Fans of the Harley-Davidson legend meet in Varadero
HAVANA, Feb. 14th Fans of the Harley-Davidson legend like Carlos Pupo Sablon, a 34-year-old Cuban, spared no effort: he got up at 4 a.m.,rode 13 hours on a motorcycle to cover 660 km, and despite the difficulties to finding gasoline on the way, he finally found his fellow Harley-Davidson enthusiasts.
In Cuba, it’s not just the old sedans that take you back in time: about 200 Harley-Davidsons, many of them old, backfire on the island, repaired, transformed, and pampered by enthusiasts.
Once a year, for ten years now, they meet for a long weekend in Varadero, a seaside resort 145 km east of Havana, to “share the passion” as explained by one of the organizers, Raul Brito, 60, the proud owner of a 1960 Harley, the “last model to enter the island” after the 1959 revolution.
Until that date, Harley-Davidsons, the most legendary of American motorcycles, numbered in the thousands on the island, where even the police were equipped with them. Then the stigmatization of everything that came from the United States in the first years of communist power threw them into the shadows, but without ever being able to extinguish the flame of the amateurs.
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His first motorcycle belonged to his grandfather, then to his father “who used it to go to work”. Today, “I buy them in parts and I restore them,” he says, wearing a black jacket and a scarf on his head.
Everyone agrees that the opening of links, thanks in particular to the development of tourism, has for several years facilitated the arrival of original parts for repairs thanks to “family, friends, foreigners” who travel to the island.
“It was more difficult before, you had to invent everything. Today, it is easier to import parts, but a lot of them are still made by hand,” explains Sergio Sanchez, a professional mechanic from Pinar del Rio, 300 km away.
In fact, “there are not many original Harleys left, almost none, due to the lack of parts”, explains the one who used to steal his father’s Harley as a teenager, so passionate was he. . “A 1947 piston is impossible to find today,” he points out.
“Open Air Museum”
As for many products on an island under American embargo and which suffers from recurring shortages, the exchange of good tips is done by word of mouth and its modern version, Whatsapp groups.
This year, Sergio Sanchez came to the rally with a white and black 1947 Harley that the police used at the time.
In good condition, it was restored in “6 months in 2019” because the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States three years earlier had exploded the arrival of travelers and therefore the possibilities of entry of coins, says Sandy Léon, 46, who took part in the restoration.
“Today it is more complicated and more expensive,” he says in an allusion to the cooling of relations between Washington and Havana, and to the economic crisis that is hitting the country with the depreciation of the Cuban peso.
Carlos Pupo Sablon who traveled the 660 km that separate Varadero from his province of Holguin (east), won the prize for the participant who traveled the greatest distance to come to the rally and reached an agreement with a Canadian.
The latter, also a fervent fan, provided the budget (15,000 dollars) so that Carlos could buy his motorcycle from a Cuban family who had owned it “since it left the factory in 1951”.
A professional mechanic, Carlos took care of restoring it “with period parts” to “keep the original aesthetic”, he explains in front of the sparkling light blue model that the Canadian can use when he is on the road. ‘island.
Like the colorful sedans that make Cuba famous (estimated at 60,000), motorcycles before 1960, including Harley-
-Davidson – cannot be exported as considered “national heritage”.
An additional collection in the open-air museum of vintage vehicles that Cuba has become over the years.