For those who are dedicated to riding Harleys
The first American – made motorcycle, the iconic Harley-Davidson, was made popular in Saigon during the American War in the 1960s. Recently, the motorcycle has become a firm favorite on the city’s streets too. The Saigon HOG (Harley Owners Group) was formed in 2008 when Vietnam officially allowed large capacity motorcycles to be imported into the country. At the time the only person to own an Ultra Classic was Phuong, now Vice President of Saigon HOG. Mesmerized by the classic rumblings of his Harley engine which he likened to “tribal drums,” Phuong gathered together equally passionate Harley aficionados to form the club that currently counts 73 members, of which only one is female. On any given Sunday, 30 bikes show up for the HOG’s gathering and amongst them is a 1200 Sportster, a V-rod, a Dyna, a Rocker, a Buell, and a bunch of Electra Glides, the newest being a ’10 CVO Ultra Classic Electra Glide. This particular bike cost about USD100,000 in Vietnam as the import duty alone is roughly 175 percent for “luxury” motorcycles, plus registration, shipping, and miscellaneous charges.
“Harley-Davidson motorcycles may be suitable for a wide range of ages, however they are not suitable for everyone,” says Tran Vinh, who owns a Heritage Softail 2004, 1500cc. “The owner’s character is revealed by the model they drive.”
Dzung is a member of two HOG clubs (Hanoi and HCMC) and has to travel back and forth to attend the gatherings but it allows him to ride his big beast along the highway and share his passion with other motorcycle buffs. “I bought this motorcycle in the US several years ago. This three-wheel Ultra Classic motorcycle was ridden by Russian President Vladimir Putin when he was in the Ukraine. I had it pimped in the US to enhance the characteristics for my ride.”
According to Dzung, riders don’t attend the weekly meetings to show off speed but rather to boast about style. Members discuss everything from colors and designs to the special roar the engines make. They say it’s a chance for them to share experiences in motorcycle maintenance and accessories.
Come Along for the Ride
Joining Saigon HOG isn’t difficult; you just need to own a Harley and have an A2 class license. But to be a fully-fledged cardcarrying member requires going beyond just showing off these mechanical beauties. Members give back to the community by doing volunteer work in the education sector. When asked why education was specifically chosen as the group’s focus for social work, Phuong responded enthusiastically: “All the club members are family people who are intensely devoted to contributing towards Vietnam’s young generation.”
They’ve partnered with many organizations, associations and government agencies to build classrooms and provide scholarships for underprivileged students in remote areas. This year, the club has organized multiple events in an effort to raise awareness on safety and responsible driving amongst grade school and university students in the city.
“We organize excursions through Vietnam every year. We also organize some charitable activities during the trips. For example, we went to the mountainous province of Son La and Muong La District to help poor children. We also offer exchanges with HOG in Laos, Thailand and Cambodia,” says Dzung.
In Vietnam there’s still a lingering preconception that these easy riders are gangsters or hoodlums but they’d be surprised to learn that Saigon HOG members are actually successful CEOs, businessmen and academics. They would have to be considering the cheapest price of a Harley is around USD25,000.
Initially drawn to the seductive rumblings of a Harley, Phuong now eats, breathes and sleeps in HD because of the welcoming worldwide vibe that comes from being part of the HOG. Phuong has the assurance that no matter where he finds himself, he’ll be welcomed as part of the HOG family. “We all have HOG blood,” he says.
Whether you come from the Americas, Australia or Asia, and regardless of your job, be it company director, journalist or artist, just owning a Harley makes you a part of the HOG family. Pride and the connection between Harley Owner Group members has made it one of the most close-knit and exciting of all luxury motorcycle clubs. But make no mistake. HOG isn’t just a club, it’s a lifestyle.
Saigon HOG has weekly meetings from 9am-12pm every Sunday morning at Café L’Anmien (76 Le Lai, D1). On alternating weeks, the club organizes sessions on driving techniques, keeping up with the latest Harley news and charitable and social events.
Images by Nam Quan