Harley Davidson Taste of Freedom Tour

By wes DeBow

<p>Five influencers on the ride of their lives thanks to Harley Davidson.<br></p>

Every once in a while the stars align and wonderful things happen. Such was the case when I received an invite to join Harley-Davidson and an amazing group of people on a ride through the scenic San Gabriel Mountains. This wasn’t just any ride, though. In fact, this would be a first of sorts: a group of young influential men were being removed from the rigors and the comforts of their daily lives to grab life by the bars and ride Harley-Davidsons for three days.

Our ride would be the third of four gatherings to help usher in some new two-wheeled converts in an experiment called the Taste of Freedom Tour. The experience began for five unique young men with very diverse backgrounds: Cole Rise, photographer extraordinaire; Ray Frenden, an amazing digital illustrator; Andy Bothwell aka Astronautalis, a prolific freestyle rapper and hip-hop performer; Greg Lutzka, a professional skateboarder; and Mike Chiesa, a mixed martial arts practitioner in the UFC and winner of The Ultimate Fighter: Live.


Their first meeting was in Montreal, Canada, where these five guys attended boot camp and were introduced to the idea of tasting freedom on a Harley-Davidson. The next time the guys got together was in SoCal, where they took a two-day Rider’s Edge course to get some valuable seat time and just enough experience to get their motorcycle licenses. A month or so later the group was to reconvene for a third time to put their new skills to the test. Unfortunately, Mike Chiesa was training for an upcoming fight and couldn’t make it, but in his absence Heath Pinter, BMX dirt master, joined the crew.

The trip started out with all of the talents and personalities arriving from their respective corners of the world to make the crawl through rush-hour L.A. traffic to the iconic Safari Inn, made famous by the stomach-turning beating the late, great James Gandolfini gave Patricia Arquette in Quentin Tarantino’s film True Romance.

Once everyone arrived we discussed the route and some of the nuances that apply to riding in a group. It’s more difficult to travel as a group than it is going it alone, especially with a wide range of riding abilities and the added challenge of navigating through the urban jungle of L.A. We wrapped up our trip overview as the sun set, silhouetting the palm trees, and the Safari Inn’s sign glowed hypnotically.

I barely slept a wink, wired with anticipation. Gear packed, checked out, kick stands up, GoPro on and we were ready to rock at eight A.M. Riding positions were assigned and it was time to roll. As excited as everyone was, it was clear there was some self-doubt looming, but there was no turning back. It was a short ride to Frank’s Restaurant; we overtook the parking lot, heralded by a choir of thundering exhausts. Black coffee, fluffy scrambled eggs and giant slabs of bacon big enough to choke a bear filled our bellies for the ride.

We spent a few minutes on surface streets before the road began to climb the mountains that rise abruptly from the Los Angeles Basin. With tight switchbacks, oncoming traffic, rocks in the road and sheer drops, this route is not for the timid but rewards those who endure. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the heat, you experience it all in such an intimate way on a bike. We looped back around to Angeles Crest Highway and started heading east. A quick stop at Newcomb’s Ranch to wet our whistles and we were back into the twists. We dropped down the 215 into San Bernardino just long enough to jump on the 18 and head up the Rim of the World Highway. This road offers the most breathtaking views of the sprawling Los Angeles area that I’ve ever seen. Then more twists, more turns and plenty of blind corners before we finally rested our bikes and our bones in the resort town of Lake Arrowhead.

Saturday and Sunday were spent back on the bikes blasting past peaks that towered above 10,000 feet, around Big Bear Lake and out toward the Mojave Desert. It was clear that as inexperienced as they may be, these independents were growing more confident with each twist of the throttle. The pace quickened and a road scum grin became the norm as the guys loosened up and became more relaxed in their abilities. Eventually we descended the mountain and made our way back to the concrete world of L.A.

Phrases like “trial by fire,” “surviving the gauntlet” or “thrown in the deep end” could be used to describe the experience, but these guys made it out the other side accomplished and unscathed. We’ll be getting back together again for the final chapter of the Taste of Freedom Tour in Milwaukee at Harley-Davidson’s 110th Anniversary celebration, 110 Years of Freedom. In the meantime I was able to get some feedback from Bothwell, aka Astronautalis, and Pinter.

