One of the Chicago area’s coolest businesses – if you’re a gearhead, that is – is Wild Fire Harley-Davidson, located in Villa Park. That’s because this place doesn’t just sell Harleys. Wild Fire rents bikes, too, so it sells the whole Harley experience.

Didn’t know that you could rent a motorbike? It’s true! Wild Fire offers one of the largest motorcycle rental fleets in the Midwest, and you can try out pretty much any Harley-Davidson model in existence. And you’re not just test-driving. You can take your rental bike on some of Illinois’ most interesting roads.

Sure, you might like to zoom down Lake Shore Drive, but Wild Fire – and the four other Harley-Davidson dealers in this area – suggest some different drives that are more off the beaten path. This isn’t just because of the scenery. Taking these routes means winding roads with less traffic. You’ll make more stops at restaurants you’d normally speed past, take back roads through tiny towns, and meet all sorts of interesting people.

Specifically, the dealers recommend a quick jaunt to Starved Rock State Park, less than two hours south and west of Chicago, where you can enjoy natural landscapes that include canyons and trails with waterfalls. This is a low-congestion ride with some twists and turns as you get close to the park, and is close to Kettle Moraine State Park and Ottawa, IL. You could also ride out to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, about an hour and a half north, through rolling farmland. Stop at local fruit stands and diners and enjoy unique shopping downtown.

Another great small trip is Milwaukee, home to the Harley Davidson Museum and the nearby Iron Horse Hotel, which features a motorcycle elevator just for your ride. Or go north to the small town of Oregon, Illinois along the Rock River and through Lowden State Park – this is a route with lots of small towns, cool rock formations, and ravines.

wildfire1The south suburbs of Chicago also herald the beginning of old Route 66. You can drive all the way to California along the “Mainstreet of America,” over 2,400 miles and eight states. This gateway to the west features many of the old classic roads, restaurants, gas stations, and landmarks just as they were in the 1950s, making this the ultimate American road trip.

A motorcycle is a fantastic way to see the country, because experiencing America without closed windows brings the experience to a more personal level. And yes, you can do this on rented motorbikes. Wild Fire Harley-Davidson offers bikes for the day, for a weekend, or for a long trip. Bikes are easy to store anywhere because they’re small, require no upkeep, and require just five gallons of gas at a time. And you can share the ride with a small group of people, which makes it even more fun.

Nervous about riding? Wild Fire offers four-day safety courses (two evenings, two days of riding) called the Riding Academy. This course is perfect for new riders or others who need a refresher. The classes will teach you proper riding position, balance, elbow placement, and how to anticipate. This is a perfect way for international and more local travelers to learn and gain confidence (international licenses do work in the U.S.).

Of course, one danger with renting motorcycles is that you fall in love with both the bike and the lifestyle. Wild Fire has seen it happen many times, with people who make purchases based on a new-found passion, and cancel their plane tickets to ride home instead. Or, people have friends drive their cars back while they ride. Wild Fire can ship to other cities, however, so that makes the process simple. Trying out a motorcycle is easy with rentals.

Wild Fire Harley-Davidson, at 120 North Ave. in Villa Park, can be found online at www.wildfirehd.com. Call 630-834-6571 for information.

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