"I would not join any club that would have someone like me for a member." -- Groucho Marx
While there's no evidence to support the idea that old Groucho ever rode a motorcycle, his signature moustache would have surely fit in with the Harley crowd.
Perhaps, in Groucho's day, joining a motorcycle club would have required extreme dedication and daredevil riding skills. But, nowadays, joining the largest motorcycle club on Earth is as easy as simply signing up or, in my case, buying a new bike.
Last summer, a few weeks after buying my new Harley-Davidson Road King, a welcome letter and a spiffy membership card from the Harley Owners Group, (or H.O.G. as the club is known to more than one million members worldwide), arrived in my mailbox.
According to its website, the Harley Owners Group was created in 1983 as a way to build strong, long-lasting relationships between Harley-Davidson's customers and the company and its employees. The theory is that, when you purchase a Harley, you're also buying into a lifestyle.
On the surface, that might just seem like just a brilliant marketing ploy. But after spending Canada Day touring southern Manitoba with a sea of leather-clad enthusiasts riding chrome-laden iron horses, it's clear that these folks may actually be onto something.
This was my first ride with the local HOG chapter, and on the open road and at every stop throughout the day I was met with smiles and waves from fellow riders who, by all accounts, are loving the whole Harley experience.
Couples cruise together with tunes blaring from their massive touring bikes while solo riders cut through the wind with bug-eating grins on their sunburnt faces. At every stop there's plenty of back-slapping, good-natured ribbing, and even a few hugs as old friends reunite.
Harley-Davidson Winnipeg is the sponsoring dealership of the local HOG chapter. Chapters elect officers from within their membership, produce a newsletter and organize events throughout the year. Most events are ride-related. HOG chapters are volunteer organizations that collect dues from members to subsidize the costs of events and the administrative costs of running the organization.
The Winnipeg HOG 13th annual Canada Day poker run left Harley-Davidson Winnipeg at 10 a.m. Sunday sharp and made stops in Steinbach, Morris and St. Adolphe, before finishing off at the Smitty's Restaurant on Pembina Highway.
Responsible and sober riding is paramount to the entire HOG experience and the route was well planned and supervised by veteran HOG members. Say what you want about the quality of Manitoba highways, but these folks put together a great route that showcased the spectacular scenery southern Manitoba has to offer.
For me, the highlight of the day was meeting up with a few old friends from my former career as a corrections officer. Way back in the early '90s I was one of just a few guards who rode motorcycles out to Headingley jail. Now, many officers are enjoying the motorcycle experience.
My first training officer, Carl Bernd, who was also once an RCMP officer and has been working at Headingley jail for 30 years, was cruising on his Harley Road Glide. Wayne Van Tassel, a 25-year veteran, was touring on his massive Electra-Glide with his better half, Tracy Goertzen, grinning behind him.
Al Necsefor, who retired last year after 28 years in Corrections, was riding a Road King just like mine. While Necsefor's bike is just one year older than mine he's already clocked an amazing 50,000 kilometres on his prized ride, more than 10 times the distance I've managed.
"Riding a motorcycle is the best way to travel and really see what's out there," said Necsefor, who has ridden from coast to coast here in Canada and also toured throughout the United States.
"It was initially about the ride. But when you own a Harley, the camaraderie that comes along with it is an added bonus."
If you own a Harley-Davidson and want to take part in perfectly orchestrated events alongside like-minded enthusiasts, I'd strongly recommend checking out a HOG event. The local chapter has more than 120 members and meets at 7 p.m. on the last Thursday of every month at the Polonez Restaurant in the Marion Hotel, 393 Marion Street, in the Marion Hotel.
You can also check them out on the web at www.winnipeghog.ca