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Optimism, Harleys Rumble into Milwaukee

Larry Darling/Flickr

The rumble of motorcycle engines is already echoing through downtown Milwaukee, ahead of this week's festivities celebrating Harley-Davidson.

It's a big week for motorcycle enthusiasts and for the iconic Milwaukee company, Harley-Davidson, which is marking its 110th anniversary.

But with hundreds of thousands of bikers coming to southeastern Wisconsin, it's also a huge week for the area's largest Harley Davidson dealer. House of Harley expects more than 100,000 people to take part in a series of events it will host on the streets around the dealership on Milwaukee's south side.

Credit Harley-Davidson image
Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to mark Harley-Davidson's 110th anniversary this weekend.

As an interview on WUWM laid out several weeks ago, the mood was much different during the 105th anniversary - uncertainty bubbled beneath the celebratory surface. With the looming recession, Harley's economic fortunes were uncertain.

But things have turned around in recent years, and dealers such as House of Harley are seeing increased demand - especially as new models are introduced to appeal to different kinds of riders.

"Harley employees were excited, too, and that's because for the first time in 19 years, we have a bike that looks different," says John Schaller,  dealer principal - owner - of  House of Harley. He points to technological changes such as the touch screen that distinguishes one of the latest models. 

Schaller concedes the stereotypical rider is still a snow-topped white male in his 50s.  But he says the company has done significant work in attracting women riders in recent years.

House of Harley's anniversary-related events include this year will have a Women Rider's Day on Sunday, commencing with a parade and fundraiser for the Komen for the Cure Foundation. 

Schaller says his dealership in particular has reached out to women, by taking steps as simple as hiring more women employees. "I think everybody likes to see somebody who looks like them when they go in to shop," Schaller says.

House of Harley will host other festivities between now and next week, including events focused on Latino riders, military, and law enforcement.