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Harley Riders Converge on Milwaukee for Birthday Bash

Marti Mikkelson

The decibel level will rise in Milwaukee this week. Tens of thousands of Harley-Davidson enthusiasts will arrive in town for the company’s 110th anniversary celebration.

There will be no shortage of activities for the riders – everything from huge street parties to dozens of bands performing at the Summerfest grounds.

Momentum was building at the Harley-Davidson Museum late last week.

Thursday night is “bike night” at the museum. Riders pull into the parking lot and mill about, admiring each other’s motorcycles.

Tonight is more crowded than usual, and amid the chatter and snacking, floats a buzz of anticipation.

“We got the Kid Rock tickets, we got the three day passes and we’re looking forward to Water Street and all the excitement."

Beth Ann Navarrette lives in West Milwaukee. She says she can’t wait until the Harley activities kick into high gear this week.

“We’re hoping to see Willie G again. Every year he gives autographs and he’s such a wonderful man,” Navarrette says.

That’s Willie G. Davidson – ancestor of the famed man who started Harley.

While there will be plenty for bikers to do during the four-day celebration, Bill Fulton is anxious to simply be part of the crowd. He rode here from Rockford, Illinois.

“Legacy, freedom, the company has been around a long, long time and is very accessible. The competition cannot copy Harley. They can’t copy the culture. That’s the unique thing about Harley, the culture,” Fulton says.

Part of the culture is the uniform. Almost everyone in the lot is wearing a black Harley t-shirt. However, they carry different city names, such as Denver and Sturgis. Riders add to their collection, when visiting other company ports.

Fulton admits the Harley lifestyle is not cheap and he wouldn’t be able to afford a bike if the company did not offer financing.

Rob Topper says he didn’t purchase his first Harley until later in life. Topper is a manufacturing supervisor from Uniontown, Ohio and nearing retirement age.

“Oh yeah, I worked my way up to it. I started off with the cheaper bikes, but once I got that Panhead though, I had to have another one,” Topper says.

Just as Topper prefers Harley’s Panhead model, other riders have their favorites – the Road King, the Electra Glide, the Softail…they’ll all be on Milwaukee’s streets this week. However, Topper won’t. The Ohio rider and his friends don’t like huge crowds, so they visited one week prior to all things Harley.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.