A million miles from yesterday
Former Wisconsin senator about to make history

By JOE PETRIE - GM Today Staff

April 3, 2009


Former state Sen. David Zien, R-town of Wheaton, poses in front of the state Capitol in Madison. Zien was the first state lawmaker to ride a motorcycle and was known for defending ridersí rights while in office. He helped lead helmet law protests and worked to make Wisconsin the only state to override a governorís veto of a repealed helmet law.


WAUKESHA - For former state Sen. David Zien, R-town of Wheaton, riding a motorcycle has always had a special place in his heart.

He has ridden across the country and back again - several times. He has ridden in hail, sleet, rain and snow. And now he has ridden more than anyone else.

Zien is about to become the first person to ride a Harley-Davidson motorcycle 1 million miles, which might be the most miles ever logged on any bike ever.

"Itís just a spiritual experience riding a motorcycle," he said via phone interview from Mountain Creek, Ga. "Youíre in contact with Mother Nature."

Zien is riding his 1991 FXRT from Florida this week to Halís Harley-Davidson in New Berlin, where heíll officially cross the million-mile mark.

During his time on the bike, Zien has collected numerous riding records, including logging 1,616 miles in 24 hours and riding 3,032 miles in 48 hours and through 48 states in eight days.

The entire time he said he has been saving all of his gas and repair receipts, logging each mile between fill-ups.

Zien said his infatuation with motorcycles began in high school, when he wrote a poem called "Lonely, Wild and Free" in 1966.


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"What got me into motorcycles was that my horse wasnít fast enough," he said. "I started off on a 1962 49CC Montgomery Wardís mo-ped and it has been all motorcycles since then."

During his time as a lawmaker, Zien was known for becoming the first motorcycle-riding lawmaker in Wisconsin, riding his bike from northwestern Wisconsin to the Capitol in Madison religiously. He even rode it there in bad weather.

Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas, who sat next to Zien when both of them were serving in the state Assembly, said his love of riding was downright infectious.

"He got me back riding," Vrakas said. "I remember a few of us went to a conference and we flew there. Dave rode his motorcycle there. I got the bug again after he did that and not too long after I was back riding motorcycles again."

During his rides, Zien has had his share of incidents. He said he has survived four deer-motorcycle collisions, and on the trip to New Berlin he has had several near misses.

He also has seen a few of his fellow riders die.

Itís because of this and the responsibility that a rider must have that Zien said he supports training riders in emergency procedures.

"If thereís a natural disaster or a chemical, biological or nuclear war and thereís massive traffic jams, itís bikers who can get to the front fastest and help save lives," he said. "Itís a tremendous, tremendous asset to society."

Besides the physical dangers encountered by his long rides, Zien has also had to deal with numerous mechanical issues.

On this last leg alone, he said he has had a transmission blow up, spark plug wires go out and on Thursday, the starter in his ignition went out.

Kirk Topel, president of Halís, said his store has done plenty of work on Zienís bike over the years.

During that time, Topel said theyíve put three motors in the bike, one of which got several hundred thousand miles of service - a rare feat for motorcycle engines.

"Dave is just old school. There are few people out there that embrace our sport and get as much enjoyment out of their time in the saddle as he does," Topel said. "Heís one of the old school riders - they ride their bikes almost exclusively. Iíve been involved in the business for many years, and during that time there has been a changing of the guard. But Dave is still old school where he has a default setting in his mind to ride his bike any chance, anywhere."

Once Zien reaches Halís heíll be greeted by numerous enthusiasts and friends to congratulate him on the accomplishment.

But Zien will keep riding after he finishes his journey to 1 million miles, if for nothing else than his health.

"I have a bad heart now, but when Iím on the bike with the vibrations and everything, Iím not under as much stress," Zien said. "So when I keep riding my motorcycle, Iím better and I feel better."

At a glance

Some of Dave Zienís motorcycle accomplishments:

  • Highest motorcycle mileage world record holder
  • Longest distance on a motorcycle world record holder
  • Iron Butt Association member
  • Traveled 48 states in eight days
  • Traveled 1,616 miles in 24 hours
  • Traveled 3,032 miles in 48 hours
  • First motorcycle-riding state legislator
  • Pushed the motorcycle through 45 parades
  • Survived four motorcycle-deer collisions
  • Record holder for most motorcycle rides given
  • Least number of speeding tickets per 100,000-mile increment
  • Inducted into the national Motorcycle Hall of Fame with Peter Fonda

Sources: Dave Zien; the 2005-06 Wisconsin Blue Book


If you go

  • What: David Zienís ride to 1 million
  • Time: noon
  • When: Saturday
  • Where: Halís Harley-Davidson, 1925 S. Moorland Road, New Berlin
  • A possible ride to the Harley-Davidson Juneau plant may follow

E-mail: jpetrie@conleynet.com


This story appeared in The Freeman on  April 3, 2009.