by Zak Shimanski
Age is a figment of the imagination. We really don’t get old, we get wiser, but our soul is always young.” – Dave Zein
Every time Dave Zein and his ’82 Harley-Davidson take to the road, the miles continue to accumulate on a number of his motorcycling World Records. Most miles on a motorcycle, most miles on a Harley, most miles riding with a flag, most miles riding with a tie (one of his trademarks). Start adding up the list and there are well over two dozen records he currently holds. Records that will most likely stand for quite some time.
With that being said, it’s easy to realize the State Senator from Wisconsin is not your typical legislator. While too many politicians are merely talking heads behind a podium, Zein is truly a man of the people – an ally of the citizens and protector of their values. Riding his Harley through the Chippewa Valley with flags waving behind, Zein and his motorcycle are received in a hero-like fashion, yet everyone approaches him as though they are meeting an old friend.
MMM was recently able to catch up to Senator Zein for a discussion before one of his charity rides. From flag-flying to two-wheeled spirituality, Zein shared some of his insights and gave us a close up view of his record shattering bike.
MMM: How long have you held your seat as senator?
DZ: Since 1993. Almost a decade now.
DZ: Actually, it was repealing the Wisconsin mandatory helmet law in 1977. I was Vice President of the Better Bikers Association that was primarily responsible for repealing the law. It was the satisfaction of changing a state law that got me started. I was also active in Veterans legislation. Between the two, that is what took me to where I’m at now.
MMM: So your political path actually began with motorcycles.
DZ: Ever since I’ve been 11 years of age I’ve had a motorcycle. I travel a lot and I speak all over the United States. My Harley as of right now has 563,300 miles, and I’ve got them all documented. I save all my receipts. In fact, just yesterday I spent $1400 repairing the rear tire, brake caliper, brake rotor, rocker box and installing a whole new muffler system. To say the least, this thing gets real expensive.
MMM: I was going to ask how you go about accumulating so many miles. Looks like it takes a lot of work and a lot of money.
DZ: For anyone who’s counting, I hold a number of world records and I always look for challenges and competition. As far as we know my Harley has more miles than any other motorcycle in the world. There is a motorcycle in Europe, a BMW I am told, that has 517,000. Even by the time I get done tonight I’ll have another 200-300 miles added to the record.
MMM: It’s probably good incentive to have somebody on your heals pushing you for the record.
DZ: That bike is actually in a museum, but unless there’s snow on the ground I travel almost entirely by motorcycle. Even in the winter if the roads are dry I’m on it. It’s a way of life for me. I use it exclusively in my senate work – back and forth to Madison once, twice, sometimes a few times a week. Many times instead of getting a hotel room I’ll just come back. It’s only a 190 miles one way. It’s just something that I do heart and soul.
MMM: Is your dedication to motorcycling known throughout the legislature?
MMM: What kind of feedback do you get about that?
DZ: Sometimes it’s negative, but rather than hide from the fact that I’m a biker, I put it right on my calling card and in my newsletter. Often I wear leather jackets and vests, or have dog tags hanging out when I attend an event like today.
Now there’s a lot of other legislators becoming bikers. They might have been bikers and hid it but now they don’t. There’s a dozen legislators in Wisconsin that have a motorcycle license or ride a motorcycle and none of them are as dedicated as I, but they’re coming along.
MMM: Well it’s hard to match dedication like yours. So why the devotion to Harley?
DZ: I just evolved there. I had Yamaha, Honda, Kawasaki, Triumph, Suzuki, BMW, Motoguzzi. I’ve had them all. But with Harley, it’s the mystique and heritage that I like. It’s red-blooded American and it’s made in Wisconsin.
MMM: It seems like riding the bike has helped you connect with voters and the community also.
DZ: Riding is salt of the earth grass roots. You’re out in the elements, challenging the elements every day and you’ve got to learn to subsist with Mother Nature – the rain, the cold, the heat, the sun. All bikers have to be in tune with all of these elements.
MMM: What are some of your favorite rides?
DZ: The Sturgis rally is probably my favorite and I can’t get enough of the Black Hills. Otherwise, I love Iron Butts. I love riding 1,000 or 1,500 miles in 24 hours. In fact, in honor of Flag Day there’s a dozen of us that are going to do 1,000 miles within the Wisconsin borders. We’re checking to see if we qualify for the world record for miles inside the state and also largest number of square footage of flags. I alone will be carrying 64 square feet of flag that day. We’ll start at 4:00am and try to get done by midnight. The hook is to have the most square footage every flown from a motorcycle in the United States on Flag Day.
