closed on a Monday. Eventually word got out that conditions were considerably worse inland. That didn’t deter us, though — we were having way too much fun to call it quits just yet! So, we saddled up and headed to Madison to visit Badger H-D, which happens to be the dealership that I frequent.
From Madison we set our GPS for Sauk City, home of Sauk Prairie H-D. My heated riding gear made the cold, one-hour ride almost uneventful. Our route sheet pointed us to scenic Highway 60 along the Wisconsin River, but the snow plow crews had yet to venture that far, so we waited at Sauk for awhile longer than anticipated. A fresh snowfall in rural Wisconsin is as beautiful and serene as one could ever come across, and I was thankful to be experiencing it on a motorcycle where all the senses come into play. We eventually got back on the road, stopping for lunch about halfway to Waukon H-D in Waukon, Iowa. As each of us emerged from our riding gear at the diner, our waitress politely asked how our snowmobile trip was going. She nearly freaked out when we told her that we were on Harleys. Maybe we were the crazy ones?
Crossing the mighty Mississippi River from Wisconsin into Iowa offered a great deal of pride and reprieve as the most challenging part of the day was behind us and we had ridden every single mile of it. With darkness approaching and black ice a major concern, we loaded the grungy, road-weary machines into the support trailer at Cedar River H-D and did the final stretch to the hotel in Mason City in the truck. Foremost, though, we had accomplished our goal of stopping at every planned dealership along the way. And we did so on two wheels, not four.
The following morning there was no snow to contend with, but the temperature was lower, the humidity was higher, and I put my heated equipment to the test. We kicked off the day at H-D of Mason City, where, incredibly, local HOG members had also braved the cold to greet us and wish us well on our trip. Four of them, including one lady on her brand-new Softail Deluxe, even took up extra bricks and joined us for a stretch! We stopped at Okoboji H-D in Okoboji, Iowa, before hitting the road for J&L H-D in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, our final stop for the day. As if cold and heavy winds weren’t enough for us to contend with, it started to rain. No, make that a downpour. Again, due to the inclement weather, we were way behind schedule, forcing us to load the bikes for the final leg, and five hours to Rapid City, South Dakota.
It was a short, sunny hop from Rapid City to Black Hills H-D, our final dealer destination. After enjoying an in-depth tour of the state-of-the-art dealership, we headed to downtown Sturgis to deliver all 75 bricks for the official groundbreaking of the Harley-Davidson Rally Point.
A sizable crowd had gathered for the groundbreaking ceremony, enthusiastically cheering us — and the bricks — as we pulled up and parked in the cordoned-off section out front. Bill Davidson and Sturgis Mayor Mark Carstensen started things off with speeches in front of the dirt construction zone. Overlooking us from the hillside was the famous Sturgis sign, and you couldn’t help but feel proud to be a part of the occasion. So where were the shovels for the ground-breaking ceremony? There wasn’t a shovel to be seen (unless you count the Shovelhead chopper that was present). Instead, motocross star Carey Hart, riding a Project LiveWire, and H-D factory flat track racer Brad Baker aboard a Street 750, appeared and, on command, proceeded to do dirt and pavement burnouts, respectively, shrouding attendees in a swirling storm of sand and tire smoke. It was only fitting that the ride of a lifetime that began in Milwaukee with a Harley-Davidson burnout end in Sturgis with a double Harley-Davidson burnout.
Wily readers might be questioning how we fit 75 bricks onto only seven motorcycles. The truth is, we didn’t, although we probably could’ve used the added weight for traction. Before leaving Juneau Avenue, we were each given one brick to steward from the site of the original factory in Milwaukee to the Rally Point in Sturgis, the rest were in the truck, and handed out to the brave few riders who joined us. Ceremoniously, the riders and support truck drivers gathered in a circle and dropped our bricks into the dirt that would soon be their final place of honor.
It was truly an epic ride, one that, in certain ways, took 75 years to accomplish. And we seven riders helped lay the foundation, one brick at a time. AIMThis article originally appeared in American Iron Magazine issue # 325, published June 2015. To order a back issue of this or any other issue of American Iron Magazine, visit Greaserag.com. Follow American Iron Magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram! To subscribe to the PRINT edition, click here.To receive DIGITAL DELIVERY, click here.