We rejoin our heroes in Milwaukee Wisconsin this past Labor Day weekend and freedom has never tasted sweeter. In the final chapter of an ongoing experiment, Harley-Davidson reunited a group of unlikely candidates to ride the open road and participate in an opportunity that will undoubtedly alter their lives in more ways than most would ever imagine.
But first let’s rewind time a little farther and go back to our unforgettable ride mid-July through Angeles Crest, the Rim of the World, Lake Arrowhead and around Big Bear in the mountains East of Los Angeles. Cole Rise, Ray Frenden and Greg Lutzka shed some light on the subjects of photography, art, skateboarding and their newly found love of riding Harley-Davidson motorcycles…
What was your perspective of motorcycle riding before you got involved with Harley Davidson's Taste of Freedom tour?
Rise: How often does a construction worker think about igloos? I’d say I thought about motorcycles as much. It was truly the furthest thing from my mind when Harley approached me - a total unknown - which was even more reason to give it a go.
Frenden: I’d never ridden a motorcycle before the Taste of Freedom Tour. My brother-in-law rode sport bikes and I’d stood in proximity to his. That was the extent of my exposure. I didn’t learn anything through osmosis either. I’d long been bike-curious, but I wasn’t born into a family of motorsport enthusiasts and felt like I wouldn’t be able to learn. I’d never even driven a manual transmission before all this started.
Lutzka: Before I got this opportunity I really didn’t think much about riding because it just seemed sketchy to me. Now after being part of the Taste of Freedom Tour and the Riders Edge program I feel super comfortable on my bike and I don’t think about it (being sketchy) as much.
How much seat time did you get prior to the LA mountain run?
Rise: Let’s put it this way... the bike had 6 miles on it, 3 of which were put on by the dealer while testing the engine. I was easily the least experienced of the group, but felt pretty confident I’d be able to swing at whatever came my way after the 3 day training course we took to get licensed, and the collective experience of the crew.
Frenden: Prior to the group ride to Big Bear, I’d taken the Rider’s Edge training course and putzed around my rural Texas neighborhood a bit. I just moved to a town outside of Austin, TX, so I didn’t have an in-built group of friends to go riding with and my work schedule was hectic. I had, maybe, fifty miles on my bike before the trip.
How would you compare riding a motorcycle to flying?
Rise: Riding and flying are incredibly similar, from the wind to the sound of the engine at a comfortable RPM. From a technical perspective, the engines are of a similar size and configuration to the Cessna 172’s I’ve flown, the procedures and acronyms for properly operating the bike are taught in a similar fashion, and your hyper-awareness of your center of gravity as you carve through space, two hands gripping a bar, is just like hang gliding. It’s easy to see how those returning WWII pilots traded their wings for two wheels, gunning it on the open road and gliding through turns. The experience is uniquely individual, and the feeling equally freeing.
How would you compare riding a motorcycle to your normal mode of transportation?
Frenden: Driving my car after the trip was revelatory. There’s no participation. No fun. It just goes. The whole affair of driving a car feels as utilitarian as being a passenger on the bus now. I’m along for the ride and not in charge the way I am on the bike.
How would you compare riding a motorcycle to skateboarding?
Lutzka: Riding skateboards and riding motorcycles are both a thrill in their own way. I’m more cautious on my bike than my skateboard because I kind of just go for it on my board. On my bike I make sure I’m paying attention and that I’m on point with it.
How do you think motorcycle riding will affect your photography?
Rise: Seeing my bike in my driveway is like seeing a plane sitting on the tarmac, ready to take you somewhere else. It’s a great motivator for getting lost on the weekends and exploring new places, which, is kind of important if you call yourself a travel photographer. It’s also a much smaller vehicle than my car, which means it’s easier to pull off on roads where wider vehicles can’t - a big advantage for getting those shots I’ve had to begrudgingly forfeit while driving on four wheels.
How do you think motorcycle riding will affect your art?
Frenden: My work skews heavily towards monsters and sci-fi, but I draw on real experiences to ground the more fantastical elements. I try to keep myself open to opportunities to do new things. Boring lives make for boring work. If I just sit around all day and stare at the same four walls, I probably won’t have much worth saying. This experience definitely adds to the mental Rolodex of subjects I can draw upon. All new things do.