Brew City Mayhem

MILWAUKEE, WIS., FEB. 15-17—It can be said with absolute certainty and no hyperbole whatsoever that there is no city in the world more motorcycle friendly than Milwaukee, Wisconsin. To expand that statement, it can also be said that when said city throws a party, one can be sure it’ll be a good one, and the wild times had in the depths of winter during this year’s Mama Tried bike show prove it’s clearly one of the greats.

Scooter tramps, looky-loos and crafty wrenchers from around the globe show up to strut their stuff and mingle with the masters for the cultish, invitation-only show. But that’s only the impetus for the four-day rave that spreads throughout the city and out onto the frozen surface of the surrounding waterways. The fact that activities include both indoor and outdoor racing, flips the extended weekend into the perfect excuse to get cabin-fevered enthusiasts off the couch and into the arctic winds with some ground shaking, two-wheeled mayhem.

This year’s iteration kicked off early Thursday with an official Mama Tried pre-party/bike night at the Harley-Davidson museum which, in keeping with the Valentine’s Day theme, was dubbed Shovelheads & Sweethearts. Attendees were invited to dress in ’70s garb to embrace the Shovelhead generation, and those who came out early were welcome to tour the museum – with H.O.G. members getting in free-of-charge.

If you were in the mood for a little ink, real tatts by Horseshoe Tattoo were free to everyone for the evening. Fun stuff out front included boonie minibike races organized by none other than Jeremy Prach, the guy who created the Flat Out Friday races traditionally held during the MT weekend. Jeremy, who works as a high school teacher in the daytime, was knighted Track Racing Organizer of the Year for 2018 by AMA last year and the award couldn’t have gone to a more deserving promoter. The indoor track at Panther Stadium is sprayed with a heavy dose of Dr. Pepper syrup on Friday before fans pack the place to watch almost 300 bikes zip across the sticky surface for a night of intense flat track entertainment. Parties spring up all across the city but the happenings at the Fuel Café and Nick’s Anvil Inn – which is only open one day a week – are where all the cool kids congregate. Of course, if you’re hoping to run into the ever-present Davidson family, your best bet is at the museum, since Willie and Nancy are known to stop in at the Motor Café for meals. The best place to stay overnight is everybody’s favorite hipster joint, the Iron Horse Hotel located just across from the museum. Regardless of the time of year, the Iron Horse always has a party going on.

During past Mama Trieds, the weather has been conducive to riding during the days and included blue skies and balmy temps. For the 6th edition, however, there was none of that. Weather was miserable and dipped into the low 20s during the day with heavy snowfall and below zero evenings, which did nothing to thwart attendance. Folks just bundled up and skipped around between parties before filling the Eagles Club to cruise the old wooden ballroom floors and ogle the over-100 beautifully crafted machines that stood proudly displayed against the building’s art-deco styling. From cut up bobbers and sleek choppers to racers and the meticulous old masters, this show is one huge head turner. 

One of our favorite bikes wasn’t actually part of the show but at a vendor’s booth. The kitschy Joplin bike was a cute little chopper straight out of the ’60s and included a flower brake pedal and peace symbol sissy bar. The Sportster tank painted with Janis’ image was entered in a prior MT show as part of a tank art exhibit, but all put together the bike was immaculate. Still, not everything was spit shined and polished, as exemplified by the hill climber that sat complete with caked on mud and a wooden stake as a kickstand. The work of art presented by 40Cal Customs out of Tennessee is beyond description with its tank set inside a frame and strapped with leather above a 1929 Harley-Davidson Model JD motor. And those are just three of the over-100 machines set for inspection.

One of the things we especially like about this show is that it isn’t a competition. It’s really just about the art of the unique and special motorcycles, those who build them and those who appreciate the efforts of their creators. There are no awards and no focused recognition. We noticed that there were some bikes that had been in the show prior and some of the 87 builders had more than one machine entered. Even so, the collection of magnificent motorcycles was certainly worth braving the weather to experience in person.

Sponsored by Harley-Davidson, Mama Tried is definitely one of the must-do show events of the year, but one of the coolest parts of the whole shindig is what happens on Sunday. While folks are making their last laps through the bike show, the wild kids are heading to the nearest body of ice for a little unsanctioned ice racing, and this year there was no shortage of choice locations. Bikes outfitted with spikes hit the ice of the marina at the nearby Veterans Park and spent their pent-up energy fighting the wind chill to skate around the rink where boats are usually moored. It’s a perfect end to a perfect weekend of motorcycling – Milwaukee style.


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