It was a shocking sight and something I’d never thought possible. About a hundred people sat at tables, their heads bowed down in silence. Many brandished tattoos, some wore leather, some of the men donned grizzly beards that should have been out collecting bugs in the wind, rather than hanging still, in silence.
I scanned the room to see if some armed bandits were possibly holding these bikers hostage. Why else would they be sitting here, indoors on this scorching afternoon, instead of out riding in the nearby Kootenays, some of Canada’s finest riding country?
They were playing Bingo.
And so began my initiation to the 16th annual Canadian National H.O.G. Rally, held in Kamloops, BC last August 25-27.
The Harley Owners Group was created in 1983 and with over a million members worldwide it is now the largest factory-sponsored riding club in the world.
The group was created to foster a Harley lifestyle and community amongst its members, as well as serve as another marketing tool for the company – with H.O.G. members typically spending 30 percent more in clothing and at sponsored events than a non-H.O.G. member Harley rider.
The club is divided into local chapters with each Harley dealership being able to sponsor a local H.O.G. chapter, without which, a chapter cannot exist. Each chapter is then supported by the country’s national H.O.G. group, which is owned and managed by Harley Davidson itself.
Regional groups serve mainly as a social avenue and to enable group rides but they also produce their own newsletter (if you read Dick Davidson’s attempt at this year’s Mad Bastard Scooter Rally that was written and published in a local Syracuse H.O.G. newsletter).
However, once a year, the national group organizes a grand H.O.G. Rally, open to H.O.G. members from anywhere in the world.
I’ve twice been a H.O.G. member, both times because I bought new Harleys, and I even renewed my membership a couple of times after the one-year complementary membership ran out.
Membership gives you a membership card, pin, touring handbook, and subscription to the HOG magazine as well as the option to get discounted shipping for your bike and roadside assistance. However, up until now, I had never actually attended a H.O.G. rally.
My plane arrived in Kamloops on Thursday afternoon, with just enough time to pick up a 2011 Ultra Classic Electra Glide from the local dealer, and in the evening, attend the opening ceremony.
Later in the evening the entertainment came on, a solo singer who played cover tunes, often rearranging the lyrics to more racy versions. People voted with their feet and slowly filtered out of the auditorium as he played. Still, I understand that this year’s entertainment was better than at a previous rally, where some sort of ballet was put on.
Ballet and Bingo, bizarre.
On Friday I was looking forward to using the Ultra to explore a part of Canada I’d never seen, but first, rally organisers put me to work on the panel of judges for the Show ’n’ Shine event.
Uncertain of how the losers of this bike show would handle, well, losing, I scoped out an escape route, but fortunately everyone was in good spirits, including the third-place finishers of the different classes, whose prize was a “crying towel” to wipe their tears. Gotta admit, the rally organisers have a sense of humour, if not an instinct for self preservation.
With judging duties behind us, fellow journalist Glenn Roberts and I hit the road, heading south out of Kamloops on highway 5A to Merritt. And what a wonderful stretch of road it was. It was about as close as one could come to a California desert this side of the U.S. border. And it was hot
Along the way we stopped for a break at the Quilchena Hotel just north of Merritt. Established in 1908 and located in the heart of ranch country, we could have been dropped into the Wild West, the effect magnified by the two bullet holes of unknown origin located in the bar, though the patrons will happily recount one of many stories explaining them.
From Merritt we turned northwest on Highway 8 as it snaked along Nicola River until it met with the North Thompson River, where we then turned east on Highway 1 back into Kamloops. It was a 300-km journey along roads flanked by breathtaking scenery. Mental note – explore western Canada on a motorcycle.
We arrived into town at around 5 pm, just a tad too late to take part in the second instalment of biker Bingo. Damn.
On Saturday morning I took part in the all-important parade, with hundreds of bikes forming a train long enough that we encountered the last few bikes still spilling out after having already ridden the seven or eight kilometre parade route.
Post parade it was time for the field games consisting of three challenges: drop a ball onto a cone from a moving bike, throw a ball through a hoop (again from a moving bike), and the slow race, where the last to cross the finish line without touching the ground wins.
Being that I was riding solo I took part in the slow race (the other challenges needed a passenger). With all my riding and racing experience, I was ready to annihilate the competition. With my adversaries lined up to either side of me, we were given the go signal. My wheels barely made one revolution before my feet came down.
Now, as a former racer, I’m well practiced in the art of making excuses. Of course, there was too much free play in the clutch, and the tire pressures didn’t seem right, altering the coefficient of friction and thus combining with the improperly adjusted clutch to make the bike lurch forward, causing me to lose my balance. With a proper bike setup I’d still be out there, rolling slowly.
No one bought it.
We wrapped up the festivities on Saturday night with a huge buffet dinner, where various awards were given to various rally participants, like awards for the oldest rider, the youngest rider, distance travelled to arrive at the rally and others.
HIGH ON THE HOG
Now, no longer a H.O.G. rally virgin, I must say I enjoyed the experience. I’ve been to biker rallies before, so I’m not averse to large gatherings of biker types, and this one was well organised, and surprisingly, mostly absent of loud pipes (this is not a criterion for rally attendants, but rather a sign that riders’ attitudes towards loud pipes are changing).
Of course, it’s a Harley-sponsored gathering open to H.O.G. members, so don’t expect to see race-leather-clad supersport riders taking part, and there is an admission fee if you want to partake in the activities. But the crowd is jubilant, and when they’re not playing Bingo, they’re out riding and spending money, which is always good for the local economy.
If this tickles your fancy, the 17th Canadian National H.O.G. Rally is scheduled on August 8-11, 2012 in Moncton, NB. Time to save up for assless chaps.