Cuban Harley-Davidson motorcycles challenge time and ties with U.S.

HAVANA, Feb. 11th (Xinhua)  A unique meeting took place this weekend at Cuba’s main beach resort of Varadero. The roar of Harley-Davidson bikes invaded Varadero, about 145 kilometers east of Havana, where fans and owners of these classic bikes met for the seventh consecutive year.

This was the annual meeting of “Harlistas Cubanos”, a club of Harley-Davidson aficionados where more than 80 participants exhibited their antique bikes in the town’s central park.

They came from all over the island, some from as far away in the east as Santiago de Cuba and Holguin, although most live in Havana.

“Once a year, we meet here as a way to cultivate friendship among Cubans who share the passion for having these motorcycles. We also receive visitors who come from other countries to exchange with us,” Abel Pez, the event’s organizer, told Xinhua.

Motorcycles that are more than 60 years old continue to ride through Cuban roads, despite being a true sacrifice for their owners.

“It is difficult because these bikes were manufactured many years ago and its parts and pieces are not easy to obtain and expensive. They can be purchased primarily in the United States, Canada and Mexico, which is complicated for most owners,” he said.

According to Pez, there are around 170 owners of Harley-Davidson motorcycles in Cuba, although not all of them are working. He estimates that about 120 motorcycles of this type are rolling throughout the country.

For Raul Brito, owner of a unique 1949 Harley, this motorcycle has become part of his family. As he told Xinhua, it is a challenge to keep it running with original parts and looking attractive despite the passage of time.

“We live for the motorcycle. Everything we can do to make it beautiful, we do it. There are even times we have sacrificed personal comforts to buy something,” said the Harley addict from the province of Cienfuegos, about 260 kilometers southeast of Havana.

The meeting is organized every year by the association of “Harlistas Cubanos”, along with authorities of the province of Matanzas. Yet many people come from abroad as well.

This is the case of Steve Constable, who traveled for the sixth time to Cuba from Canada to participate in this event.

“I think this is a great initiative. The owners of these types of motorcycles know each other, can share together and help each other get what they need for their bikes, which is difficult in Cuba,” Constable told Xinhua.

However, the Harley-Davidson motorcycles do not escape political tensions between Havana and Washington, whose recent rapprochement was abruptly interrupted by U.S. President Donald Trump.

With the current setback, owners of these antique bikes are finding it even more difficult to keep their motorcycles in good condition, although they believe the annual meeting is a way to do so.

“I think this is another way to relax political relations between Cuba and the United States and generate a climate of friendship and fraternity with American Harley-Davidson fans,” said Pez.

For others like Raul Brito, having friends from the U.S. who put aside political differences and come to this Caribbean nation to share the passion for motorcycles is crucial.

“Many Americans bring donations and pieces and I think it is a way to break the ice in the political arena. It’s an innovative way for all of us to contribute,” he said.