Skip to comments.Hogs in Havana: Harley aficionados keep American classics on Cuban roads
Posted on 01/22/2007 1:23:31 PM PST by martin_fierro
Hogs in Havana: Harley aficionados keep American classics on Cuban roads
by Patrick Moser 1 hour, 59 minutes ago
HAVANA (AFP) - Unable to get original parts because of a 45-year-old US embargo, Harley-Davidson aficionados resort to ingenuity and Soviet truck parts to keep the decades-old US classics on Cuban roads.
Cuban fans, said to include Ernesto Guevarra, a son of the famed revolutionary leader known as "Che", estimate there are about 100 Harleys left in the communist-run state, all of them pre-dating 1960 and most still running.
"It's a struggle keeping them alive; you have to invent parts and invest a lot of time and money," says Sergio Morales, covered in grease but glowing with pride as he looks over a shiny 1949 Harley-Davidson Panhead restored to its former splendor.
Working in a Havana backyard that serves as a clandestine Harley garage he and three other mechanics fine-tune the 750 cc engine, which still has all its original parts.
As they work, the bike's owner chats with a fellow enthusiast who parked his 1947 military-green Knucklehead in the yard. A couple of kickstarts gets the 1,000 cc engine running with the distinctive roar that is music to the ears of Harley-lovers, known here as "Harlistas."
A couple of loud bangs send flames through the exhaust and cause a neighbor's pigs to squeal loudly, a fitting cacophony for the legendary motorcycles often referred to as hogs, a nickname that is also an acronym for Harley Owners Group.
The Knucklehead sports a headlamp that once belonged to a Soviet truck, a 1950 Panhead parked nearby runs with a piston cannibalized from a Moto-Guzzi motorcycle, and a custom three-wheeler was put together from a variety of parts, some home-made and others adapted.
Because the US embargo against the Caribbean island state makes it impossible to import spare parts, Harlistas have learned to make do with what is available, modifying parts from other bikes, cars, trucks and farm machinery, and using plenty of imagination,
"Tourists who see our bikes, including members of Harley clubs abroad, sometimes tell us we are heroes," says Morales.
But for the local bikers the true star was the late pioneer of Cuba's own Harley preservation methods, known as "Pepe Milesimo" -- which translates as "Minutia Pepe" -- for his mechanical precision. Every year, a handful of bikers ride to the Havana cemetery where he is buried to pay homage to the Harley hero.
The enthusiasts try their best to preserve their rides' original engine, and speak in awe of those Harleys that have kept running for more than five decades with little more than careful maintenance.
They also point out their passion for the classics is not just a hobby in a country struggling with a severe shortage of both public and private transportation.
"Cuba is a natural laboratory for Harley-Davidson, since the bikes are still running even though no spare parts can be had," said Morales, 56, who sported a grease-stained T-shirt proclaiming, in English: "Gentlemen, start your engines."
Harlistas tend to be well-mannered middle-aged men with little in common with the bad-boy image of bikers elsewhere, but say they do face some prejudice.
"Many people believe the US-made bike is a symbol of US policy. We try to demonstrate this has nothing to do with politics," said Morales. "We are serious people; it is not like other places where people use their bikes to cruise and get drunk."
Cuba stopped importing Harleys after the 1959 revolution that brought the now-ailing President Fidel Castro to power.
But Harlista legend has it that as many of 100 of the motorcycles, once used by dictator Fulgencio Batista's police force, were buried decades ago and are waiting to be discovered.
"It could be true, we don't know," says Morales, who rides a 1950 Panhead with a sidecar rebuilt over a Soviet chassis to resemble the original three-wheeler.
His wife says she is comfortable behind the handlebars, but bursts out laughing when asked if her husband lets her borrow his bike.
"There is a little machismo here," says Morales. "In our group, we don't like women to ride."
"It's not the tradition in Cuba," he says, grinning.
A group of Cuban Harley-lovers, known here as "Harlistas," waits for friends on a Havana street, 20 January 2007. Unable to get original parts because of a 45-year-old US embargo, Harley-Davidson aficionados resort to ingenuity and Soviet truck parts to keep the decades-old US classics on Cuban roads.(AFP/File/Adalberto Roque)
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Ciclos dispensadores de aceite
You get your very own PING, ya Drama Queen.
I'll bet they are pissed the can't get the "Officially Licensed Hardley Gear". They'd have 10 times as many members, and the same amount of bikes, just like here.
I'd reckon! That's a UL or ULH flathead 74 or 80-inch engine in that rigid-frame Hog with the springer front forks.
The *old school* bike builders must be drooling.
can't they get their parts from japan, like the american harley riders do?
I would guess we sell Harley parts to Mexico. Why can't Cubans buy them from Mexico? Or is just that they don't have cash due to the socialist paradise they live in, and it has nothing to do with the embargo?
"It could be true, we don't know," says Morales, who rides a 1950 Panhead with a sidecar rebuilt over a Soviet chassis to resemble the original three-wheeler
And I don't know either, though I was around there at the time [at about 10 years old] and remember the big Cuban cop bikes.
But I'd rather go hunting for vintage iron in Argentina, where former dictator Juan Peron had the excellent taste and class to mount his military and police riders on some 800 Vincents imported by the Argentines circa 1950. It's only been about 15 years since the Argentine government allowed reexport of those machines, considering them *national treasures*- which they indeed are.
"RIDE TO LIVE ~ LIVE TO RIDE ~ HD MADE IN AMERICA"
"BUY AMERICAN IRON"
Bumper stickers on the back of a Toyota Camry.
well.. kinda makes sense, toyota is getting to be more american made than gm or ford. :)
I'd bet a camry is more American parts than an HD.
But, the HD is WAY louder, so it must be better, right?
Thanks for the info, someday Im goin down there lookin
Now you are catching on.
Anyone with a checkbook can buy a $19,000 badass image.
So if you break it down, that would be:
Store-bought image: $15,000
u da man!! :-)
(I'll read later,, just woke up from my afternoon beauty nap!)
Don't bother reading the comments, unless you enjoy reading penis envy. (With apologies to Archy)
You mean you CAN buy a penis for $19,000?!?!? I need to get me some "American Iron"!
Nope. You either have one, or you don't.
Bashing Harley-Davidson is apparently a substitute for Viagra for many on this thread, though. Have fun with your artificially inflated package.
No bashing intended. I'm no squid, and I love my cruiser (image and all), but I don't need to spend 19 grand for it either. It's not about the ride, or even what you ride.. Unless of course you don't ride an HD.. /sarc
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