The Harley boys

By Drum Digital
24 December 2010

THE quiet Boksburg street fills with the sudden roar of engines coming to life. Shards of sunlight break through the overcast sky and glisten off the sleek chrome bodies of the motorcycles, momentarily blinding the seven bikers gathered here for their regular Sunday morning run. The engines roar once more before tapering off to a throaty purr as the bikes set off, their riders smiling blissfully as the wind caresses their faces.

And if they could have things their way, this is what local entrepreneurs Sean Shipalana and Aubrey Mkhabela would like every black person to experience – the joy of owning and riding your own Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

The friends own Harley-Davidson Gold Rand, the first black-owned Harley dealership in the country. They're based behind the proverbial "boerewors curtain" in Boksburg on the East Rand and regularly hold early Sunday morning runs like this one – where a group of Harley enthusiasts ride together in a group to entice more black people to ride the iconic bikes.

DRUM has tagged along with the pair today. They're riding out to the Vaal Dam with 10 others Harley enthusiasts who certainly don't fit the stereotypical image of Harley- Davidson bikers – namely long beards, tattoos, wobbly mkhabas (potbellies) and lots of attitude. These lawyers, doctors and engineers are the faces of a new trend of black people taking to motorbikes.

Being on a bike is exhilarating, they say; at the end of a ride all the week's stresses have blissfully melted away.

Sean (35) explains why riding a bike can become so addictive. "A lot of black people don't have hobbies," he says. "You know, something you do purely for pleasure and relaxation. Riding does this for us; it awakens our sense of the world around us and makes us come alive. We've seen places we would never otherwise have experienced. There's a lot of fun to be had on a bike."

WE drop in on the guys during the week and it's all systems go at their bustling enterprise. Bikes are on display outside the impressive double-storey dealership with more inside, spaced strategically around the floor. The smell of the immaculately stitched leather on the bike seats lingers in the air and the highly polished bikes, which weigh between 100 and 300 kg, gleam under fluorescent lights.

Racks of jeans, T-shirts, caps, boots and jewellery, all branded with the Harley-Davidson insignia, line the walls. Rubber soles squeak on the tiled floors as Sean, dressed comfortably in a black and grey shirt, jeans and lime sneakers, dashes from one end of the shop to the other, answering calls and talking to customers, while Aubrey, suave in a multi-coloured striped shirt and blue trousers, chats to a client, encouraging him to get on a bike and experience the feel of it.

Aubrey (51), a former maths teacher and insurance company sales rep, started riding motorbikes in 1985 when he was 26.

"I was living in Tsakane (on the East Rand) and teaching in Soweto, and I found riding a motorbike to school was cheaper than buying a train ticket," he explains.

Sean started riding a Harley when he was 30, after he bought his first bike. "I've always wanted to own a Harley," he exclaims excitedly. "It's a beautiful piece of machinery and attracts attention wherever it goes – even the little ones come running. They get excited when it's a Harley but when it's not they throw their hands in the air in exasperation and say: 'Oh! It's not a Harley!'"

Sean and Aubrey met on a ride organised by the dealership where they bought their bikes and their friendship was reinforced by their shared love of the machines.

Read the full article in drum of 6 January 2011

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