Dave Zien is the assistant Republican leader in the Wisconsin state senate. But his zest for two-wheel adventure rivals his passion for politics. Zien, a 53-year old Vietnam veteran now in his eighth term in the legislature, says he has probably chalked up more miles on his 1991 Harley-Davidson than any other motorcycle on record.
There is no official registry of motorcycle mileage, but Zien's Harley-Davidson FXRT Sport Glide has a staggering 688,700 miles on its odometer and is still going strong. In fact, Zien said he broke a long-distance motorcycle riding record this summer by riding 31,111 miles in 31 days. He hopes to have his accomplishment recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Zien said he did the marathon trip, dubbed by him the American Freedom Warrior Journey, to promote the freedom-loving lifestyle he has championed as a state legislator.
Since his first election to public office in the state Assembly in 1988 and continuing since his election to the state Senate in 1993, Zien, who represents the Eau Claire area, said he has fought to reduce taxes, limit the size of government and protect personal freedoms.
He is the main author of two amendments to the state constitution. The first, approved in 1998, codified the right of Badger State residents to keep and bear arms. Zien's second addition to the basic document was approved in April 2003 and enshrined the right to hunt and fish.
Zien said the main purpose of his record-breaking motorcycle ride, which took him throughout the continental United States, was to get publicity for the Highways and Bridges of Honor Act, which would rename five state highways and two bridges to honor police, firefighters and "citizen soldiers."
He expects the state senate to take up the legislation this week.
Zien rode through all 48 continental states in the first eight days of his iron-man journey, but he only wore a helmet in six states, and then only after police pulled him over.
"I will maintain until I go to the grave that (helmets) restrict vision, hearing and mobility and in an accident the chinstrap acts as a hangman's noose and a fulcrum point severing or severely injuring the spinal cord," said Zien, who helped lead a successful effort to repeal Wisconsin's mandatory motorcycle helmet law.
Zien's passion for motorcycle riding and public battles to protect cyclists' rights has earned him a place in the motorcycle Hall of Fame in Sturgis, North Dakota. But those traits have also gotten him branded as a "renegade" and "maniac" in some recent newspaper editorials, he said.
"People misrepresented a lot of what I was doing on the American Freedom Fighters Journey," because they couldn't get past the outlaw stereotype associated with bikers, Zien said.
During his record-breaking ride this summer, Zien said he had to use creative methods to stay alert during his daily 1,000-mile rides.
"My worst problem on this trip was heat stroke. To fight that I put bags of ice in my lap, I'd keep my mouth full of ice, I'd fill my boots full of ice and put ice down my pants and shirt," Zien said.