American Harleys capture Cuban soul
American Harleys capture Cuban soul
In their new book “Cuban Harleys, Mi Amor,” authors explore the rocky
relationship between Cuba and Harley Davidson motorcycles through the
eyes of Cuban “Harlistas”
While Harley Davidson does not necessarily come to mind when discussing
Cuban political collateral damage, it is very present on the mind of
In their new book, “Cuban Harleys, Mi Amor,” Max Cucchi, Conner Gorry
and Jens Fuge gather pictures and testimonies of these Cuban
Harley-Davidson bikers known as “Harlistas,” and explore the rocky
relationship between Cuba and Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
The book focuses on 50 men who resisted the Cuban embargo on
Harley-Davidson motorcycles after a 1967 order issued by the Cuban
government to bury all motorcycles and their parts in a large pit near a
prison in Santiago de Cuba.
Some Harley owners kept their motorcycles in hiding as an act of
defiance against the Cuban government, cannibalizing spare parts from
Russian cars to maintain their secret Harleys.
Fuge categorizes three types of motorcycle owners in Cuba.
In some cases, “people have the bikes for three or four generations in
the family…the bike then is like a family member.”
In other cases, the bikes were bought at a time when they were not in
high demand. “They were old, rusty and needed lots of repairs and gas,”
Fuge said. Those who got a bike at this time and in this shape had to be
skilled mechanics. They formed a bond with their bikes as they repaired
and maintained them.
“They used parts from Russian cars [and] chains from old Coca-Cola
machines,” Fuge said.
The third type of “Harlista” is riders who are members of the upper
class in Cuba who could more easily purchase bikes and their parts.
“But one thing is the same for all those people: They love their bikes
and have real Harley blood in their bodies,” Fuge said.
The “Harlistas” in Cuba truly come from all walks of life. Ernesto
Guevara, son of Che Guevara, is featured in “Cuban Harleys, Mi Amor.”
“[Ernesto] loves to repair and fix bikes and now has a business as a
bike rental and tour guide and doesn’t like to speak about his father.”
Despite the uniqueness of owning a Harley Davidson in 1970s Cuba, there
was not a significant demand for the bikes. No one wanted the large,
loud machines, particularly at a time when gas was unaffordable, making
motorcycle ownership impractical.
However, devoted “Harlistas” hung on to their beloved bikes. For many of
them, ownership of a Harley served as a form of political empowerment
and rejection of the oppressive Castro regime. In the following years,
motorcycle ownership became an intrinsic part of their identity.
Rather than simply being a personal past-time, the smuggled,
pieced-together Harleys became a symbol for political freedom and
autonomy. This subversive act captured Fuge’s attention in 2012 and
inspired him to produce “Cuban Harleys, Mi Amor.”
“It was 2012 the first time I went to Cuba and I met Luis Enrique, one
of the most famous guys there,” Fuge said. “In the next four years, I
visited Cuba 10 times and I met more and more ‘Harlistas.’ I wrote 30
portraits, the other portraits are by the author Conner Gorry,” an
American who has lived in Havana for the past decade.
The motorcycles capture love, hope and nostalgia in an amalgam of parts
that span history.
As Miami emerged as a haven for Cuban refugees, it also became the home
to a new “Harlista” subculture with more opportunity. They no longer had
to keep the possession of their bikes secret and had greater access to
tools for maintenance.
Carlos Hernandez, who now lives in Miami, is featured in the book. Born
in Santo Domingo in the Villa Clara province, Hernandez moved to Havana
when he was 23, and eventually came to Miami.
He said owning a Harley has provided him with a global network of friends.
“The best friends that I got in my life…belong to the Harley team all
around the world — from Poland, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Canada, the
United States and, of course, all my biker brothers from Cuba,”
Hernandez said. “For me it was a big and successful experience, all
thanks to being the owner of a Harley.”
He added that Harley ownership is his passion, as it brings
“satisfaction, freedom and a different lifestyle.” Hernandez’s dream is
to collaborate with an American company to bring more people to Cuba to
experience the country via motorcycle.
“I know my country from west to east, every corner and the best places
to ride a Harley.”
While many of the bikers discuss how owning a Harley has connected them
to people around the world, their joy seems to consistently return to
how being a “Harlista” has allowed them to explore Cuba and share their
beloved country with visitors via motorcycle tours.
Cuba and Harley culture is inextricably intertwined, said Abel Perez, a
rider featured in the book: “Although these bikes were built in America,
they have a Cuban soul.”
Source: American Harley Davidson motorcycles capture Cuban soul | In
Cuba Today – www.incubatoday.com/news/article89937127.html