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Friday, August 21, 2009

What Royal Enfield needs, Harley has

Royal Enfield motorcycles have been around as long as Harley-Davidson motorcycles. But there is no museum devoted to Royal Enfields that can match the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, Wis.

As befits the brand, everything about the Harley-Davidson Museum is immense and shiny.

Don't let the massive black walls intimidate you. Inside, the museum is a very pleasant place. We were greeted when we entered and thanked for coming when we left. A museum educator strolled up to us and asked if we had any questions. We didn't, so she posed one of her own:

"Why are the tires on the early motorcycles light colored instead of black?"

"For safety reasons?" my wife guessed. I got to show off that I knew that natural rubber isn't black.

On display under glass is Serial Number One, the oldest known Harley-Davidson motorcycle. It is assumed to be the oldest, since the numeral 1 was found inside the engine casing, but the bike has several features that would have been typical of later models. A good museum doesn't solve arguments, it starts them.

I could barely pull myself away from the older motorcycles, displayed chronologically in a hallway that offers excellent look-but-don't-touch access to Harleys from 1903 to the 1940s. You can spot such nice details as delicate rods that opened the exhaust cut-outs. It's amusing learning that early Harleys were sold with the claim that you could barely hear them running! Not much of a selling point today.

These machines are magnificent; you can hardly believe museum claim that it displays them as they were found, without further restoration. Signage makes the point that Harley built its early reputation on craftsmanship as well as speed. In fact, during hard economic times, two-tone paint schemes and nicer fittings often substituted for the fact that the company couldn't afford major model changes.

The museum has two restaurants, at two different price levels. My vegetarian daughter took a look at the menus of Wisconsin Brat Melts and Foot Long Sloppy Joes and decided we were eating elsewhere (there were vegetarian items but nothing that appealed to her).

In general, it's a family place, as long as the family has $16 for each adult and $10 for each child over 5. Children naturally love the big room where they can actually sit on real Harley-Davidson motorcycles. And not just children: I was surprised when my mother-in-law announced she was getting onto one!

The Harley-Davidson Museum is located on Milwaukee's riverfront, so we managed to hit two draw bridges in the up position for boat traffic before getting there. We actually crossed three drawbridges. There are signs on I-94, but check this printable trip guide before you go.

6 comments:

  1. Another great post and photos David. I'd love to go there someday.

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  2. Here's an idea. Why not put together a virtual museum?

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  3. Incidentally Royal Enfield had an in-house museum in the Redditch factory, possibly the first factory museum in motorcycling. I'm preparing a blog post on it.

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