MMM: Are you going to be able to pass the 600,000 milestone on this bike?
DZ: This year easily. For a reserve fuel supply, I’ll just slap on another tank and I’ll get 275-300 miles a tank rather than 120. I always carry my heated vest and socks because I ride in the cold all the time. Everyone thinks I’m crazy, but I’m not, I’m just a wimp. I don’t like to get cold.
MMM: Any chance of the bike making it to a million miles?
DZ: I don’t know about that.
MMM: Can you show me some of the special features of this bike?
DZ: Jay Leno likes this the best. I rode right alongside him and Peter Fonda at the 90th anniversary of Harley-Davidson. (Points to quote painted on the bike). “Beat me with a stick. Whip me with a belt. Flog me with chains hardened with cold tempered steel. Crush me with huge boulders dropped from a 70 foot crane, but don’t dare deny me my Harley.” Jay Leno just laughed and laughed and laughed when he read that one.
MMM: It must be nice to cross paths with the likes of Jay Leno and Peter Fonda.
DZ: I nominated Jay into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame and he gets inducted in August. Secretary Tommy Thompson from Wisconsin goes in the same day. Two years ago Peter Fonda and I were inducted on the same day and the master of ceremonies was Branscombe Richmond (from the TV series Renegade). He and I are supposed to lead the ride to the Black Hills and Crazy Horse this summer, but I’ve got an election coming up so I can’t be dinglydangin’ around.
MMM: What does it take for someone to log so many miles?
DZ: I believe that bikers have an altered state of consciousness. When riding an Iron Butt after 600-700 miles in a day, you don’t know where your machine start or ends, like you’re in a cloud.
I feel strongly that motorcyclists are in contact with spiritual transcendence. Whenever I speak, I talk about the United States flag. The new US flag code in 1974 says that it’s a living thing. We know that it has a spiritual transcendence that connects with all of those that have ever lived, loved, honored and cherished freedom, even before the great American Revolution. (Dave shows one of the flags waving from the back of his bike). This flag is the first flag of the United States – “Don’t tread on me”. In 1754 Benjamin Franklin said “We compare ourselves to that creature that will not strike unless it’s molested. Once it’s molested the results are swift, silent and deadly. That is the flag and symbol that took our country from disunity to defiance in the United States of America. It means less government. It means that foreign terrorists from across the ocean that choose to butcher our non-combatant women and children, like what took place on September 11th, had better think twice. It’s a very strong, patriotic flag.
Bottom line, I feel that motorcyclists are in contact with that spiritual transcendence. We don’t know what the human soul is. We know it has color and wing. We don’t know how big the universe is but we know of 250 billion galaxies – millions of stars on each galaxy. We don’t know how small the universe is but we now know of 200 levels smaller than the neutron, electron and proton. We think the universe is infinitely small, just as it is large.
How this relates to spiritual transcendence is that we’re all inter-connected. With every breath we take we breathe in 150 million air molecules. (Dave takes two long deep breaths). With every breath we take, statistics have proven that we breathe in one air molecule that Jesus breathed when he was on earth for those 32 to 37 years. What that says about spiritual-transcendence is that we’re all interconnected.
When you’re motorcycling and when you’re on that road and you feel that wind and freedom, that’s just a part of it.
MMM: What lies in your future?
DZ: I’m just going to keep riding. Politically, I’m the main author in Wisconsin for conceal and carry personal protection legislation. I’m also the main author in an effort to name five highways and two bridges.
One highway that all the other highways radiate from is Wave the American Eagle. (Highway 35 right along the Mississippi River). The idea was started by bikers who wanted a highway. We just can’t call it a motorcycle or a Harley-Davidson Highway, so bikers are spearheading the effort to incorporate all the organizations and people that utilize the American eagle – Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, NRA, Harley-Davidson, Honda – everyone uses the eagle as a symbol. That’s one of my main pieces of legislation that I would like to see passed.
Otherwise, in my future I just want to love life to the fullest, ride a lot of motorcycle and help people. I love meeting new people, helping them fulfill their full potential and visiting new places. As you’ve seen today, every visit I make I always find a great group of people and I look forward to meeting more and more.