A photographic insight into Cuba's Harley-Davidson fans

Posted: 28-Oct-15 10:31

As documented by The Guardian with a series of stunning photographs, Cuba's hardcore die-hard Harley Davidson fans form a rather peculiar community in the country with a special club, where despite the shortage of fuel and parts, they have managed to keep their old two-wheeled vehicles on the road. Much in the same way that proud car owners have managed to keep Cuba's classic cars running, these "Harlistas" have gone through every inventive shortcut in the book to ensure their gems are in top shape for many years to come.

A photographic insight into Cuba's Harley-Davidson fans

Telling their story through a new book titled “Cuban Harleys, Mi Amor” the proud owners of vintage Harley-Davidson relics in Cuba show their love and devotion for these beauties through their tales of hardship, overcoming challenges and ultimately resorting to the most inventing resources to keep their prized possessions in running condition.

One member of such select club, Adolfo recalls the moment he bought his first Harley back in 1984:

"I remember them patrolling the streets of my youth, and I’ve had more than five since then. Each one has given me joy and grief and made me work. Harley-Davidsons leave an indelible mark on all of us: their unique style and sound, their elegance – no matter how old they are. Once you drive a Harley, you never look back."

On his part, Ernesto Guevara, the son of Che Guevara himself and a self-declared die-hard motorcycle enthusiast who founded unique motorcycle tours through Cuba that allow participants to follow a similarly inspiring journey to the one his father did (and which was famously turned into a Hollywood blockbuster production – The Motorcycle Diaries) said that he prefers to lead his own life as a Harlista in low-key style, rather than be in the spotlight because of his dad.

In the book he speaks about how he loves nothing more than fixing bikes, to the point of it taking over his official lawyer duties, and how he tries to earn his keep as a mechanic instead. He recently went on a bike trip through Argentina, partially following the route of his father when he journeyed across Latin America on his Norton back in 1952, long before his days as a revolutionary leader.

One of Cuba’s eldest Harley members, Sergio, who bought his first bike in 1972, speaks about the difficulties bike owners faced in Cuba:

"Times were hard: gas was scarce but, luckily, Harleys run on anything. We’d mix gas and alcohol and sometimes kerosene – anything we could find! We made our own parts, or adapted parts from other bikes."

A walking encyclopaedia of all things Harlely-related, he goes on to add that he dreams about the day when Havana has its first official Harley dealership, allowing for test-drives of the latest models and an open exchange of opinion between Harley fans.

Adriana Dominguez, Cuba’s only female Harley-Davidson enthusiast and devoted Harlista who is a lawyer by profession speaks about how she would love to see more women embracing the love for Harleys as a way of life.

"I have been into motorcycles since I was a teenager. My 750cc, 1945-built bike was a birthday present from my husband. It takes skill to drive an antique Harley. At first, there were doubts about a woman driving a Harley but, over time, I earned respect from friends and other riders. Cuban women who want to ride often come to me for advice."

Another member of Cuba’s Harley-Davidson select club from Camaguey known as Paco, talks about how his life has been transformed by the love for his bike:

"My Harley addiction started when I saw the acrobatic team perform in my hometown of Camagüey. In 1979, at the age of 32, I realised my dream of owning a Harley – a 1200cc bike, built in 1950. I bought a chassis and a muffler and repaired, restored and customised it myself. Since then, it has been my only mode of transport. God willing, I’ll be a Harlista until the end."

The book goes on to include the testimonies of many other proud Harley-Davidson owners from all walks of life – from those that were given their wheeled treasures as wedding gifts to those who after taking apart and putting back together many Harleys have become the island’s premier Harley mechanics. Truly an inspiring journey that is all the more remarkable as you see it come to life through the vivid gallery of pictures.


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