It's not surprising that one of the most popular motorcycle rides in America runs in the shadow of the factory making the country's last mass-produced cycles. But it doesn't seem to fit the biker image for that ride to roll around a landmark church.
Less than a half hour from both Harley-Davidson's corporate HQ in downtown Milwaukee and the company's Pilgrim Road Power Train facility northwest of the city, The Holy Hill Ride runs along two lane rural highways and county roads past atmospheric local bars and restaurants – all in the shadow of The Holy Hill National Catholic Shrine in Hubertus, Wisc.
Legend has it that Fr. Jacques Marquette (of Marquette University fame, pre-basketball) discovered the hill in the 17th century, but the present cathedral was built in the 1930s. It's on odd site seeing leather-clad Hog fans rumbling around the double spires of a house of worship, but the church keeps their doors opens to all visitors – even bikers.
I had a chance to take in the rural scenes from atop a 2011 Harley-Davidson Road King Classic. While not the biggest bike the company makes, it is a full size cruiser that's very stable at higher speeds, but heavier in the turns than a Night Rod or an Iron 883. That weight would force me to behave myself on the apex-rich stretches of the ride.
The two to three hours ride around the cathedral is widely regarded as not just a prime attraction for riders making a pilgrimage to the home of Harley-Davidson, but one of the prime seasonal motorcycle attractions in the midwest.
Known as "riding The Hog's Back," The Holy Hill run is famous amongst Harley-Davidson enthusiasts as one of the best rides in the country – but it's just as appealing to any rider atop everything from a rival cruiser to a metric sports bike. It's that perfect mix of turns and hills that tests the rider's eye and skill on a good riding surface – all without demanding much more than intermediate skill for a safe trip.
Many riders kick start their Holy Hill ride from Milwaukee Harley-Davidson, one of the largest dealerships in the midwest. The starting point is made only more appealing to some bikers since Milwaukee Harley-Davidson shares its expansive parking lot with Silk, the city's biggest gentlemen's club. It's a hell's toss away from the local HQ for the Church of Rome, but there's nothing wrong with starting your ride amongst devils and wrapping it passing by the angels.
From Milwaukee Harley-Davidson, you ride north on I-45 to From Milwaukee to Holy Hill Road Exit. Simply take that two-lane road to State Highway 83 and bear left. From there, you’re free to explore The Hog’s Back.
I had the good fortune of tackling the road on a perfect autumn day. The sun was shining, but didn't disturb the crisp fall air. Wisconsin's fall colors were in full effect amongst trees that filled the rolling hills as far as I could see underneath my visor. Besides the high-rising church grounds, the most stirring sight along the ride is Lake Five and its idyllic mix of foliage, fishing boats and water front piers.
There are two spots to grab a bite to eat and a (non-alcoholic) drink along the ride. Built in the 1800s, the Tally-Ho Tavern has served as a boarding house and brothel. Now, it sits along the route in Erin, Wisc. as a fully stocked bar and restaurant that aims above pub food by employing an in-house chef. The Tally-Ho is also supposed to be haunted by the ghost of Emily – an ill-fated prostitute who some say is buried in the tavern's basement.
On the end of the ride, Madam Belle’s Silver Dollar Saloon is a traditional biker roadhouse with lines of dedicated motorcycle parking outside and traditional bar food and beer within.
Along the way, I came to appreciate the Road King. While a smaller metric would offer more knees scraping the pavement on hard bank turns, the big cruiser was surprisingly smooth for all of its weight and power. It’s a solid, civilized bike offering smooth acceleration and adequate steering capability.
And it’s a good idea to take a civilized machine onto the hallowed ground of Holy Hill and the Hog’s Back.