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201221 Jun

harley davidson fat boy and harley davidson street glide

 

How does Harley-Davidson India plan to succeed in this market? Well, it has the weight of history behind it, which can never be discounted. Immortalised in movies like ‘Easy Rider’ and ‘The Terminator’, H-D has made an impression through the best marketing medium of all – Hollywood! An unabashed salute to all things Americana, Harley-Davidson motorcycles are synonymous with the lifestyle of the Land of The Free. And while Whopper burgers have an appeal that wada-pav can never match, there’s much to love about a Harley.

 

Scale. Perspective. Wonderful words, especially when you sling a leg over a Harley and back it out of a parking lot. Nothing like a 300 kilo-plus motorcycle to give your legs and glutes a proper workout. Warning: proper underwear is a must, or you could end up herniating yourself, and I’m not being funny.

 

We were riding with the newly formed Bengal Chapter of the HOGs, or Harley Owners’ Group. My ride for the day was a Fat Boy, with a 1.7-litre (103 cubic inches in Harley-speak) V-twin powerplant slung between my legs. The Fat Boy is part of Harley’s Softail family, and my personal favourite of all the Harleys I’ve had the pleasure of riding. It’s important to note here that each motorcycle has a unique character, with a completely different feel to each bike. The bond which ties each of these motorcycles together is not only the V-twin heritage, but the feeling of brotherhood that Harley-Davidson as a brand inspires.

 

harley davidson fat boy engine

No inane horsepower willy-waggin'...the torque does the talkin'.

 

Now it’s easy to be cynical, dismissing The Brotherhood as nothing more than a shrewd marketing ploy, but be that as it may, it has ensured that today Harley-Davidson thrives as an ambassador for all things American than you could imagine. So much so, in fact, that it’s not unheard of for a layperson to equate any cruiser they see as a Harley, much like ‘Bisleri’ has become synonymous with bottled water. A large proportion of the company’s revenues are thanks to licensing, and you’ll find Harley-Davidson branded apparel, coffee mugs, riding gear, shot glasses and what-have-you.

 

harley davidson bengal chapter

 

The inaugural ride of the Bengal Chapter was from Camac Street, in the heart of Kolkata to the popular Azad Hind Dhaba on the Durgapur Expressway and back. The round trip was approximately 160 km, a good enough distance to gauge the usability of these bikes. More than a dozen Harley owners had turned up for the ride, mounted astride their favourite steeds. The motley bunch included some Iron 883s, a couple of Super Lows, a Street Glide, two Night Rods, and a couple of Forty Eights. Heading out of Kolkata in the bright early morning sunlight, chrome ablaze through the heat haze, the sound of a dozen Harley-Davidsons in convoy was a joyous medley of crackles and barks.

 

Big bikes have always elicited an appreciative wave from other road users in India, and this was no different. Kids waved and cell-phone cameras clicked as we wended our way through the heart of Kolkata, riding past the Maidan and along Red Road before straddling the Vidyasagar Setu. Rumbling through the toll booth, we faced the toughest task yet: a broken-down truck had blocked traffic just as the road funnelled into a single lane. With the sun beating down on us and the mercury soaring, I also had to contend with the heat rising out of the air-cooled cylinder heads, with an engine more than twice the size of India’s most popular small car!

 

harley davidson

 

Making the most of the Fat Boy’s sharp horn, I parped my way through the inching traffic. Broken free of the shackles of log-jam traffic, the Harley at last had a chance to stretch her legs.

 

“This is Harley country” I thought, remembering a previous drive down the same road many years ago. Part of the Golden Quadrilateral which connects India’s four metros, the Durgapur Expressway is a ribbon of tarmac with hint of gentle bends, but pretty straight for the most part. Six-speeds on a Harley gearbox seem superfluous, especially with a 1,690 cc engine which puts out 126 Nm at just 3750 rpm. Of course, the ratios are tall, but even then it accepts sixth gear at a little over 60 km/h, and from there on, the only thing limiting you is your guts, or imagination. At close to 100 km/h, the tiny digital read-out below the speedometer on the tank tells you that you’re barely using 2000 revs.

Overtaking? The slightest tickle on the throttle adds chunks of speed, and you’re past whatever it is before you could say “Harley-Davidson Fat Boy”.

 

harley davidson

 

The Fat Boy’s seating position is relaxed, and the footboards are simply lovely to place your feet on when you’re cruising on the highway. The 330 kilo plus weight disappears, and even though you need to steer with your arse, it’s intimate in a way you wouldn’t mind.

With the warm breeze drying away the sweat and a shimmering road ahead, you soon realise that you’ve dropped to your resting heart rate, relishing the gentle thrum of the exhaust and the sweet smell of the countryside. A glance in the vibe-free mirrors reflects the same equanimity of your companions, each in a happy place, as the bunch of bikes now spreads out, some two abreast, some single, each detached from the cares of the daily grind.

 

Man, motorcycle, open road…

 

harley davidson street glide

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