Riders at the India Bike Week early this month. Photo:HT/Hari Warrier
Top: with so much of glitz, can the babes be far behind? Photo:HT/Hari Warrier
Gatherings of Harley Davidson bike owners have always been about celebrating freedom, as the iconic bike-maker puts it.
The company kicked off its 110th centenary celebrations in 2013 at the India Bike Week (IBW) early this month, with a national rally for Harley Owners' Group (HOG), in a coincidence sparked when the IBW organisers approached the US company for sponsorship.
The IBW literally ended up as a Harley week, with the company being the premier sponsor and no other bike maker visible in the event, especially the Indian icon, Royal Enfield.
"They were a little sceptical about how the event would be received in India, but next year we are sure of getting more response," said Thanush Joseph, director (marketing), Seventy EMG, which organised the event. "All the companies were there to see the response, and they are positive."
The event was organised at Goa, seen as an ideal venue to kick off such an experiment.
Over 550 of the 2,000-odd bikes that Harley has sold in India since it entered the country in 2010 (the most by a big bike manufacturer, it claims), began descending on the coastal state at the end of January, setting the tone for the event's culmination on February 3.
Groups rode in from Chennai, Bangalore, Delhi, Chandigarh and elsewhere... There was even a solo artiste who rode all the way from Orissa, braving the Naxal belt. But most participants trucked their bikes to the venue.
Hindustan Times was invited to participate in the ride. Some 440-odd bikes rumbled down Goa's narrow roads in a tight linear formation, bringing the people out on the streets, egging on the riders to go vroom vroom, and to just watch the spectacle.
And a spectactle it truly was, with an elderly American tourist, Greg, summing it up: "This was about the last thing I had expected to see on a visit to India."
The event was centred around the other two Bs - beer and babes - with liquor on tap and live rock music. "The music in fact took centre stage, next time we'll ensure that bikes get more prominence," said Joseph.
Another added attraction that ended up hogging the limelight was the bikini bike wash (well, not really bikinis, but hotpants). HOG after HOG wheeled in his bike for a wash and a photo op.
With the liquor flowing, it was little wonder that one rider crashed on his way to the hotel, and had to get his scalp stitched up, notwithstanding the motto of "drink responsibly" and IBW's strategy of encouraging drunk bikers to leave their bikes at the venu and take a cab home.
Understandably, most of the bikes on show were the more expensive variety, than the low-end Superlow or the Iron, keeping in mind the size of the bill: as one participant put it, "We spent about a lakh-plus per person to show up. Not all Harley owners want to - or can - do that."
Bike customisation schools were the main secondary sponsors, behind Harley. There were monstrous morphs of India's own classic, the Royal Enfield Bullet, that staggered the imagination.
"We customise Bullets for about Rs.2.5-3 lakh, depending on your requirements," the owner of one such school said. Bike included? Oh no, you give us the bike, we do it up, he clarified. And they don't touch the engines.
Accessories makers and companies that specialise in engine modifications did brisk business at their stalls. Interestingly, NOTHING was on discount.
Satisfied with the popular response, Harley India chief executive officer Anoop Prakash said the company is looking forward to next year's IBW.
This time, we hope, other bike makers hop off the fence and take the plunge.
One bike owner from Delhi, Sarat Chopra, said: "The whole experience has been fantastic... the group ride, there can be nothing like that!" Would he return next year? "Of course!" And maybe bring his wife along, too.
This, after all, is a family event.
(The writer's visit to IBW was sponsored by Harley Davidson India.)