There are Harleys in Cuba, but nearly all of them arrived before the 1959 revolution. That means there aren’t any Shovelheads, Road Kings, Electra Glides or V-Rods. Every Harley in Cuba then, is a classic machine. The pictures and videos from Cuba’s first-ever nationwide Harley rally last week bear this out, put on by the Cuban Harlistas.
Around 70 Harleys were in attendance, of the 300 that are currently on the roads (there were as many as 2000 back in 1959). Not only have no Harleys been sold in Cuba since 1959, but until recently no new parts had been sold either. That means it took incredible creativity to keep these 50+ year old bikes on the road. Stories about of retrofitting Alfa Romeo pistons, making makeshift exhausts from water pipes, and bikes that roll on car wheels.
Apparently, the alternator on Panheads is the same as the alternator on a Ural—a brand of bike which has been gaining popularity lately. The Ural version is less than a thirtieth the price.
We loved the description of the contests—they sounded like a blast.
The Harlistas also faced off in skill competitions like catching hot dogs in their mouths from bike-back and seeing who could ride the slowest without putting his feet down. There were also awards for the oldest, best-restored and most classic bikes, and the greatest distance traveled.
In one contest, Gonzalez guided his bike slowly along the plaza while his wife, Maribel, tried to slip straws into five beer bottles. At low speeds, it’s particularly tricky to keep precise control of a vintage bike with a foot-clutch and hand-gearshift, he said.
“You need like eight hands to really ride well. It’s a very interesting acrobatic feat,” said Gonzalez, an electromechanical engineer from Havana who has been riding Harleys for 25 years. Second place was “not bad for a veteran like me.”