In the Flint Hills Discovery Center’s latest traveling exhibit, guests can feel as if they’re hitting the wide open road — whether they’re actually a biker or not.
“Hands-On Harley-Davidson” allows children to step into a small-scale Harley-Davidson dealership, customize their own motorcycle, take a virtual ride through a simulator and learn the basics of how engines work, the rules of the road and bike maintenance.
It also has an interactive section focusing on the science that propels motorcycles, from acceleration and speed to friction and gravity.
“You’ve got the history and the heritage and the allure of Harley-Davidson motorcycles (on one side) and over here, you’re learning the hard science of the physics of acceleration, gravity and momentum,” Stephen Bridenstine, curator of education at the Discovery Center, said. “When you ride a bike, it’s so much more obvious how those things are playing out in what you’re doing versus in a car. You have to maintain your balance, you can feel the motor ... It’s physics in action.”
The exhibit is sponsored by Harley-Davison and was designed by the nonprofit Betty Brinn Children’s Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Harley Davidson is based.
Bridenstine said exhibits such as these show younger generations that science is everywhere, and letting kids interact with STEM topics in an informal and hands-on learning context allows them to become exposed to these topics outside of a classroom setting. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“Hopefully it also opens them up to the idea that there are future career paths in this,” Bridenstine said, “that when you’re working with a motorcycle (you think), ‘Boy, there are a lot of jobs that are all around that motorcycle,’ from designing it, building it, maintaining it, and even just getting kids exposed to some of the harder sciences that come into play when you’re riding a motorcycle.”
The exhibit doesn’t solely cater to children, however. Some of the Discovery Center’s partners include Russ Briggs of Briggs Auto, who loaned three vintage motorcycles from his personal collection, and the Evel Knievel Museum at Historic Harley-Davidson in Topeka.
In the other half of the Tallgrass Gallery, guests can view up close a commemorative Evel Knievel Harley, a 1913 Board Track motorcycle and an XR-750 Harley, learning the history behind their use.
Susan Adams, director of the Discovery Center, said some people may not think of the immediate ties Harley-Davidson has to the Flint Hills, but riding bikes through the area is a “huge” business and culture.
“You don’t think about it being in the Flint Hills, but it is a subject matter here, and more than anything, I think our focus is always just to bring new thoughts to our community that also are great educational opportunities,” she said. Adams said the Discovery Center has additional events planned over the next few months to coincide with the exhibit, one of which is encouraging people to explore other motorcycle museums across the state.
“I think there’s a lot of things for kids and parents, even adults, to get engaged with, and I think that’s what we’re really trying to focus on,” she said.
“Hands-On Harley-Davidson” is on display until Sept. 12.