What’s your perspective of motorcycle riding after being involved with Harley’s Taste of Freedom Tour?

Pinter: Harley’s Taste of Freedom Tour was an eye-opener for me. To be honest it took me a minute to completely understand it. Working with brands on a sponsorship level for my whole career, I have been programmed to align individuals whose personalities and interests match the companies’ image. Taste of Freedom is the opposite and was designed to give a unique group of individuals who have never ridden motorcycles an insight and experience of riding Harley-Davidson motorcycles. After being on the Taste of Freedom Tour, I’m a huge fan of the concept and think the crew from Harley-Davidson did an amazing job. They lined up a great group of people and gave them experiences that will change their lives. Riding with the crew and seeing them finding this new passion for riding motorcycles is a reminder of how I felt about BMX and motorcycles from the start. After a short time on a motorcycle they are Harley-Davidson’s ideal image, a group of people who love riding motorcycles. 

What was your perspective of motorcycle riding before you got involved with Harley Davidson’s Taste of Freedom tour?

Bothwell: I grew up in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, about 80 miles north of Daytona. Motorcycles are omnipresent in that world. While the rumble of exhaust is a constant in my town, I didn’t find myself drawn to motorcycles until later in life. I certainly daydreamed about dirt bikes, like any boy of a certain age, but it wasn’t until I saw Steve McQueen jump the fence in The Great Escape that I thought, “Man, I want THAT!” It was all just daydreams, though; I thought, “I can’t do that." It seemed difficult or out of reach. I look back on that feeling now and it seems foolish.

How much seat time did you get prior to the L.A. mountain run? 

Bothwell: I put about 700 miles on my street bob in 2.5 weeks, plus a few hundred on an Electra Glide Harley loaned me before the trip. I’m not sure how many hours that is, but it is basically every single free moment I had between the day I got my license and the morning my flight left for L.A.

How would you compare riding a motorcycle to performing live?

Bothwell: In many ways it is very different, and that is what I enjoy about riding so much; being out on the road, alone, is a marvelous respite from the total lack of privacy in my work as a musician. The shows are all for the audience, you work and work and work, all to make them have a marvelous time…and I love that. In the van, with the band, it is all about democracy and cohabitation. But when I ride, that is for me. I don’t look at maps much, I just go where I want, stop when I want, do what I want. It was very intentional when I designed my bike to only have one seat. However, where the two things do intersect is in the awareness required for both. No matter if you are performing or riding, your head must be on a swivel at all times, reading the road, feeling out the crowd, staying a few seconds ahead, so you can always be prepared to react and keep things moving forward smoothly.

How do you think motorcycle riding will affect your music?

Bothwell: I grew up surfing, and riding my motorcycle reminds me a lot of the odd coupling of meditation and exhilaration that comes with surfing. You spend forever on your board waiting for a set to come in, only to get a 30-second rush, then paddle out and wait again. I wrote a lot of my early work sitting out there on my surfboard, waiting for a set to come in. The tranquility of the road allows for a lot of time to think within the framework of a really thrilling activity as well. I spend a lot of time researching for my work. Sitting at a computer and reading are as much a part of my music as hammering out lyrics or layering harmonies. I live in Minnesota now where the waves aren’t so good, so riding my Harley has filled that void left after I stopped surfing. Riding gives me that time alone to synthesize all of the research I have done and shape it into my work.

What’s your perspective of motorcycle riding now?

Bothwell: Motorcycle riding is starting to take over all of my thoughts, time and dreams. I am constantly plotting new rides, dreaming of ways to tune my bike, dreaming of other bikes to get. When I first started on this project with Harley, I was talking to a fella who had 12 motorcycles. I asked him, "What the hell do you need 12 motorcycles for?!” to which he responded, “Ask me again after you get your first." I get it now, I get why people are so religious about riding, the fraternal aspects of it all…I get it. I am all in. Drinking the Kool-Aid, a changed man.

Stay tuned for more from the Taste of Freedom Tour and Harley-Davidson’s 110TH Anniversary!


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