Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Hot hogs, not dogs
Motorcycles racing through sand at Bradford Beach for first time in more than 100 years
Dogs aren’t allowed on Bradford Beach, but on Saturday, there will be motorcycles ripping through the sand in the first beach races in Milwaukee in more than 100 years.
You can still get to the water’s edge, and swim, but it could be noisy as the bikes tear around a small oval track only about 25 feet away.
The track, about a quarter-mile in length, is surrounded by snow fence and bales of straw, so spectators and beachgoers won’t be in harm’s way from an out-of-control bike during the races, from noon to 7 p.m.
And although some critics of the races have said oil and water don’t mix, race sponsor Harley-Davidson Inc. has promised to restore the beach to the condition it was in before the races.
Gasoline is being handled in an area where it won’t leak into the sand, according to Harley.
“We’ve made every effort to make sure there’s no impact on the environment,” said company spokesman Michael Pflughoeft.
“You can swim and enjoy motorcycle racing at the same time,” he said.
The beach races are part of Harley Davidson’s 115th anniversary celebration this weekend in Milwaukee. Other events include a motorcycle carnival at Veterans Park and a parade Sunday.
New venues, including beach racing and a motorcycle hill climb Satur--
day in Slinger, distinguish the 115th from Harley’s previous anniversaries, which attracted more than 100,000 people to Milwaukee from all over the world.
It seems like there are a lot fewer bikes downtown and on Lake Drive this anniversary. Yet Harley says the turnout has been strong, and that bikers are scattered over a much wider area than in previous years, from Kenosha to Slinger, and west into the suburbs.
“People may not see the density of motorcycles they’ve seen in the past because they’re not all congregating in one location,” Pflughoeft said.
Thursday, the Sixth Street Viaduct that leads to the Harley-Davidson Museum was closed to traffic so bikers could park there and walk to anniversary events on the sprawling lawn surrounding the museum.
Bars and restaurants on the city’s south side were packed with out-of-town motorcyclists, judging from the license plates from California to Maine.
“There are literally thousands and thousands of bikes throughout the region,” Pflughoeft said.
The beach races are a replica of events from the early 1900s.
Many of the racers are on vintage 1940s, and older, motorcycles.
Some of the bikes have original, rusted fenders, and the outside of the engines are covered in oil. They’re heavy and clumsy, especially in sand. In test runs Friday, riders cracked the throttle and got up some speed on the track’s straightaways, only to slow way down and sometimes wipe out in the turns.
The track is shaped like a paperclip, and deep tire ruts make for difficult turns, said Scott Jones, a racer from Orange County, California.
“You point your eyes where you want the bike to go, and hopefully it follows. But you really don’t have a whole lot of control,” Jones said.
He races vintage motorcycles and new ones, including bikes in the “Hooligan” category that’s become a huge hit at Milwaukee’s Flat Out Friday bike races at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena.
In Hooligan racing, a crazy mix of bikes rip around a little board track that’s sometimes covered with Dr Pepper soda syrup.
There are racers in costume, and there are wipeouts as riders go through the turns at not-so-high speeds that seem fast because of the track’s size.
“It’s all for fun. We’re just having a good time,” Jones said.
When he’s not racing, and working on old bikes, Jones is a machinist for Space X, the California company that in 2012 launched the first commercial spacecraft to deliver cargo to and from the International Space Station.
“I am one of the rocket guys,” he said. An oval-shaped motorcycle race track on a beach is a rarity these days, but it lends itself to Hooligan racing and bikes that did beach racing long ago.
One of the racers, Chad Trayner from Lexington, Kentucky, brought a 1942 Harley to Milwaukee that looks like it’s right off a beach from 80 years ago.
“I love old bikes. It’s all I have,” said Trayner, a construction superintendent by profession.
“All of my friends back home ride old bikes. Between all of us, we can probably fix anything,” he said.
A resurgence in vintage motorcycle racing has driven up the prices of old bikes that are still occasionally found rusting away in barns and garages, covered with tarps and cobwebs.
“You used to be able to pick up one of these for about $3,000. Now it’s closer to between seven and nine thousand,” Trayner said.
There’s no admission charge to watch Saturday’s beach races.
Hill climb Saturday
Saturday’s motorcycle hill climb will take place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Little Switzerland ski resort in Slinger. General admission tickets are $10, and admission is free for children 12 years old and younger.
Bikes will race to the top of a steep, gnarly hill side-by-side or individually based on time.
There hasn’t been a motorcycle hill climb at Little Switzerland in many years, said ski resort owner Mike Schmitz.
“In the Harley museum, there’s a picture of it,” he said.
About 100 bikes, of many sizes, are expected to compete in the event. The 200-foot hill has been beefed up with obstacles to make it more challenging.
Some bikes will shoot up the hill in seconds, while others will flip over, usually at slow speeds, on their way to the top.
“If you like to crash, it’s not hard at all,” said Dan Vrana, who will be one of the referees at the hill climb.