It is one of the most recognisable of sounds. Harley-Davidson’s noisy, air-cooled engines are tuned especially to create that characteristic growl. The only thing that sounds even more impressive is several Harley-Davidson motorcycles growling in unison.
On November 7, the town of Pushkar in Rajasthan, recovering from the aftermath of the famous camel fair, was shaken by the noise of more than 500 Harley-Davidson motorcycles ridden in from all parts of the country. From Kolkata to Ahmedabad, from Kochi to Chandigarh, Harley-Davidson riders and their friends and families in accompanying vehicles gathered for the third annual rally in northern India of the H-D Owners Group (HOG) chapters in India.
An entire tented locality sprung up west of Pushkar to host a carnival of song, dance and drunken revelry, for the Irish whiskey brand Jameson is a co-sponsor of the annual rally. The riders arrived gradually all through the first day. Pushkar’s streets were animated with the noise and heat of large machines — people asking about prices of camels had ready questions about the price of the premium Harley-Davidson machines.
The party started with live music and the initial rounds of arm-wrestling and tug-o’-war contests, for nobody was expecting a fashion show in the testosterone gala. The second day saw the finals, which were both won by the host chapter of Rajasthan. Without letting anybody know, the Dunes chapter had fielded one of its members who is the state-level arm-wrestling champion.
Over the venue flew a helicopter, for the event included paid rides over Pushkar. Just to mess around with the riders, the pilot repeatedly flew low over the venue. (The plan was to have a hot-air balloon, but two days before the event, the operators lost their licence after turbulent winds drove them off course. Flying three foreign tourists, the pilot landed at the first safe, open field he saw. Unfortunately for him — and fortunately for newspaper readers the next day — that field was too secure: right in the middle of Ajmer jail.)
HOG is the largest company-supported effort to create a sub-culture to expand marketing and merchandising. It has played a central role in making Harley-Davidson one of the most valuable brands in the world. HOG clubs initiate new riders into the special, special feeling that Harley-Davidson has marketed so, so successfully. Sales of Harley-Davidson motorcycles are steadily increasing in India, especially after the introduction of the Street 750, the cheapest Harley-Davidson machine in India, developed from a new platform of liquid-cooled engines aimed at city riders who seek a high-end toy to mess around the urban jungle.
Motorcycle sub-cultures have thrived when a young generation has spare income. From Europe to North America, motorcycling groups and leisure riding is a product of the post-war boom. With the emergence of a new class in India over the past decade, as a result of the post-1991 economic reforms, there are young people with purchasing power and the desire for the trademarked freedom that Harley-Davidson offers.
Along with weekend rides that HOG chapters organise, bigger rallies like the one at Pushkar become a way to expand as a sub-culture. Harley-Davidson got the chief of its engineering division in India to hold an hour-long briefing on motorcycle maintenance, catering to those who take their riding more seriously. For those just looking for a good time and happy riding, there was the music, Jameson and the opportunity to bond with riders from across the country.