Monday, April 16, 2012


The Harley-Davidson riders of Cuba call themselves "Harlistas" and 70 of them just had a 2-day gathering in Varadero. They've had to be inventive since the U.S.-imposed economic embargo in place since 1962 made it impossible to get replacement parts. "Like the owners of rumbling 1950s Detroit classic cars that still prowl the streets of Havana, vintage Harley fans have had to get creative to keep their bikes road-worthy." Mechanics have specialized in restoring old Harley-Davidsons, and clubs have been established to allow Harley riders to organize events, exchange information, and find spare parts keep their classic bikes running 50 years hence. There are 300 registered Harleys in Cuba, with as many as 100 listed as still in working condition. Although there is smuggling of factory parts, here are some of the more creative tricks their owners have employed:
  • substituting Alfa Romeo pistons
  • using Fiat ambulance horns from Poland
  • mounting Volkswagen wheels and the tires from VW Beetles
  • using alternators and other parts from Russian cars and trucks
  • fixing broken chains with barbed wire or replacing them with chains stripped from the conveyor belts of a pre-Castro Coca-Cola factory
  • making engine gaskets out of cardboard
  • replacing handlebars with residential piping
  • making exhaust pipes from tubes ripped from electrical transformers
  • cannibalizing parts from trucks, lawn mowers, and even anti-tank guns
Almost all of Harleys on the road in Cuba were built before 1960. "Normally all the motorcycles you see would be in a museum elsewhere in the world," says organizer Max Cucchi, who rides a '58.

1st image) A historic photo from a forthcoming book by Gunther Maier (more photos here), 2nd and 3rd images) Promotional photos for the film Cuban Harlistas
Previous posts featuring motorcycles:
Morbid motorcycles
Follow-ups 5/7/10 (that's a dead guy)

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