Sixteen Harley-Davidson motorcycles, three days and unforgettable memories left me longing for more
Words: Ravi Chandnani
Photography: S Bharath and Ravi Chandnani
I distinctly remember it was 2001 when I first learned about Harley-Davidson motorcycles. The contemporary VRSCA V-Rod had just been launched. It was an arresting sight even though it was just a photograph in a foreign magazine. I bought the magazine because of the photo. My heart skipped a beat at the sheer grandeur of the bike. It was the beginning of a love affair and I started indulging myself in the world of Harley-Davidson. I began dreaming of riding an H-D one day!
The V-Rod started it all. As I started to dig deeper into history I learned more about the company and discovered that Harley-Davidson is much more than just a motorcycle company. It’s a cult that is almost as old as the motorcycle itself.
I got a chance to live my 10-year-old dream towards the end
of the same decade, thanks to Harley-Davidson India, who were kind enough to organise a ride especially for us bike journalists.
It was a hectic Monday when I started the day filled with great enthusiasm to meet the Harley-Davidson family. After flying from one part of the country to another and again to the starting point of the journey, which took up an entire day, I was greeted by the H-D ladies at a royal palace in the Pink City. The beautiful XR-1200, enchanting Night Rod, macho Fat Boy, elegant Softail Heritage and nine other models were neatly lined up. Sixteen bikes for 16 riders, including myself. Indeed, it was difficult for me to slip into slumberland that night with all those dream machines parked outside!
Ha! What a beautiful experience it was to commence the journey. I had requested the H-D folk for the XR-1200 and they duly obliged. I was assigned the XR for the first leg on the first day. Once out on the highway, it was just me and the XR. Nobody else mattered. Even though we were riding in a group, I was engrossed in my own world, enjoying the journey all by myself. I had read a lot about the XR back in 2008 when it made its début. It is relatively a fresh product from the American manufacturer. Just like every other model, the XR has a special character. This bike has been developed keeping the European riding style in mind. It is a sporty, naked bike which also has the ability to cruise for long distances like other Sportster models. Though it is capable of handling zigzags, we hardly came upon any throughout the journey. It was a brief 100-km run before we stopped to re-fuel – both the bikes and their riders. This was also the time when we had to switch bikes. I was sad to let the XR-1200 go, but the delight of riding the Night-Rod made up for it. It was the best of the lot. The second leg also made me aware that sometimes our government does work for the betterment of the masses. I realised this after riding the Night-Rod on the beautifully smooth and straight highways of Rajasthan. Harley-Davidsons feel at home on such smooth roads. One can experience their true character on such roads.
I rode the Night-Rod for most of the afternoon before finally getting onto the Street Glide. Most of you would be familiar with big bikes from H-D that are loaded with saddle boxes, huge front fairings, foot boards and wide handlebars. The Street Glide is that true-blue cruiser with the rustic tourer element that forms the basis of the H-D touring family. It is a bulky machine, albeit well-balanced. You do not feel the bulk once you start rolling.
After the Street Glide I jumped on to the legendary Fat Boy. All ‘Terminator’ fans will remember this bike. The Fat Boy makes you feel royal! I rode it only for 30 kilometres, but that was the most beautiful stretch of the entire journey. I felt like a superhero headed to save the world. The Fat Boy has a unique charm about it, which is difficult to describe in words.
At night we got together on the lawn for an important announcement. H-D India announced two new bikes, the Super Low and the 883 Iron, that would be assembled in India at the company’s new facility in Haryana. I was eager to get on these new H-Ds and ride into the sunset the next day.
The sun was up and I was ready to meet my first date of the day. Forty Eight is the latest machine from H-D’s stable. A retro styled Sportster that has all the right elements of a bobber blended with true Harley character. This was the surprise apart from the Super Low and Iron. Today we were to travel from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer on one of the country’s best roads. This stretch is well known for its long, smooth and uninterrupted straights. Here you can let your H-D talk to you. It is here that you can listen to the loud roar of the 45 degree V-Twin motor as you open the throttle. You don’t care about how fast it can touch 100 km/h or attain its peak speed. It’s about being one, being equal. And being astride a bike that would transport you into nostalgia was an even greater feeling. Thank God, the Forty Eight will be in the market this year.
Next in line for the day was the Super Low, the most affordable and easy to ride Harley-Davidson model in the country. It is a part of the Sportster family and is powered by a 883-cc motor. It may be smaller than its siblings, but it has the true Harley character all the same. The unique roar produced by the 45 degree V-Twin motor, the awesome amount of torque and little things like the Sportster fuel tank, short dual exhaust and twin rear suspension are all present on the Super Low. It is going to be the first Harley for many youngsters.
After the Super Low it was time to hop on to the Iron. It is basically the same 883 R which was already available in the market. However, it now comes with a matte finish paint, which is quite interesting. Again this Sportster maintains a low profile with minimalistic design and features. It is a raw bike meant for the no-nonsense guy. You can enjoy one for Rs 6.5 lakh (ex-showroom).
Day two was dedicated to these new machines that are destined to become the largest selling H-D models in India. After being with these beauties on a smooth, straight highway and an uninterrupted day of riding, I felt what it was like to ride back then. I had spent the entire day on bikes from the longest running series by H-D – the Sportster.
The last day of the journey turned out to be quite interesting. It was the day when this dream journey came to an end. Street Bob, a humble machine, was my steed for the first leg of the last day. I remember it was standing in the sun and had a purple shade that had the ability to appear blue from certain angles. It was one of the best cruise bikes I had ever ridden. Nice power combined with comfortable seating and good handling made riding the Street Bob a memorable experience.
In the second leg of the day I was handed the legendary Road King. One of the oldest running H-D models, the Road King has a mix of many different touring models. It was a bike that can truly make you experience the Harley character. However, you have to be an enthusiast to appreciate it.
After going out with the most lovely H-D ladies for three days I was disappointed not because it was the end of a fine journey, but because it was time to say good-bye. I had come to feel like a member of the Harley-Davidson family.
I met 13 ladies, all of whom had something special about them. Some were naughty, whereas some others were mature and serious, but no two were alike. You have to be a die-hard enthusiast to understand the true nature of these motorcycles. They might not be tech-packed like the Japanese machines, but they have something that the latter lack. These are bikes that you can connect with…bond with. After a while a Harley-Davidson does not remain just a bike, it becomes a member of the family.
The feeling of being free and one with nature can only be experienced on a raw bike like an H-D. They can kill stress and make you forget about the mundane issue of life. They did that for me.
‘If you have to ask, you wouldn’t understand’, reads a Harley-Davidson slogan and this journey was no different. It’s hard to explain everything I experienced, but what I distinctly remember was that I lived my dream. And I hope to do it again.