Bikes And Brews
Article By: John Kelly
Photo By: John Kelly & Bob Novak
Originally Published In The August 2016 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
Great beer, a good cause and killer location made for a successful second annual Bikes at the Brewery bike show. Fifteen years ago the LaCrosse Boot Company stopped production at it’s LaCrosse, WI plant. About the same time local brewer Joe Katchever, of Pearl Street Brewery, started making some of the area’s finest micro beers. Today the former LaCrosse Boot factory is home to the Pearl Street Brewery and host to the Bikes at the Brewery Show. Organizer, Jim Whistleman, chose LaCrosse because it has a good central location to Milwaukee, the Twin Cities and Dubuque. All kickin’ cities that have a good scene when it comes horsepower and hanging on. Jim grew up around cars, trucks, aircraft and bikes. His first bike was a military 45 cu. in., still in the crate and coated in Cosmoline. Jim works as a photographer covering car and bike shows; you may have seen some of his work on the pages of Rod and Custom, Ironworks, Ol’ Skool Rodz and others. He also advises other show organizers on how to bring in more bikes, and from the spread at this show a great variety too.
Jim knew the perfect ingredients for a great bike show. One is noble cause. All proceeds from the show went to the Sprout for Kids foundation, a foundation that assists the Boys and Girls Club, YMCA, Hunger Task Force and the alike. Then add a killer location like the top floor of a brewery. To get from the bike entrance to the venue, you paddled your bike down a long corridor. The building’s history filled the air with the essence of industry as you made your way to the service elevator. Once loaded the safety gates came down and up to four bikes at a time were transported to the third floor. Bikes at the Brewery gave you that feeling of being part of something bigger. Tall pane glass windows, giant pillars and hanging fixtures surrounded the rows of bikes. This place once hustled with hum of electric motors and assembly lines. The day of the show folks walked the worn wooden floors in a much slower shuffle. Down one row was a line of board track racers. You could imagine a time racers hunched over these slender machines, setting the pace for the future of motorcycle racing. The aisle behind that featured long bikes, raked bikes, shovel heads, pan heads, kick start, flashy paint, no paint all balls hand built choppers. Late in the show and after a Pearl Street beer or two a few of those bikes even got lit up. It might not have been after the first kick but once those straight pipes cracked fire it was enough to torment a hurricane.
For most of us it had been late Fall since we last heard a bike, glasses were raised, for this Winter too would come to an end. A couple vintage knuckles near the stairwell stood as a testament to riding. Nothing flashy, nothing restored, only repairs when needed and signs of oil leaks and rust dated the machines to their true age. Along the West wall slick cafés and garage built girders sat next to a front sprung Triumph. To capture the day photographer Bob Novak of www.bobnoodle.com set up a couple lights and invited riders the chance of a mini photoshoot. Down on the first floor and late into the night lovely ladies served up cold Pearl Street beers. Big Bore Smokers kept everyone fed with their signature smoked pulled pork and when I asked Jim how he picked the venue he said, “It is a cool old factory with a history and the Brewery owners are friends.” Jim supports a variety of charities himself so giving all the proceeds to the Sprout for Kids Foundation was a natural fit. Jim wanted to make sure to thank all the sponsors, volunteers and attendees; Bikes at the Brewery was the motorcycle fix we sick cycle heads needed to hold us over until Spring.