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Harley fans ride high in Cuba

China Daily | Updated: 2018-02-13 16:31
Bikers participate in a competition to place a straw into bottles during the first Harley-Davidson gathering in Varadero, Cuba, in April 2012. [Photo/Agencies]

VARADERO, Cuba - The rumble and roar of vintage motorbikes returned to the main beach resort of Varadero this weekend when fans and owners of classic Harley-Davidsons met for the seventh consecutive year.

It was the annual meeting of "Harlistas Cubanos", a club of Harley-Davidson aficionados where more than 80 participants exhibited their bikes in the central park of the town, which lies about 145 kilometers east of Havana.

The enthusiasts came from all over the island, some from as far away in the east as Santiago de Cuba and Holguin, although most live in Havana.

"Once a year, we meet here as a way to cultivate friendship among Cubans who share the passion for having these motorcycles. We also receive visitors who come from other countries to exchange with us," said Abel Pez, the event's organizer.

Motorcycles that are more than 60 years old continue to ride along Cuban roads, despite being a true sacrifice for their owners.

"It is difficult because these bikes were manufactured many years ago and the parts and pieces are not easy to obtain and expensive," Pez said.

"They can be purchased primarily in the United States, Canada and Mexico, which is complicated for most owners."

According to Pez, there are around 170 owners of Harley-Davidson motorcycles in Cuba, although not all of them are roadworthy. He estimates that about 120 motorcycles of this type are rolling throughout the country.

For Raul Brito, owner of a unique 1949 Harley, the motorcycle has become part of his family.

But he said it is a challenge to keep it running with original parts and maintain the bike's good looks.

Brito, who is from the province of Cienfuegos, about 260 km southeast of Havana, said: "We live for the motorcycle. Everything we can do to make it beautiful, we do it. There are even times we have sacrificed personal comforts to buy something."

'A great initiative'

The meeting is organized every year by the association of "Harlistas Cubanos", along with authorities of the province of Matanzas. Yet many people come from abroad as well.

Steve Constable traveled for the sixth time to Cuba from Canada to participate in the event.

"I think this is a great initiative. The owners of these types of motorcycles know each other, can share together and help each other get what they need for their bikes, which is difficult in Cuba," Constable said.

However, the Harley-Davidson motorcycles do not escape political tensions between Havana and Washington, whose rapprochement under former president Barack Omaba was abruptly interrupted by the current US President Donald Trump.

With the setback, owners of the vintage bikes are finding it even more difficult to keep their motorcycles in good condition, although they believe the annual meeting is a way to do so.

"I think this is another way to relax political relations between Cuba and the US and generate a climate of friendship and fraternity with American Harley-Davidson fans," said Pez.

For others such as Brito, having friends from the US who put aside political differences and come to the Caribbean nation to share their passion for motorcycles is crucial.

"Many Americans bring donations and pieces and I think it is a way to break the ice in the political arena. It's an innovative way for all of us to contribute," he said.

Xinhua

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