I own a Harley. It’s not a big Harley. In fact it’s the smallest one they currently make. Well, not the smallest in size (there’s one made lower for near-midgets), but it has the smallest motor on a Harley.
I was about to get all defensive and say that it was the original ‘bad ass’ model that all the, well, bad asses owned because it was lighter and faster than the big stuff, but I’m not going to say that because it sounds defensive. It would also come across all defensive if I pointed out that its a moderate heroin syringe short of 900cc and therefore bigger than most bikes around so I’ll avoid that altogether. Because, you know, I don’t want to sound defensive.
I bought it because it’s the oldest model platform still in production and while it is nothing like the originals it retains the same lines and silhouettes and I like that about it too. It keeps the ethic of the American of the time of its first production and while the Americans never fail to disappoint me there is something in their design paradigm of that time that fascinates and draws me in. Also, it was all that I could afford at the time. Well, in fairness, it’s probably as much as I will ever be able to afford. The guys with the Softtails and Road Kings tell me that it’s a girls bike; but I think that they just have an acute awareness of their poorly proportioned penises.
The question on most people’s minds (and certainly the one most often asked) is “what did you buy a Harley for?”. For fifty grand less you could have got something Japanese (a.k.a ‘rice bike’ or ‘metric bike’). A ninja warrior dragon serpent panther plutonium something or other.
The problem with 99% of other makes is that they have no sense of pantomime. There’s very little history or bloodline. The oldest bike manufacturer still in operation at 110 years old and run by the founding family Harley Davidson has a pedigree that is unequalled.
Surely if life has taught us anything it is that being the fastest person between two points is probably the least enjoyable way to go through life. It’s not about how long it takes you to get there, it’s about how you get there. That’s another thing about a Harley. ‘There’ is an abstract concept. Harley riders don’t bother about getting ‘there’. When you ride for the pure freedom of experience getting ‘there’ means that every reason for you to ride ends. Metric bikers (OK, work it out, Harley’s are American and therefore have parts and specification in the old imperial classifications) have to get ‘there’ because if you don’t go from ‘here’ to ‘there’ how and when will you tell your mates how long it took you to get from ‘here’ to ‘there’?
Riding a Harley is to dwell in the abstract where ‘here’ and ‘there’ and ‘how long’ and ‘how fast’ become secondary to the journey. Or something like that.
Of course it attract the posers who put on 100km a year but double the cost (not value) of their bikes every year by bolting on ridiculous accessories and whose experience is secondary to the amount of light that is reflected off their ‘customisations’.
Having said that though, this is where the pantomime comes in. There is a feeling second to none in putting on leather, starting up a bike with an exhaust noise that makes windows rattle and makes old ladies more than a touch anxious, sitting in that aggressive upright and slightly hunched forward riding position with feet apart out in front, fists up high and facing the oncoming wind like it’s a barrier to be pushed aside through sheer force of will (and a team of angry horses spitting fire beneath you).
It’s a feeling that takes one’s inner child right back to its youth, when pretending to be a gunslinging cowboy badass rebel muthafucker was the holy grail of school holiday daydreams. Where you struck the match for you Marlboro plain on the side of a parking meter and never, ever drank your beer out of a glass and chased it with double shots of bourbon. Well, mine at least.
On any given Sunday the lawyers, accountants, shopkeepers, clerks, actuaries, parents of snotty, whining, ritalin ingesting, ungrateful kids and people of similar mundane occupations get to shake off the profound banality of their wasted lives to don leather and boots and skull tee shirts and pull on almost illegal open-faced helmets with cowboy bandannas over their faces to keep bees and bugs out of their breathing holes. They point their ridiculously heavy, over powered, over priced, over decorated iron horses in the general direction of the horizon and for a few hours lose themselves in a fantasy world free of tax returns, SUVs, under 10 cricket matches, e-mail and meeting agendas.
This is the great Harley Davidson pantomime. Where you can be what you were born to be; free, unencumbered by social dictates and for a few hours a gunslinging cowboy badass rebel muthafucker. You know, until you have to go pick up the kids and get ready for work in the morning.