Two French bikers have decided to cross the United States on a 1918 Harley-Davidson that first arrived in France with American troops in World War I.
The two Frenchmen thunder down Interstate 65 on the way to Chicago. Pierre Lauvergeat leads the way at 55mph on a hundred-year-old Harley Davidson. His traveling companion Christophe de Goulaine follows closely behind in a van, acting as Pierre’s (and the motorbike’s) guardian angel to ensure everything runs smoothly. The Harley was built in 1918 and is quite temperamental. “It splutters, smokes, leaks oil, and loses nuts and bolts every now and then,” says Christophe de Goulaine. “A few days ago, we spent 45 minutes on the roadside looking for a piece the size of a thimble.”
The bikers have been taking it in turns with each vehicle since they left Mobile, Alabama, on June 21, and hope to cross the United States. The pair are originally from the Nantes area and are both passionate about restoring vintage vehicles. It took them six months to get the motorbike back up to spec, but the finished product is still “authentic,” according to Christophe de Goulaine. All the pieces on the bike are from 1918, the leather seat is weathered, and the oil pan still bears the inscription “Milwaukee, U.S.A.”
© Christophe de Goulaine/Instagram
The city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is located north of Chicago on the banks of Lake Michigan, and has been home to the Harley-Davidson headquarters since 1903. After Nashville and Indianapolis, this is where the two Frenchmen are heading to take part in the brand’s 115th anniversary celebrations on July 26. And from August 3 through 12 they will be in Sturgis, South Dakota, where they will attend the largest motorycle rally in the United States before taking Route 66 towards Los Angeles.
A 5,000-Mile Ride
“We have already traveled more than 1,100 miles and the bike is holding up well,” says Christophe de Goulaine. The two riders went to the Somme American Cemetery and Memorial in Bony, France, last spring as a sort of pilgrimage to test-drive the bike. “We stood before the 1,844 white marble crosses lined up on the perfectly mowed lawns and truly took stock of the sacrifice these young Americans made. They fell fighting for the freedom of a country that was not even theirs.”
© Olivier Touron/Divergence
The motorbike, nicknamed “Bony” for the trip, has been decorated to champion French-American friendship. The French and American flags adorn the Harley’s mud flaps, and the retro outfits sported by the two bikers – leather jackets, vintage half helmets, and aviator googles – certainly get people’s attention. In Florida, the Jacksonville Harley-Davidson dealership lent the two Frenchmen their workshop for repairs. And in Alabama, a passer-by was quick to offer his pickup to tow the bike when it overheated. “France and America are like an old couple” says Christophe, philosophically. “They love each other, but they forget to say it.”
Biking Down the Champs-Elysées
The two men plan to get back to France on September 17. The last leg will be by plane from Los Angeles, but Bony will be taken home by truck and boat. At the start of the adventure, it was flown over on a cargo plane used to transport parts of the A320 aircraft between Saint-Nazaire and the Airbus factory in Mobile, Alabama. Yet another way of paying homage to the doughboys who landed in France on June 26, 1917.
The two bikers are supported by the Armistice centenary association in France and its U.S. equivalent, the World War I Centennial Commission, and are hoping to ride down the Champs-Elysées as part of the commemoration ceremony in Paris on November 11, 2018. “Homages are more than just a minute of silence in front of a monument to the dead. Our mission is to make some noise to thank the soldiers who fought for France!”