MILWAUKEE, FEB 22—With most of the country trapped in the grips of a polar vortex, many motorcyclists are battling a severe case of cabin fever and are looking to get out of the house and ride. Unfortunately, for most of us the weather isn’t going to allow any riding, so thankfully there are bike shows like the inaugural Mama Tried Motorcycle Show to help us get our motorcycle fix.
Mama Tried was developed by Milwaukeeans Scott Johnson of the Fuel Café and Warren Heir Jr. of JR’s Cycle Products. Both Scott and Warren have a long history in the Midwest motorcycle scene and they decided to create an invitation-only event to showcase bikes that most people would never get to see. With an excellent track record of putting on the amazing Rockerbox event in Milwaukee, I knew that this show would not disappoint.
Scott tells me, “The show came about as I was winding down after deciding not to keep doing Rockerbox, a street festival we did every August for the last 10 years. We wanted to do something in the winter when there are not so many date conflicts and when folks’ motorcycle stoke was at an all-time high, due to the limited ability to get out and race or ride. My buddy Warren and I were talking about how cool it could be to do an invite-only show and we just decided to give it a shot.”
Located on the third floor of an old candy factory right next to the Iron Horse Hotel, this one-day show brought in more than 50 motorcycles of all genres from all over the country. Milwaukee has a diverse motorcycle culture and many locals compete in all disciplines of racing, which was portrayed by the bikes on display. Scott explains, “We had a specific aesthetic in in mind. Because Warren and I are pals, we, of course, like the same things. His background was more on the chopper side of things, and mine is in vintage bikes and vintage racers. We were basically trying to draw a line between 60’s and 70’s chopper aesthetic and the custom bike-builder scene, and the guys who build competition bikes in their garages. All of them are rad. The idea was to just have all the shit we like, and that’s how we got the bikes we got. The street bikes are kind of out in the public for people to see, but the other stuff—the purpose-built race bikes—are really rare unless a family member or neighbor is involved in it. It just doesn’t have the visibility. So we wanted to display all that stuff side by side. All the bikes have their own very specific aesthetic, but the thing they all have in common is the amount of work and imagination it takes to get it just the way you want it.”
Scott continues, “The Milwaukee/Midwest bike culture had everything to do with how the show turned out. There is a huge racing tradition around here: flat track, ice racing, drag racing, hill climb and road racing. And then with H-D being the big hometown company, there is that component as well.” There were quite a few bikes that were sporting ice screws since many of them were planning on getting out on a frozen Lake Michigan the next morning. These bikes were not all show queens; many of these bikes get ridden hard, crashed, raced and rebuilt, which, after all, is what motorcycles are made for.
When doors for the show opened at 11:00 a.m., the line of people waiting extended out of the building and down the street—and the crowds didn’t subside until the show was over at 10:00 p.m. Many of the showgoers also attended the pre-party at the Harley-Davidson Museum and the afterparty at the Cactus Club. With the museum being only a couple blocks from the bike show, many people took a break from the show to check out the history of their favorite motorcycle company.
For many of the people that visited the museum, one of the highlights was viewing the “Living Lost” exhibit, a collection of photographs by acclaimed freelance photographer Josh Kurpius. Josh knows how to capture the emotion of being on the road with friends on vintage motorcycles. Not only has he mastered a camera, Josh also knows how to build a cool bike. His 1977 Ironhead Sportster-based chopper has seen many, many miles during the road trips that produced so many amazing images.
Back on display at Mama Tried was everything from rare vintage race bikes to choppers, bobbers and café racers, many of which you would normally only see on a race track. Erik Buell Racing had their all-new 1190RX sportbike on display, along with the 1983 RW750, the first race bike that Erik Buell designed. Powered by a 750cc water-cooled two-stroke square four motor, the RW750 reached 178 miles per hour while testing at Talladega. The innovation on this bike fueled Erik Buell to form the Buell Motorcycle Company.
One bike that perfectly portrayed the creativity on display at the show was the mutant Harley FL from Ben Boyle of Benderworks out of Atlanta, Georgia. This bike had wide tractor steer tires with ice screws and was ridden and crashed (and ridden more) on Sunday on the ice. Not your typical show bike, the FL sported a beat-up tank, number plates and a racing-style exhaust. This bike was meant to be ridden hard!
Brad Richards of Zen of Neato (ZON), Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, had several unique bikes in the show. The Bonnepan is a 1950 FL built to race on the Bonneville Salt Flats, has four land-speed records and has hit 131 miles per hour in the standing mile. His other bike in the show was the Sporty TT, which was a full-fairing Daytona-style sportster that featured many unique parts from various motorcycle manufacturers.
Motorcycle racers are a unique breed, but the open class hill climbers are certainly on a different level. When you take a high-powered Big Twin and stuff it into a dirt bike chassis with an extended swingarm, you are in for the ride of your life. Now, factor in that you are pointing this bike straight up the steepest and gnarliest hill around that has a couple jumps thrown in for good measure. Be prepared! Dan and Louie Lauters from West Bend, Wisconsin, had their pair of 1993 hill climbers on display at the show.
One of the oldest bikes at the show was a trick 1921 Harley-Davidson board track/dirt track racer owned by Mike Lange from Big Bend, Wisconsin. Nearly every part on the bike was either handmade or modified by Mike, who also races these amazing bikes. Not only was the bike show-worthy, but the workstand it was displayed on was as old as the bike and may have been used in the Harley-Davidson factory.
In addition to the rare bikes and the race bikes, there were many other highly customized daily riders that packed features as unique and creative as their owners. Scott and Warren picked a great bunch of motorcycles for their first winter show, which will hopefully become an annual tradition.
***CLICK HERE for a featured photo gallery from the inaugural Mama Tried Motorcycle Show