Last week, executive editor Chris Nelson flew home to the Midwest to visit friends and family. He landed in Milwaukee, picked up a Low Rider S from Harley-Davidson’s headquarters, and set off on a four-day road trip through Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. Here are his notes from the road.
One mile: Milwaukee (Algonquin for "the good land"). Blue skies ahead, a black-and-gold Low Rider S between my legs, and a wide-open highway heading toward my hometown, Chicago.
23 miles: Welcome to Harley heartland. A Dyna passes on the highway, its rider wearing khaki cargo shorts and Tevas. Strapped to its seat, a case of New Glarus Spotted Cow beer.
43 miles: Just across the Illinois border is Analog Motorcycles. Tony, the owner, says his tidy, single-cylinder Ducati on the stand is his “next Quail winner.”
102 miles: Oppressive heat and standstill traffic on Lake Shore Drive. Why can’t you split lanes in Chicago? Air-cooling Screamin’ Eagle V-Twin is boiling, frying the insides of my legs.
117 miles: A grim Saturday morning. Overcast and rainy. A perfect summer day yesterday. Why didn’t I leave then to ride to northern Michigan?
208 miles: A stop at Gingerman Raceway in South Haven, Michigan. A grassroots road course run by some of my favorite people. There’s a low-key, laidback vibe this morning as I count some 50 motorcycles in the paddock. I wish I had my leathers—I think this Harley could hang.
279 miles: A storm rolls off Lake Michigan and slams into me. I’m drenched, chilled to the bone. My Red Clouds Collective waxed canvas pants are overwhelmed. I take refuge at a gas station with surprisingly decent coffee.
305 miles: Think I found the party. How do I know? There’s a Westfalia Volkswagen camper and a BMW i8 parked out front—my friends are rad. Hop off the bike, jump on a boat, and spend the day learning to wake surf.
415 miles: The i8 and the Harley play on the highway as we head southeast toward Ann Arbor. The bike and car are getting about the same fuel mileage: 42 mpg.
520 miles: Father’s Day dinner with my former boss, Joe DeMatio. He’s never ridden, doesn’t particularly care for motorcycles, but remarks on how handsome the Low Rider S is. High praise, coming from him.
665 miles: Happy I wired my Biltwell Lanesplitter with the SENA 10R headset so I can listen to Big Boi’s new album, Boomiverse. I can’t help but dance behind the handlebars.
721 miles: A stop in the tiny town of Union City to see my one-year-old “niece”, Maci Rae. She’s perfect. I sit her on the Low Rider S, and her eyes bulge when I roll the throttle.
737 miles: Getting reacquainted with the Michigan State Police is long-overdue. Helps the cop has a Street Glide at home.
874 miles: Chicago after midnight—my favorite. I ride under beautifully lit skyscrapers onto Lower Wacker Drive, an underground network of roads. As worn as I am, I won’t miss the opportunity to cut loose on this Low Rider S. Very impressive handling, a hearty bottom end.
939 miles: Rain again. I hold off on heading back to Milwaukee for as long as I can. I still see a thin strip of nibus clouds in the distance. Please be kind.
952 miles: Without warning a drizzle becomes a downpour. I can’t see anything. Cars pull off in every direction. I swerve to avoid one particularly absent-minded driver. “Deep breathes, Chris.” Immediately my visor fogs. Need to flip it up. This is miserable.
980 miles: The rain stops suddenly. Beautiful blue skies overhead. Behind, an angry wall of water. I forgot how fickle Midwest weather can be.
1,009 miles: Back at Harley-Davidson’s headquarters. The Low Rider S is still dripping wet. I slap its tank, say “thanks”, and hop in my Uber. A mile later, I already miss the bike.
Special thanks to Harley-Davidson for the support and transportation.