The Twin Cities-based New Glory Flag Bike Team has reached Dubuque, Iowa, by now, but the seven Harley-Davidson riders will be back soon. And at least one of them has a question for you:
How come nobody's invited them yet for July 4th?
"Seems kind of funny that we don't have anything," said Bill Fischer of Minnetonka, one of six Harley owners escorting team captain Chris Hawver on a three-day riding event through Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin.
I'll say. Is there anything about the New Glory Flag Bike Team (www.newgloryflagbike.org) that doesn't scream July 4th parade to you? Actually, the New Glory Flag Bike Team is a parade, which is pretty much what its creators intended.
Last Memorial Day, several members of the Wild Prairie Harley Owners Group, most of them retired, joined 300,000 bikers on an annual ride to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Riding back, they began to think big, really big, about what they could create to honor the troops.
It helped, Hawver said, that he'd inhaled "a lot of asbestos as a kid." The first iteration was a not terribly sturdy secondary frame attached to Hawver's 2000 Low Rider with wire, tape and radiator hose clamps. Onto that frame the men installed 50 American flags, 10 of them measuring 3 feet by 5 feet and another 40 much smaller. Still, that's 30,000 square inches of red, white and blue. An additional flag with their new name flies in front.
All of this led to ... "perilous driving," Hawver said.
"It became the Christmas tree that no one wanted to take down," added rider John Garley. "We never built it to last."
Back to the drawing board, located in the man-cave/detached garage of Hawver's lovely home tucked away in a Minnetonka cul-de-sac.
The second-generation flag bike is structurally sound, constructed with welded steel. Still, the flags are always secured inside individual casings when Hawver is riding on highways and roads at speeds of 40 miles per hour or faster. The flags flutter freely at about 25 mph, for parades, charity and sports events and military sendoffs.
The men don't charge for their appearances.
They proudly note that bikers are, historically, a philanthropic bunch, offering donations of time and money to everything from muscular dystrophy to diabetes awareness to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Each team member is assigned a special role. Garley, of Minneapolis, is charged with "snap and polish choreography," to make sure the men "look like a unit, instead of cattle."
Dave Neitzel, of Apple Valley, is on accessories procurement. Boyd Uppman, of Chaska, oversees flag protocol, making sure, for one thing, that the flags never touch the ground.
Fischer, though, has been tapped with the most essential role in keeping the men moving forward.
"Pie and coffee."
They've done about 18 events so far, to surprised and delighted crowds.
"Kids point with awe," said Hawver who, like his teammates, always wears a helmet (except when he forgot to put one on for our photo shoot).
"Their parents' mouths drop open," he said. "Veterans salute."
Veterans are at the heart of this venture. The team includes Tom Ask of Deephaven and Duane Meyer of Chaska, both Vietnam vets. The team's current ride supports the Diamond Posse, a team of five women riders heading to Milwaukee for Harley-Davidson's May 2010 Women Riders event.
The Diamond Posse was founded by nurse and EMT Vicki Sanfelipo, who shares the Flag Bike's mission of honoring the troops.
Among Diamond Posse riders is a U.S. Air Force master sergeant who battled back from post-traumatic stress disorder, an amputee and a military motorcycle safety trainer.
The two groups are meeting up Thursday in Dubuque and will ride together for the next few days. A film crew is following their journey for an upcoming documentary.
The Flag Bike Team is scheduled to lead the Twin Cities Tour de Tonka bicycle ride in August.
They have high hopes of participating in the 76th annual Hopkins Raspberry Festival Parade in mid-July.
And the 2010 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. And the 2011 Rose Bowl Parade.
But, mostly, they're revving up for something on July 4th.
Gail Rosenblum • 612-673-7350 • firstname.lastname@example.org
øHARLEYS FROM B1