400 Motorcycle Enthusiasts, Willie G. Davidson Ride BRP to WTT!

{mosimage}On Thursday, July 15, 2010, the Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley played host to hundreds of Harley-Davidson owners and one of the most well known faces in American motorcycling — Willie G. Davidson.  The visit was organized by the Harley-Davidson Motor Company and was part of a 4-day national Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.) event beginning in Roanoke, VA and ending in Asheville, NC.

{mosimage}The "Ridin’ the Ridge" National H.O.G. Ride kicked off on Monday, July 12 in Roanoke with a welcome dinner and various rides in and around the area.  Tuesday morning, over 400 Harley-Davidson owners embarked on a thrilling ride through the twist and turns of the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway.  Over the next day and a half of their parkway journey, the ride would gain steam, heading toward Asheville, NC and their final destination — Wheels Through Time.

Thursday morning, hundreds of riders made their way to Maggie Valley for a taste of American motorcycle history at its finest.  Arriving to Wheels Through Time around 9:30 a.m., a total of 350 H.O.G. members toured the museum for several hours, many citing it as one of the best experiences of the four-day event.

Just after 10:00 a.m., special guest and motorcycle industry icon Willie G. Davidson arrived at the museum, riding a new 2010 Harley-Davidson.   Affectionately known as "Willie G.", the Senior Vice-President and Chief Styling Officer of America’s largest motorcycle company rode the entire route from Roanoke to Maggie Valley on the Blue Ridge Parkway with his wife Nancy, who was visiting the museum for the first time. 

Wille G. and Knealie at Wheels!Museum curator and founder, Dale Walksler, was on hand for the visit, and gave Willie G., as well as hundreds of other H.O.G. members, a special tour.  "It was an honor to have Willie through our doors," said Walksler.  "He’s played such an important role at our country’s most longstanding motorcycle manufacturer, and in the history of American motorcycling as a whole."

In 2007, Davidson visited the museum with a group of Harley-Davidson executives while riding through the Great Smoky Mountains.  What was initially planned as a 45 minute visit quickly turned into over 4 hours of taking in over 100 years of motorcycle history.  Last week’s visit would take a similar direction, as the group spent the better part of the day at the museum.

Willie G. Davidson’s passion for American motorcycle history is more than apparent.  The grandson of Harley-Davidson co-founder, William A. Davidson, Willie G. has over 100 years of two-wheel history in his blood, and seems to get as much a thrill out of seeing and hearing this history as running down the road on two wheels.  Author of "100 years of Harley-Davidson", he takes great pride in his company’s ( and his family’s) century-old past.

When asked about his second experience at Wheels Through Time, he mentioned that it only gets better.  "This is an unbelievable place, one which can never be duplicated." 

For more information about Wheels Through Time and the 2010 "Ridin’ the Ridge" H.O.G. ride, visit the museum’s website, located at www.WheelsThroughTime.com or call (828) 926-6266.

Pair of Flatties

My 1941 red and black HD Flathead 80Yesterday was another great day in the mountains.  My dad and I got out on one of our best rides of the season yet. 

He and I had been working on his 1915 Harley Cannonball Bike in the shop all morning, and by about one, we’d finished several little tasks in getting it back up and running for the 3300 mile journey across country in September.  After sitting around chatting for a few minutes, he asked "What’re your plans for the rest of the day?"

Easy answer.  Being that we’re always at the museum or in the shop, we decided it’d be a perfect day to get out and do a hundred miles or so on a couple of old bikes.  The sky was sunny, and the temperature was perfect for blasting down a few mountain roads on a pair of 70+ year old bikes.  As few and far between as days like this are, we weren’t about to miss an opportunity to do what we love most — ride motorcycles. 

I’d been prepping my ’41 Harley 80" flathead for the past few days, and just finished getting all of the lights in working order the night before.  My dad and I rebuilt the machine late last year, and although she’d been running for some time, the longest I’d ridden her was just a couple of miles around town.  After topping off the oil and transmission fluid, we filled it up with gas and were ready to roll.

My dad chose his old yellow and black 1936 Harley-Davidson experimental flathead for the ride — one that he always keeps in road ready condition.  He’s been all over the country on this bike.  In 1995 and 1996, he and his buddy Wayne Stanfield came seconds away from winning two coast to coast Great American Races on this machine.  Its done thousands of miles in Death Valley National Park during AMCA road runs, and last year, he even road it from Milwaukee to Sturgis, SD for the 69th Annual Sturgis Rally. 

Ready for the road -- the old '41 flatty's first ride!Needless to say, my dad’s ’36 had plenty more miles than my ’41, and to tell you the truth, I was a bit nervous as to how mine would perform while out on the road with a well-tested, dailed in similar model.  Just after 2:00, we slid on our helmets, and hit the road.

With so many great scenic drives throughout our area, finding a good curvy and challenging road would was no problem at all.   We hit a right out of the parking lot and in no time were at one of our favorite road tests for an old bike.  Coming right out of Maggie Valley on highway 19 sits a seven mile hill with an 11% grade.  Its a long and steep road — our dynometer if you will — and a great measurer of how an old bike will perform in steep conditions.  "If you can make it up this hill in top gear…..that’s when you know your bike is running right!" he says.  A little to my surprise, the old ’41 ran right up, never missing a beat.

Once we got up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, we headed north toward one of our favorite roads in the area — highway 215,  about 30-40 miles up from the Maggie Valley exit.  Both bikes were running great, and the perfectly clear day really provided for some amazing views from the top of the Appalachians.  Being as it was my first real ride on the ’41, I got more and more comfortable with each mile.  When we built this one up, we put on an 18" tire in the front, and a 16" in the back…..and I’ve got to say, its a great combination for cornering through some of the sharp curves in these mountains.  Without even a hiccup, we ran 45-50 mph the whole way, occasionally twisting the throttle a little further for a bit more of a rush.

Running down the road on the old '41 bob-jobTurning left onto 215, we shut of the bikes and coasted down the 11 mile road back into Haywood County.  Highway 215 is a "Tail of the Dragon" type of road, but 10 times as steep.  Hearing nothing but tires on pavement and wind in your ears, coasting down curvy hills with a couple of bikes is a heck of a thrill, and a great test for your front and rear brakes.  After we reached the bottom without incident, I determined the brakes on teh old flatty were up to par.

At the bottom, we bump started our bikes and were blasting down more twisty two-lanes in no time, headed for home.  What is it about pushing an 70 year old bike to the limits that really makes us tick.  Is it the sense of nostalgia….feeling like we’ve warped back to a simpler time when man and machine were one?  Is it the sense of accomplishment….knowing that your riding something you’ve built with your own two hands, just as it would have been almost three-quarters of a century ago?  Or is it as simple as feeling the wind in your hair while you listen to the engine hum and the tires roll?  Whatever it is, its a feeling that can hardly be described, and as a true enthusiast of old American motorcycles, I’d recommend it to anyone.