Cuba's digital destination
by Ricardo Alberto Pérez
We could say that within the Cuban context, our Cuban Harley Davidson bikers, or “harlistas” as we call them, have managed to become a fairly well-recognized social group. I think this has a lot to do with the extraordinary passion they bestow upon every one of their bikes.
On February 5th, 6th and 7th in 2016 they will be getting together again in Varadero, Matanzas, during the Fifth National and International Harley Davidson Rally. The encounter has the special feature of not having been organized by any one specific bike club and so anyone who owns a Harley in Cuba or any other country may take part as well as owners of other makes of motorbikes. We were very fortunate to be able to chat with Abel Pez, harlista and one of the promoters of the get-together in the Varadero resort area.
Abel tells us that the event will especially be a party for Harley owners. Its prime aim is to provide an opportunity for them to energize each other so that they continue looking after these bikes in the condition they are, making sure they are working well and looking fantastic. It seems that some of these bikes arrived in Cuba before their owners’ parents were born. There are models from the 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s; the oldest bike dates back to 1932 or 1933. Many of them are still being used as basic transportation for their owners, taking them to work and looking after daily business. That’s why they are valuable not only for their age and rarity, but because they continue being useful.
Hopes are that the event will be an enjoyable weekend, bringing together those legendary bikes with both Varadero tourists and residents. The bikes will be moving in from the afternoon of Friday, February 5th and that same evening there will be informal get-togethers at local night spots. During the day of Saturday the 6th the bikes can be seen at Varadero Park taking part in various shows that will surely be the highlight of the weekend such as the slowest bike, putting the straw in the bottle, “hot dogging,” an obstacle course and the fastest start. Prizes will also be awarded for the oldest bike, the best restoration, the bike that drove the farthest to get to Varadero and the peoples’ choice bike.
Also, on Saturday the 6th, a book written by Max Cucchi, Conner Gory and Jens Fuge will be presented, compiling historical Harley photos with articles that will be sure to impress and satisfy the curiosity of many Harley fans. In the afternoon, concerts will feature artists such as David Blanco, Isis Flores, To mezclao, Ozamo and Adrián Belazain.
In the morning of Sunday the 7th of February, the event will move to Cardenas Park in the nearby city of the same name to visit its interesting historical museum. The Park will be the site for the official event photograph. Lunch will be served at a farm in Santa Marta, the property of a harlista friend who has made it available for the get-together.
It is obvious that the entire structure of the weekend rests on a firm cultural foundation. Abel explains to us that harlistas consider those bikes to be part of Cuba’s heritage: they are part of the Island’s culture. He says that basically those bikes became old in the 1980s, and when it became difficult to find spare parts, bike owners and mechanics resorted to adaptations that they manufactured themselves. For example, they transformed alternators, added dynamos from buses, adapted coils, bearings, tires and headlights, replacing the original worn-out parts with Soviet-made spare parts coming from Ural motorbikes. Cuban lathe operators fabricated many needed parts on their lathes just to fill the demands of these adaptations.
It’s the “inventive” Cuban spirit of these mechanics that makes these machines Cuban as well as the fact that these vehicles have played an important role in many people’s lives, belonging to successive generations. Some were used by the Cuban police and they’ve been treated like family members with their stories being closely interwoven into the fabric of Cuban families. For sure they are part of Cuba’s national heritage.
Abel Pez is not the only biker who admits that driving a Harley is akin to feeling a sense of freedom. You seem to be flying through the air that hits your face. He also tells us that travelling in groups on the highways creates great camaraderie, with the sound of the motors making the trip more pleasurable. Riding any motorbike is an exciting experience and nowadays, since it has become more possible to import the Harley parts specially manufactured for the old bikes, an added element of safety has been added to the deep-rooted Cuban passion for biking.