Early Motorcycle Hillclimb Photos

This Jeff Decker sculpture of a hillclimber in the throes of attempting control (and losing) graces the plaza of the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee. It is a mammoth bronze piece. At 150% scale, it is gigantic, weighing over 5,000 pounds and standing at 16 feet. It is heroic; showing a rider that is dextrous, brave, and almost impossibly flexible. He struggles to control the machine that it uncontrollable; on a racing surface that is rough and unstable and constantly shifting. It’s a brilliant capture of an amazing, if inelegant, moment.

It’s the inelegance of it that I love about it. This is no proud victory posing with his laurels and receiving a kiss from the girl awarding a trophy; it isn’t a stoic lone biker rocketing across a desert highway; it is a competitor struggling to take his machine up the hill—and he is falling. Struggling to regain control, but almost certainly beyond the tipping point, the sculpture captures the instant before failure. It is a unconventional moment to showcase, but one that I think exemplifies the spirit of competition, and the determination of the competitor.

Shortly after the unveiling, there was criticism that this was a fanciful interpretation of the hillclimb. Many suggested that the events didn’t achieve this level of acrobatics or drama, and this was simply another artist’s flight of fancy in turning the mundane into the heroic. Several years have passed, and Jeff Decker recently showed some images on his blog that showcase that, if anything, his sculpture didn’t go far enough to capture the bravery of the early hillclimbers. Looking at these images, I’m inclined to believe him. Head over to his blog to see the complete gallery.



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