Capturing the Harley spirit
Motorcycle museum sculpture depicts daredevil in bronze
By JOHN SCHMID
Posted: June 9, 2008
One month away from its grand opening, Milwaukee's Harley-Davidson Museum has unveiled a crowning touch: a 16-foot-tall, 5,000-pound, hill-climbing bronze biker.
The larger-than-life image - one-and-one-half times life size, to be exact - emerged from beneath black drapes Monday afternoon. The sculpture is of a vintage 1930 Harley rider, frozen in a skyward wheelie. Its daring young driver, with only one hand on the handlebars, has reached the pinnacle of an uphill ride - and is on the verge of falling backward and wiping out.
The idea, said its creator, was to glorify biker culture while avoiding cliché images. No Marlon Brando, no Peter Fonda.
The sculpture, standing on the most visible part of the museum campus in the Menomonee Valley, depicts a sport called hill climbing, which was popular in the 1920s and '30s. The precarious bronze biker has no fear in his eyes. One leg is flying off the bike.
"It's really a piece of realism, but in a romantic way," said Jeff Decker, a Harley enthusiast who designed, sculpted and welded the 200 bronze pieces.
The piece was a gift from the family of Willie G. Davidson, a senior vice president and chief styling officer at Harley who is the grandson of one of the company founders, William A. Davidson.
Hill-climbing epitomizes motorcycle competition and thrill, Davidson said.
"We are a family of artists and passionate motorcyclists," Davidson said, introducing the piece with his family.
The objective of hill climbing was to race up steep hills that often had names like "widow maker." Participants invariably wiped out, Decker said.
"He is crashing," Decker said of the helmetless young rider. "But every hill climber crashes. It's part of the race."
Harley CEO Jim Ziemer, on hand for the ceremony, called hill-climbing one of the early "extreme sports."
"It was a matter of speed and balance," and it was for hard-core bikers only, Ziemer said.
Another article on Sculptor Jeff Decker (March 2004) at this website scroll down when you get there (visit link