For the first time in the annals of American motorcycling, a Chinese Harley Owners Group (HOG) Chapter visited the US. They rolled through Orange County, California, to Surf City Harley on Main Street in downtown Huntington Beach, then headed to San Diego, Palm Springs, and on to Las Vegas. Most of the riders had never been to America and didn’t speak English. Steve Wasser, director of business planning and former managing director of China at Harley-Davidson rode with the Shanghai HOGs for a day. “Harley-Davidson has opened seven dealerships in China already with two more slated for this year,” Steve stated. “Time will tell what the Chinese Harley-Davidson user community will look and feel like, but without a doubt, Chinese motorcycle riders have embraced Harley-Davidson as a creative expression of personal freedom.” The group was led by American Jim Rice, governor of the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, CEO of CSM foods, and more importantly, road captain of the Shanghai HOG chapter for the past two years. Jim has been living in China for 20 years and is fluent in Mandarin and other Chinese dialects. A Southern California native, Jim has a residence both here and in Shanghai. “Basically, these are all my friends,” Jim affirmed. “We ride every weekend in Shanghai, and I wanted them to experience riding a Harley-Davidson in my home turf.”
I do not have long hair or a tattoo, but I have freedom in my heart
Sweet and Sour Pork
The Shanghai HOGs can enjoy the sweet taste of motorcycling freedom in the US, but in Shanghai that freedom is soured because motorcycles are restricted from Chinese highways and many roads inside the outer ring road of the city. In the congested urban streets across the rest of China, city officials restrict motorcycles rather than cars in order to decrease traffic. The largest 80 cities across China have some sort of motorcycle licensing, riding, or ownership restrictions. But surely, that will change and touring China will become big business. Consider that in 1999, China had only 3,800 miles of highway; now it has more than 40,000 miles of highway and 2.3-million miles of paved public roads. In three years, China will have the most extensive highway system in the world, passing the United States. All the major motorcycle manufacturers are now vying for a place in the Chinese motorcycle marketplace but only one carries such allure and mystique. With more than one-million paying members, HOG is the world’s largest motorcycle riding organization and Chinese Harley-Davidson sales and the Chinese HOG chapters are on the rise. “I am a member of Shanghai HOG, and we will develop our own biking culture,” Alden Yan, sales representative at the Shanghai dealership says. “I do not have long hair or a tattoo, but I have freedom in my heart.”
The Adventure Begins
Twenty-eight Shanghai HOGs took possession of their shiny Harleys at Laidlaw’s H-D (EagleRider) in Baldwin Park, California, and rode to Orange County Harley, then Harley of Westminster’s retail shop, followed by Surf City Harley, on Main Street in downtown Huntington Beach. It was a very hot Saturday at the beach and these HOGs realized they were not in Kansas (I mean Canton) anymore. “Very small clothes,” one rider remarked as two stunning bikini-clad beauties passed by; no need for translation. Surf City is the companion store to Westminster Harley and owner Craig Franz had adopted the Shanghai HOGs from day one. From Huntington Beach they headed to Long Beach with lights flashing and sirens blaring. Long Beach police motorcycles escorted the Shanghai HOGs to the Forbidden City restaurant to a rousing welcome by the Long Beach Qingdao Sister City Association. Long Beach is the sister city to Quindao, or more well-known in America by the spelling of the beer produced there, Tsingtao. There Craig received a flag of Shanghai and an invite to visit and ride on their home turf. “This is an honor to be part of history,” Craig beamed. “I will fly this flag proudly.” He helped plan all their routes, stops, and ended up riding with the Shanghai HOGs for five consecutive days.
The next leg of our adventure took us from San Diego to Palm Springs, miles of mountain roads on big Harley Electra and Street Glides. I was concerned this would be challenging for the uninitiated, until Jim reminded me: “That’s the terrain Shanghai HOGs feel most at home in, remember, they can’t ride the highways in China.” I can’t imagine what was going through their minds, leaving the expanse of the blue pacific of Del Mar, climbing 7,000 feet into the San Jacinto Mountains, then dropping into the desert basin. Stopping at the scenic overlook, their excitement was obvious. I’ve ridden that route many times and always marvel at the spectacle and diversity we motorcyclists have here in SoCal.