The Weekend Herald updates Gareth Morgan's motorcycle trip through America's heartland. This week he muses on the gentrification of a symbol of youthful rebellion

* * *

They're everywhere here - Harleys, that is.

They are the biggest selling motorcycle in the US of A, and counting motorcycles on the road, they seem to have 99 per cent of the market.

Advertisement

Now let's be up front: our round-the-world motorcycling quest is sponsored by BMW. The company both in New Zealand and Germany has been wonderful to us and we have enjoyed very much riding their various Adventure bikes in far flung parts of the world.

But when it came to do North America I have to admit I was torn. My recreational bike has always been a Harley and here we are touring its homeland. This presented me with a dilemma. To cruise around America on a Harley - no helmet needed - would seem the ultimate way of revisiting Easy Rider.

But the practicality of the proposition soon floundered. How was the gear needed for a four-month ride going to be put on the only type of Harley I've ever ridden, the chopper style cruiser?

The most popular Harley over here is the one I personally can't stand. You know, the model that, when it comes up behind you, looks like something dripping earrings, or at night looks like a Kenworth truck until it passes and you realise it's just a motorbike pushing a plastic Christmas tree.

In America the Harley these days seems to be in love with the trailer. We see oodles of them pulling trailers and even more riding on the back of them.

Here's why: a lot of the guys who can afford these very expensive motorcycles still have to overcome the resistance of her indoors.

They buy the full dresser, which comes with intercom so backstreet driving from the pillion is possible, and there's ample pillion accommodation so the ... er, larger figure can mount comfortably.

As if that weren't enough of a compromise, there is the requirement that the makeup bag must come along. She's willing to compromise, and so rather than the standard truckload of the stuff she'll settle for a dinky wee trailer that he won't even notice slipped in behind.

Try hanging out through the S-bends with a trailer attached. We did strike one poor fella who, when pulling through a corner with Madam aboard and trailer in tow, didn't quite get the dynamics right and engineered a 50-metre fishtail. But Harleys are heavy, and with the makeup trailer not weighing so much he managed to save it all.

So the Harley trailer has brought a whole new bunch of riders in to join the Hells Angels - the hen-pecked, ageing dreamer now has a machine to go with all the HD badges and T-shirts he's been accumulating for decades, and his marriage has survived the purchase.

The second quirky relationship between Harleys and trailers in the US is that many owners trailer their bikes to the piece of road they wish to ride, or the rally they wish to attend. This is common here. Riders are flabbergasted that we would ride for more than two days, knocked-dead dumbfounded that we could do more than a week.

When we finally came across a Harley that had been ridden hard, rather than preened and fawned over, the biker told me he rode it like a horse, on terrain no other Harley owner would go over with him. This chap I empathised with but to the contemporary Harley owner such treatment is tantamount to bike abuse.

Many a modern day Harley owner would rather be strung up by one of his tassels than see the chrome on his machine besmirched by a stone chip.

From the perspective of the manufacturer, the emergence of so many converts to riding this rehabilitated American icon must be enormously satisfying, and clearly it's profitable. For the traditional biker, however - which the US doesn't appear to have in abundance these days - the invasion by the show ponies and promenade posers has to be the ultimate humiliation of what the bike represented in the days of James Dean and Marlon Brando.

Meanwhile, back in the land of the long white cottonwool, as the regulators contemplate seat belts for motorcycles and helmets for all those in cars, the value of personal freedom is long diminished.

Latest travel blogs and photos from the Backblocks America road-trip are on