Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Harley Davidson and the Hogs - a phenomenon of our time

Between the 9th and 12th of June 2005 there was a “H.O.G” – meeting in the Gulf of St Tropez. I live here, just two km from the main road, up in the hills. During a week there has been a constant roar, day and night, from the mighty Harley Davidson motorbikes. The roads have been filled with the knights of the Harley Davidson, sitting at ease, upright on their bikes, dressed the peculiar style of the Harley people. They look impressing and elegant, even though the bellies tend to be a bit to heavy. People from all over Europe have been gathering here, having a great time, listening to rock music, getting friends, screwing, drinking beer and booze and finding a common interest in these marvellous machines from America. A fantastic sub culture, created by the very smart motor bike company, Harley Davidson.
Read more about the Hogs…

And what the hell is a hog? The riders call themselves hogs. According the Concise Oxford Dictionary, a hog is a:[I] “…Swine, esp. castrated male, reared for slaughter…”[i/]. – I wonder if ever the Harley Davidson riders have ever read the definition by the dictionary? They would be shocked deep in their bones, imbedded in beer. After seeing the great meeting of all these tough guys (and chicks), the definition seems to me very funny and sometimes accurate.

In the Harley Davidson world, H.O.G. is something else. It is called Harley Davidson Owners Group and was created by the factory in 1983 and, according their homepage, after pressure from owners of bikes to meet others who were proud of their bikes, share common interests and, of course, have fun. - The slogan is: ”Ride and have fun!”
H.O.G. started its first office in Europe in 1991 in order to give service to members and has for the moment about 80000 members in about 500 Chapters (local clubs). The total number of members all around the world is soon one million.

It is a very smart marketing gimmick, tying the customers to the brand and the retailers of the bike. H.D. have created a whole sub-culture, a life style, way of life, way of dressing and a tremendous loyalty.
The owners meet, ride together and organize activities of all kinds. They also rise money for charity, which they claim is one of the most important goals.
Apart from the national meetings, international meetings are organized, like this one in St Tropez. Then the HOGs turn out in great numbers and roar through Europe to meet and have fun. Some fake and put their bikes in trucks, vans or trailers.
So this year they met at the sunny Riviera, a stark contrast to the chic people in St Tropez.
The meeting lasted a week and took place in a big camping lot at the side of the Venice-style village Port Grimaud. The Harleys with their riders buzzed in and out the camping like hornets in their nest.

So I went into the hornets nest. In the ticket office they told me that 15.000(!) bikers had joined the party. I saw number plates from all over Europe, even from the former eastern countries like Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and to my astonishment, Russia. They were all dressed in the peculiar, black leather style, though very personalized and original. Pirate scarves, cowboy hats, helmets in Wehrmacht style, I even saw a knight in full armour, with snake skin boots sticking out.
I remarked that the average age was quite high, surely many grandfathers and grannies like me, but also young, muscular lions, flexing their muscles and accompanying busty babes. Tatoos and piercing seemed to be mandatory. Kids played around, mothers giving breast, tough daddies holding toddlers by hand, leather mummy stiching, granpa with big belly, cowboy hat, beer in hand, calmly taking a nap in his camping chair…

The camping was an enormous playground with market stalls, bars, restaurants, masses of caravans and tents and two rock stages, where different bands performed all day and evening, mostly with nerve breaking music. But the most overwhelming and obvious presence were the Harley Davidson bikes themselves.
When I arrived at the entrance, there was a an enormous parking lot, which was filled with a sea of shining and glittering bikes as far as the eye could see. Bikes were parked all over the camping and the fanciest styled ones were put up for show, surrounded by impressed admirers. There was a constant flow of thundering bikes along the narrow lanes in the camping.
The commercial side of the event was quite evident. The market stalls covered a big space. Vendors had come from all corners of Europe in caravans and trucks to sell their Harley related artefacts.
There were T-shirts with dragons, fire, hell and skulls, baseball caps and scarves decorated in the same way, biking helmets of different forms, ranging from Wehrmacht to the Star Spangled Banner and leather outfits of all imaginable designs. The New Age was represented by esoteric products and you could buy necklaces of skulls, rings of all kinds and different objects and jewels to pierce your flesh. The tatooists were at hard work illustrating empty spaces of already covered skins or first timers.

Seeing the market filled with all these accessories and looking at the leather clad bikers I could not help thinking that the whole thing is utterly childish and naïve. Grown up people driving round dressed like a masquerade in a hopeless blend of American cowboy style and Teutonic knight, with the Iron Cross in forefront. I remember when I was a kid and how my friends and I used to dress in different clothes, from cowboys to pirates. It is the same thing with the hogs. Perhaps it is the whole point with the HOG movement – to dress in fancy costumes, be like a kid, frighten the on lookers, forget the nuisances of everyday, drink beer, meet your buddies, - just to “Ride and have fun!”

The final was impressive. The last evening the party reached its crescendo with an unusually loud rock concert and massive fireworks. I saw it from my garden. It was beautiful with the glittering lights from the harbour of St Tropez as a background.
The day after the bikers formed a giant procession, consisting of thousands of Harleys, slowly rolling through the hot, pittoresque landscape “Provençale”, passing St Tropez, Ramatuelle, Cogolin and the medival town of Grimaud. Each chapter was represented by a flag bearer, sporting their banner.
In the Sunday afternoon the roads were clogged by the hogs going home, many stayed on a couple of days and the roar of the mighty Harley Davidsons was still heard, but after a while it diminished and mixed with the normal sound of the more trivial Hondas, Kawasakis and Ducatis…
Written by Erik Edelstam

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