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Stunt Man Alfonso Sotomayor Canales' Bike Brings Mexican Motorcycle History To Harley-Davidson Museum

Harley-Davidson dealership in Mexico
Vicente Cortés Sotelo
Courtesy of the Archivo Fotográfico "Manuel Toussaint", Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
Early Harley-Davidson dealership in Mexico.

Harley-Davidson motorcycles are one of the many iconic parts of Milwaukee culture. The motorcycle, which started on the west side of the Milwaukee in 1903, didn’t take long to find its way outside of city limits. After just a decade in operation, Harley-Davidson opened two dealerships in Mexico — one in Guadalajara and the other in Chihuahua.

Now the Harley culture created in Mexico is on display at the Harley-Davidson Museum via the bike of Alfonso Sotomayor Canales, a Mexican stunt rider who became famous for his 'Salto de la Muerte,' or jump of death.

With the bike that carried Sotomayor to fame at the museum, Ann Sinfield looked into the history of Harley-Davidson in Mexico.

She leads the exhibits at the Harley-Davidson Museum and says the expansion of Harley into Mexico happened in the early days of the Mexican Revolution and despite the turmoil, Harley-Davidsons became popular throughout the country.

“It’s a difficult time in Mexico, but I think it speaks to the love of motorcycling from the very early years, people are really interested in riding,” Sinfield says.

Sotomayor’s career as a racer, stunt performer and transit police officer made him one of the most famous motorcyclists in Mexican history. After his racing career that lasted from the 1930s to the 1960s, he began traveling to world to do motorcycle tricks. One in particular captured his audiences — the ‘Salto de la Muerte.'

Sinfield explains, "It’s a short ramp, it’s about 20 feet long but it’s only about 16 or 18 inches high ... and what he does is get volunteers from the audience to lay down at the end of that ramp and then he takes this 1957 Harley-Davidson Model FL and jumps it over all those people. He worked up to having like 47 people laying down at the end of his ramp.”

Alfonso Sotomayor performing his famed jump of death.
Courtesy of the Archivo Fotográfico "Manuel Toussaint", Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
Alfonso Sotomayor performing his famed jump of death.

Sotomayor's daring jumps landed him as the first inductee to the Mexican Motorcycle Hall of Fame. He died in the mid-1980s and is survived by a family of riders and performers.

Another new part of the museum is the Off-Road Harley-Davidson exhibit honors riders like Sotomayor who pushed the boundary of what is possible on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

“Some people ride off-road, some people jump over 47 people laying on the ground. It’s just a way of pushing yourself and having fun and just really it’s about the love of motorcycling,”Sinfield says.

Ben Binversie was a producer with WUWM's Lake Effect program.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.
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