Harley Owners Group Singapore
At first glance Sarge Sargeant looks like a tough guy: big and burly, clad in a fitting black T-shirt and blue jeans, and deeply engaged in game of pool. When we finally sit down and talk though, this image slowly comes undone. Anywhere from his mid-forties to early fifties, Sarge Sargeant (that is his actual given name) is unusual for most Harley riders: he’s been riding Harleys since he was 14 years old. By the time most people get to own a Harley, they are working executives in their early 40s, not surprising since an entry level Harley like a Sportsters or a Fatboy could easily rake up S$28,000 to $38,000, not including maintenance costs.
Influenced by his mother who was a Harley rider in a motorcycle gang, Sarge acquired his first Harley, a 45 Flathead, without his parents knowledge and rode it unlicensed and uninsured. As he lived in the countryside of Canada in Southern Ontario, it was easy for him to conceal the bike from his parents. The only bikes he has ever owned he tells me, are Harleys, and they are the only bikes he ever really bothers with.
Now emboldened by the effects of the bottle of Moosehead Beer I had been nursing for the past 20 minutes, I was now ready to ask the million dollar question, ‘What’s the difference between a Harley and a Yamaha or any other bike for that matter?’ mentally preparing myself for a knee-jerk reaction from the Harley lover. Instead, he patiently explains to me that there is indeed a world of difference between Harleys and other bikes.
To start off with, it’s the oldest motorcycle manufacturer in the world: the brand itself came into being when the two friends Arthur Davidson and William Harley, in 1901, decided to motorise a bicycle so as to ‘take the work out of cycling.’ By 1903 they had figured out how to fit a smaller combustion engine to the bicycle, thus creating the first bike and the iconic American brand that Harley Davidson is today.
History lesson aside, the Hog is different from other bikes in terms of two important physical factors, the sound it generates and the fact that it is not built for speed, (typical of many other bike brands), but for cruising. Harley riders, in their 40s or so, are not into speed but are into the ride itself, however they still relish the roar of the engine.
The Harley, he tells me, has built its reputation on the freedom of the open road and the lifestyle that it symbolises. For example, he elaborates, Harley owners will, as soon as they can, get their bikes personalised by painting them and replacing parts so that it becomes part of you and a part of your lifestyle.
He goes on to draw a sharp distinction between people who ride motorcycles and bikers. ‘Motorcylists are people who ride a bike to get from point A to point B as fast as they can; the biker rides his bike by choice, regardless of weather… I ride my bike by choice even though I have a car.’
The Harley Owners Group is an international club comprised of over a million members and is sponsored by the company itself. The Singapore Chapter has been in existence for 17 years and charity work is a essential part of the culture of this officially registered NPO: proceeds from events where Harley entourages are used (ie; at weddings, product launches, etc.) all go to various charities like the Children Cancer Foundation and Women’s Breast Cancer Association. The philosophy behind their charity work is to dispel the negative image of Harley Riders as fringe elements and to help those that are in need.
“We are like the Lions or the Rotary Club, except we ride bikes” he intones. Their charity work extends to organising bike rallies whereby they have Harley Sporting events such as ‘Weenie Bike’ where the pillion rider has to bite of a chunk of a sausage suspended over from a string, whilst the bike is in motion, or the ‘Bike wash’ where the pillion rider has to toss a balloon full of water over a net and catch it on the other side. “Usually it just splashes onto the bike, that’s why we call it the bike wash”, he adds with a smile.
Outside of this officially sanctioned HOG chapter in Singapore however, there are many other Harley groups like the Mad Dogs, Headhunters, Banditos and Independents. Sarge himself rides with one such group, Sierra Bravo Charlie, otherwise known as Sunday Breakfast Club, for their early Sunday morning rides up to Johor for Roti Prata. It is to such a jaunt that Sarge now invites me, and to which I calmly accept with secret delight.
Sunday morning 6am: I am asking myself whether or not it’s all worth it. “What on earth could possibly compel these 40 year old working executives to give up precious sleep-ins and wake up at this hour for a long ride up to JB!” I muse dazedly as I sleepily tumble out of bed and get into jeans and T-shirt, assemble my passport, writing gear and camera.
Upon arrival at Newton Hawker Centre, which is the meeting point for their ride at 6.30am, I greet them, but I do not venture to ask any intelligent questions. “Too early in the morning”, I tell myself as I brush aside the instinctive reaction to get out my camera and and start snapping. The men stream in slowly, soon, I have been introduced to all 10 of them, but my enervated brain only registers Renee – German, Yori – Japanese, Tom, Thomas and Bob, who assortedly come from New Zealand, Australia and or the States, all suitably established and clean-cut – 40ish looking and clad in black bikers gear. There is another female rider apart from myself, one of the men has brought along his teenage daughter for the ride.
7.00am; Sarge and I are in front of the massive Harley with double seats that Sarge has chosen to use over his other smaller Harley, and considerately cleaned up for my benefit. After a bit of fuss with the immigration form and the motorcycle helmet strap, I am ready to go. I climb onto the comfortably padded back-seat and we join the head of the group, which has already assembled at the mouth of the car-park.
We take-off, I want to go “wwooohoooo!” but need to maintain my professional image, so I settle for gripping the seat a little tighter and grinning really broadly. The music is blasting, assorted rock & roll numbers from the 60s and 70s compete with the roar of the engine. I am thankful for my helmet, it protects my eardrums, but I tap along to the beat nonetheless.
Once we get past the Singapore checkpoint, the speed goes up a few notches, on the freeway connecting Singapore and Malaysia, we’re hitting 140 km/h and my face feels like its getting a good massage from the wind that buffets my face. I pull my helmet down at the strap to counteract the parachute effect that it is coming over it.
Later on the smaller roads, we settle into a cruising speed, it’s a comfortable and highly relaxing ride, I soon fall into a drowsy stupor only to get sharply awaken whenever we hit a bump or a pothole. My relaxed neck feels like it might be twisted out of joint at these sharp jolts.
Nonetheless, we all make it in one piece to the Prata place eventually. I climb out of the bike languidly and make my way to the table in anticipation of tissue light prata and tea. Over breakfast our conversation topics range from the origin of languages, the limited gene pool in New Foundland and the pot-breaks they take there, and of course, the ever beloved Harley.