Bikers and neighbors come together on East North Avenue
While Harley-Davidson riders have a reputation for being rather provincial when it comes to their bikes, some divergent crowds hanging out at the North Avenue Street Party seemed to get along pretty well, for the most part.
Thousands of riders mixed with an eclectic group of neighbors and the college crowd from nearby UW – Milwaukee for the festivities on North Avenue. From the Oriental Theater, where the Violent Femmes were discovered busking on a streetcorner by the Pretenders in the early 1980s, to Vitucci’s Cocktail Lounge, which hasn’t changed a bit since the 1930s, East North Avenue is one of Milwaukee’s coolest and most historic neighborhoods.
I caught a group of about a dozen 40-and-under riders from Germantown, Wis., to talk about their bikes and riding preferences just before they headed to Rascal’s Tavern. This wasn’t exactly a group of renegade bikers ready to raise hell like those from the “Wild Ones” movie, but there was no shortage of character in their crew, which included riders of Harley Touring bikes, Softails and a Sportster, as well as a couple guys on sportbikes.
Brian Esklidsen, 26, arrived on a 2006 Ultra. “I grew up on these bikes,” Esklidsen said. “My dad had them. You get a thrill from the sound and the thunder of the pipes. Sometimes it’s for show, but we’re also about go.”
“Bikes are bikes, no matter what you ride,” said Rob Baatz, 25, who rides a Honda CBR. “We’ve got a real mix of bikes, but we’re all friends.”
Riding as a passenger, Michelle Catalano, 24, would like to learn to ride up front someday. “I’d be the first woman in my family to ride since I come from the old Italian tradition where it’s men over women,” she said. “Things are more equal for women now and I’m tired things being for men only.”
U.S. Army veteran Mike Mills was the elder statesman of the group at 39. He owns several vintage Harleys and rode a 1990 Softail Custom to the street party. “I hate the poseurs, but I guess they’re riders,” he said. “They’re really more like credit card bikers, though.”
While musical acts Blind Melon, the Crave and Alana Grace entertained the North Avenue crowds throughout the day, I was working hard serving up some cold Miller beverages. Since a close friend organized the party, a group of our friends helped serve the beer. Bartending is always a great way to people watch and this night was no exception.
From grizzled Harley veterans with patch-covered vests to RUBS (rich urban bikers) to college kids out for a good time, the crowd enjoyed a beautiful night on the street. Milwaukee is known as a city of festivals, or in other words, we know how to party. Some in the crowd said they had come to the street party from the Summerfest grounds a few miles away on Milwaukee’s lakefront to avoid the crowds there.
To no one’s real surprise, ZZ Top still packed in an old school Harley crowd at Summerfest on Friday, along with other acts like the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, War, Los Lonely Boys and Big Head Todd & the Monsters. Gen Xers and the younger set had their fill with the Foo Fighters and Three Days Grace show at the Roadhouse at the Lakefront.
Finally, here's a rather amazing story from my riding around town today. Just before pulling into Veteran's Park, another rider and I did a double take like we recognized each other. Indeed we had, as I had guided him and his fellow riders from Michigan into Miller Park for Thursday's H.O.G. event and I was now doing the same for them at Vet's Park. I guess it's really a small Harley world after all.