THE CHURCH OF HARLEY
Generally, motorcyclists are a friendly bunch among ourselves. We all wave to each other as we pass on the road no matter what brand we happen to be on. It has to do with the unique nature of what we do, I suppose. We feel a special kinship.
From my lifelong experience as a rider, this kinship is even stronger among Harley riders. There is an undeniable sense of brotherhood and passion within this particular manufacturer. It’s hard to explain or quantify. It just is. You ride a Harley? You’re in the club. The brand-loyalty is amazing. You know that other Harley riders would do anything for you simply because you ride the same kind of bike. This is no illusion either. And it’s more than a little comforting on a long trip.
The Harley mystique is unreal. It extends beyond regular owners. Whenever I’m traveling and stop – at a rest area, for instance or even just for gas – people will invariably come up and talk to me out of the blue. It’s kind of amusing. They tell me their Harley stories; oh, and everybody’s got one. Sometimes it seems like everyone on the planet either knows someone who rides a Harley or they themselves “used to ride” one. Either way, they’re enthusiastic about the brand. (This did not happen much on any of the Kawasaki motorcycles I’ve owned.) I always listen politely, even if I really need to get back out on the road.
A lot of times, people will know enough about Harleys to know that a Sportster is, err, not the optimum bike for “touring.” They’ll raise an eyebrow (sometimes both) and say, “You’re coming from WHERE? And you’re going WHERE?! On THAT???” The implication is that you’d have to be crazy to take a long-distance trip on a Sportster. And maybe I am.
On the way home, I pulled into a gas station in Jackson, Wyoming just south of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National parks. Just as I was taking my helmet off another Harley rider roared in and stopped on the other side of the pumps. Young guy, scraggly beard, big “gauges” in his earlobes. He really looked the part.
“GODDAMN that was the worst mistake I’ve ever made!” he bellowed, directing the comment at me as if it was the continuation of a conversation we’d already been having.
I chuckled and said, “What?” even though I was pretty sure I knew what he meant.
“Going through Yellowstone. What a friggin’ mistake!”
He was heading west, to California; I was heading east. For some reason we both ended up going south through Yellowstone, stuck in the same heavy traffic, he a mile or so behind me. As we filled our tanks we compared notes and commiserated on our poor choice of routes, chatting like old friends. And in a way we were. We finished tanking up, got our receipts and went our separate ways.
Further along, down in Mississippi I pulled into a truck stop/gas station. Four younger-than-me Harley riders followed me in: Two guys on Sportsters and two on Big Twins. The Sportsters were both older and highly customized – very nice bikes but not ones that I’d take on a long trip. We fueled the bikes and de-fueled ourselves and then replenished the lost body fluids. (Their beverage of choice was beer; mine was Powerade.) Afterward they came over to look at my Sportster, which by now was looking mighty road-weary. It was way dirty and buggy and leaking oil from a small seal that had failed on the shifter shaft that sticks out from the side case (since repaired).
It is most strange. We stood around chatting for a while, again, like we were all old buddies. We had this instant rapport. They were headed from south Mississippi up to Birmingham, Alabama to meet a friend of theirs who was returning – riding alone – from the big annual Harley get-together in Sturgis, South Dakota. Then they were all going to ride back south together. It was a fairly long ride, but the guys were acting like it was a walk in the park.
I like being a motorcyclist. I especially like being a Harley rider. You can’t beat the camaraderie and fellowship. It’s like being a member of a church. And for some, in a way I guess it is.