By NANCY K. OWENS
What images come to mind when you hear the words “Harley Davidson?” The adventure of the open road? Peter Fonda in “Easy Rider?” Hell’s Angels? The word “hog?” Often, rather than picturing the robust piece of chrome and power itself, the words Harley Davidson conjure up images of freedom and adventurous feelings. For 102 years, the Harley Davidson motorcycle, with its singular purring roar, has inspired people from all walks of life to “embrace the thrill of the great unknown” as it is described on www.harley-davidson.com.
From the beginning in 1903, the unique engine sound endeared the Harley-Davidson to its owners. According to http://www.loc.gov/ rr/scitech/harley100/, “The Harley’s pistons connected to its crankshaft in a way that caused the motor to give two “pops” then a quiet pause as it hummed along the road.” Harley’s continue to hum along roads all over the world. There are official H.O.G. (Harley Owners Group) Clubs in the United States and 21 countries with nearly 1 million members.
These members are a diverse group, hailing from many countries. They are blue-collar union workers, white-collar professionals, mothers and grandparents. They come from all walks of life and find affiliation in owning a Harley and being a member of H.O.G.
H.O.G. began in the 1980s. Each H.O.G. is dealer-sponsored and anyone who owns a Harley can join. Not being an exclusive group, anyone who has a friend who owns a Harley can join as an associate. “The H.O.G. philosophy,” says Johnny McClanahan, general manager, Myers-Duren Harley-Davidson, “is the more the merrier. We are not a snobby group. Our main objective is to ride and have fun.”
Fun is fun, but Harley riders also support charity. They hold a popular annual ride to raise money for multiple sclerosis. Other events include regular group rides, dinner rides, the Groundhog Ride, the Shamrock Parade and the Temperature Ride (riders go one mile for every degree of temperature).
The Myers-Duren H.O.G. chapter has about 900 riders and 25 percent are fairly active. As McClanahan puts it, “We’ll find any excuse to ride and have fun.”
This dedication begs the question: what is the allure of a Harley Davidson? The answer? The Harley lifestyle. Harley Davidson motorcycles offer much more than a ride down the highway.
McClanahan comments, “Over the years biker gangs and movies have formed an image of the Harley rider and the Harley lifestyle. It is an adventurous person filled with wanderlust and a free spirit, a person who wants to escape the hectic pace of modern life. Riding a Harley is a great form of therapy.” He adds, “People want a taste of this. They want to be part of the Harley community and be involved in what’s happening: going on rides, going to events and just hanging out.”
“Just hanging out” is, indeed, a popular activity among Harley owners. A person who takes a drive down Peoria Avenue into Brookside on any given Saturday finds a sea of Harley’s neatly lined up in the parking lot at Crow Creek Tavern. When the weather is pleasant, all sorts of people fill the chairs outside, talking, laughing and enjoying the camaraderie unique to the H.O.G. subculture.
Megan Cleveland, manager of the Crow Creek Tavern, describes the atmosphere as laid back. “Crow Creek is a biker-friendly bar,” she says. “Every Friday and Saturday night when we have a band, if you own a motocycle and ride it over here you don’t have to pay the $3 cover.”
She notes that the bikers at Crow Creek are predominantly Harley owners. When asked why, she says, “I don’t really know. They started coming here and word got around I guess. The Blue Rose used to be across the street. They all used to hang out there. It closed, and they all migrated over here. We’re glad to have them.”
She mentions the heaters on the patio for cold winter days, the lack of a curb in front of the bar for easy bike access, and she adds, “We know all the riders by name. We easily have a hundred or so bikers here on the weekends and we know them all. They all get along great, the doctors, the businessmen and the hard-core bikers – they just hang out here and have fun.” She mentions a popular biker named Mike. “He’s famous around here. We call him the Mayor of Brookside and everyone knows him. He is a ‘real biker dude.’”
Preconceptions about Harley owners are based on images evoked in Hollywood movies and, to a degree, images evoked by the exploits of the Hell’s Angels. At first glance it makes sense to be kind of curious about the number of professionals gathered at Crow Creek “hangin” with the other, what some would call, “real Harley riders.” After observing the crowd at Crow Creek for awhile, it becomes obvious that there is no typical Harley owner. They really do represent a broad demographic, a myriad of personalities brought together by their appreciation for the adventure of the open road and sharing their experiences.
But it hasn’t always been this way. According to McClanahan, “In the last 10 or 15 years, more professionals have joined H.O.G. This is because, starting in the 1980s, famous people such as rock stars and celebrities started riding Harleys. Even Malcolm Forbes had a garage filled with Harleys. He took an entourage and their Harleys with him to the former Soviet Union and they rode there.” The barrier was officially broken.
Malcolm Forbes owning a Harley gives it the businessman’s stamp of approval for quality. Quality costs money. But McClanahan notes, “People often think that Harleys are really expensive, but prices are reasonable.” The smaller Sportster, a good beginner’s bike, starts at $6,995. The Dyna, a good bike for middle level riders, starts at $13,195 and the large Harleys like the Electraglide, suitable for those who can handle a heavy bike, starts at $16,395. These prices include shipping and setup. Customizing bikes with chrome and other features is always an option and will add to the initial cost. For really dedicated riders, gear such as heated jackets, pants and boots are also available for cold weather rides.
When asked about Harley-Davidson’s influence on culture McClanahan offers the following insight, “Harley-Davidson is like Coca-Cola or Chevrolet. Harley represents America and what we are about: freedom and a democratic spirit.”
It’s not surprising, then, that many people all over the United States and throughout the world can capture a piece of America every time they get on their Harley-Davidson.