Gentlemen ride Harleys
HD, 110 years later honors the ‘Iron Elite’
By Zenobia Jeffries
The Michigan Citizen
DETROIT — Surely the three young men — William S. Harley and brothers Arthur and Walter Davidson — who invented the V twin-engine motorcycle 110 years ago could not have known the status their motor-powered pedal-bike would have today.
The “Bentley of bikes,” is how one metro rider describes Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
The 32-year-old motorcycle club member, known as Big Youngin’ by fellow members, bought his first Harley, an ‘08 Streetglide, five years ago.
“It’s the ultimate high,” he says of the ride. “A total sense of freedom. (It’s) my outlet. If I have something going on…I take my bike out to clear my head.”
Youngin is not alone. Harley enthusiasts within his brotherhood, the Detroit Gentlemen’s Club, share the same avidity.
Spock, age 62, bought his first Harley, a Shovelhead, for $4700 in 1979. He says he still has his first bike.
“When I first started (riding), I wasn’t that into Harley-Davidson,” says Spock, who now owns several Harleys. “I sort of got addicted to them.”
Spock’s addiction grew into an entrepreneurial opportunity.
“Even in death, people like to go out (on a Harley),” Spock told the Michigan Citizen. “I started a business, (Biker’s Heaven), with a Harley-Davidson three-wheeler pulling a hearse.”
They want to go all the way to the end on a hog, (another name by which Harleys are called, an acronym for Harley’s Owner Group, the official HD motorcycle club) club member Longshot, chimed in.
A professional hair colorist, stylist and consultant, Longshot is a second generation Harley rider.
“If all you rode was hogs, that’s probably what you’d ride forever,” he said.
Longshot, 46, says his mother disapproved of his first bike, purchased 20 years ago.
“I bought a Yamaha and my mother looked at me and said, ‘what did you get that for,’” he recalled laughing. “My mother is still (an) active (rider). Harley- Davidson was always around.”
Longshot, whose first Harley was a Sportster 1200, says Harley-Davidson is a lifestyle, not just a bike.
“I cut it up and made it into two other motorcycles,” he said.
Longshot now rides a custom Fatboy.
Harley-Davidson credits its custom bikes to the African American influence.
“We provide the motorcycle and our customers provide the lifestyle, passion and interpretation of what that means to them,” says John Comissiong, director of African American outreach marketing for Harley Davidson Motor Company.
During a press trip to HD headquarters in Milwaukee, Wis., Comissiong shared a video, “Brothers of the Bike” produced by The Motor Company. The video tells the rich history of African Americans and Harley-Davidson.
Harley-Davidson was contracted to supply bikes for soldiers and early bike culture for African Americans came from experience in the military. Most Blacks’ first experience on motor bikes was during the second World War as military patrolmen. They would continue to ride after the war, “eager to recapture the thrill and excitement of their standard-issued motorcycle.”
But because they could not afford to purchase a new bike, Black riders would strip or “chop down” the army bikes by taking off all military accessories, which gave birth to the “chopper.”
Riders have since evolved to adding on or “customizing” their bikes.
“Riding culture is different today because of African Americans’ contributions,” says Comissiong.
In honor of African American influence: dealers, like William B. Johnson who had the first Black-owned dealership in the 1920s; riders, like Bessie Stringfield, the first known African American woman to ride solo across country in the 1930s and Ben Hardy who created Captain America for 1969 movie “Easy Rider;” and visionary artists like Suga Bear and Pee Wee; Harley Davidson launched the Iron Elite and African American Anthology during Black History Month 2012 with an exhibit at the Harley Davidson Museum, also located in Milwaukee, home of Harley and the Davidson brothers. The museum has more than 450 motorcycles in its archives collections, all tell stories of the Harley history and riders; one touring bike on display had a million miles on it. The Anthology is a chronological retrospective of legends, stories and artifacts that made an impact in motorcycling.
“Iron,” Comissiong says, connotes the bike, and “Elite,” celebrates the camaraderie and influence of African American riders.
“Guys have been riding for a long time,” says Comissiong.
And now women, along with Latinos are the fastest growing groups of Harley Davidson riders.
“We’re number one with women, we’re number one with Latinos, with young adults and African Americans,” Harley-Davidson Public Outreach Manager Amanda Lee said. “We’re the number one manufacturer of heavy weight motorcycles in the U.S., leading the market across outreach segments and core riders.”
Lee, also a Harley enthusiast, shared new programs The Motor Company has launched to expand their branding, in addition to their Motor Clothes clothing line.
“Because a lot of women said, ‘I really want to learn how to do this,’ we started Garage Parties,” Lee said.
The Garage Parties were created to break down barriers and invite women into the program based on their terms, she added.
The program is sort of the sister program to the Motorcycle Boot Camp (MBC), which introduces people to Harley Davidson in a way that’s fun. Although, women also sign up for the MBC, it’s mostly geared to younger males opened and interested in the brand.
The Harley Davidson brand is known worldwide, now selling in 77 countries with over a thousand independent dealerships.
For more information about the Iron Elite, visit www.harley-davidson.com
For information on the Detroit Gentlemen Motorcycle Club visit their Facebook page.