Boots, jeans, jacket, helmet, goggles and of course that huge bike would fit the description of any Harley Davidson rider. Still, the persona has more than what meets the eye.
They are not bad boys; they are not wild as may be perceived from Hollywood movies or the television portrayals of biker gangs in the US. Out here in Pakistan, they are just hobbyists making sure they observe all the rules of being part of the Harley Owners Group, Pakistan, or HOG, Pakistan.
Founded in 1983 in the US, HOG is the largest motorcycle club in the world with chapters in many countries, including Pakistan. It is said that within six years of its coming about, in 1989, its membership soared to 90,000. By the year 2000, it was up to 500,000 and it is getting bigger and bigger as time goes by. The HOG’s Pakistan chapter was formed in 2010.
“At the time there were just three to four of us here, though presently there are around 90 to 100 of us,” says one of the oldest members of the club, Shiraz Qureshi.
At the time of our talk, the riders were busy finalising last-minute details before their journey up north. “It’s our annual Pakistan ride. Sometimes we head up to the Khunjerab Pass, sometimes to Muzaffarabad, like this time around. Otherwise, we occasionally take to the broad open highways while heading to Kund Malir and Gwadar. There are also our weekly early morning Sunday rides of 200km to 400km where we may ride up to Nooriabad, Hyderabad or beyond,” he says.
About their annual Pakistan ride, Qureshi says that although they do it every year, this time it will be different and they are bracing themselves for it. “There are going to be 30 to 40 of us, with 20 from Karachi and the rest joining us from our Lahore and Islamabad chapters.
“The weather is only just turning pleasant, which is good. However, we have the pandemic, about which we are hearing all sorts of things but we have decided to brave it because… one needs to also get exposed to viruses for one’s antibodies to kick in. We are hobbyists, adventurers, we belong to this school of thought,” he says with a shrug.
The Harley Davidson is no ordinary bike; an American brand, it has to be imported with costs ranging from Rs2 million to 14m depending on the model, engine size, etc. As you hear the cost a whistle escapes your mouth, and it is met by a retort: “There are people who love Land Cruisers, Audis and BMWs and they are willing to pay for it. We love Harleys and we are willing to pay for it. Still, all heavy bikes are not that expensive. Many Japanese brands also have heavy bikes out in the market.”
When asked if during their rides they have ever worried about the bikes getting snatched by bandits, the riders chuckle. “These are not your regular motorcycles. They stand out. Where are the bandits going to hide a stolen bike that sticks out like a sore thumb? And even if it is dismantled and sold in pieces, who do you think will be buying the pieces?” Harley Davidson owners of course!
Although all Harley owners in Pakistan don’t belong to HOG, as there are now many clubs for heavy bike owners here also, HOG, Pakistan is the oldest among them. They also have a bikers’ hangout called The Harley District or THD in Clifton where you have a sales showroom for Harleys as well as a workshop with specialist mechanics for maintenance of the bikes.
“With more and more hobbyists like us getting Harleys, this was needed,” says Qureshi. He adds that the place is open to all Harley owners even if they are not HOG members.
With Pakistan getting more and more women bikers, the question of their being included in HOG also arises. “Yes, there are a few women Harley owners here too. We are also trying to encourage them,” Qureshi says, adding that his daughter, Maham Shiraz, has also started riding a Harley recently. She also took part in the annual off-road rally in Cholistan where she came second in her debut race.
“I always dreamt of owning a Harley as a child but my father was not in favour of it. When I bought my first Harley, I was 30-plus. There was no possibility of my owning it in my teens. But I am proud of my daughter,” he says, adding that the gear worn by the riders, including the helmet, boots, jeans and jackets, are all part of safety gear as they are padded.
“Our club is very particular about observing rules, one of which happens to be wearing the safety gear while riding. Of course there are other things too such as not making loud engine sounds to show off, etc.”
Showbiz celebrities Faysal Qureshi, Fahad Mustafa and Aijazz Aslam are all proud Harley Davidson owners. So does their inclusion in HOG, Pakistan also bring the club glamour? “When you are on a Harley, you are a celebrity, no matter who you are,” Qureshi smiles.
Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2020