Harlistas: Hopping a Harley on the Great American Road
What's more liberating than taking to the open road on a souped up Harley? For the Harlistas, nothing.
Courtesy of Harley-Davidson
A Harlista, a term coined half a century ago, is a Latin American Harley-Davidson rider. Not just a nickname, but a mentality, being a Harlista is about living fearlessly, overcoming obstacles and experiencing the camaraderie of the road.
That lifestyle takes center stage, along with the great American road, in the movie Harlistas: An American Journey. The film, which premieres tonight, follows the personal and physical journeys of 10 Harlistas as they travel the U.S. on their bikes.
AOL Travel caught up with a few of the Harlistas: Brothers Pat, Jay, Ernie and Vito Rodriguez who made the voyage from Queens, N.Y. to motorcycle mecca Sturgis, S.D., and Lonnie Gallegos and stepson Jerry Ramirez who customize low-rider bikes in Alhambra, Calif. Here are their thoughts on Harleys, the biker community and the freedom to ride.
How do you perceive yourself as a Harley rider among the motorcycle community at large?
Jay Rodriguez: I see myself as different because I'm more of a clean cut yet eccentric guy. You can see that from my bikes. All of my Harleys are a little more chopped up, lowered, louder and more colorful then your typical ones. That's just a reflection of my personality.
Ernie Rodriguez: As a rider I believe in brotherhood and a sense of family. I'm very loyal to my friends and family.
Jerry Ramirez: I perceive myself as lucky – lucky to have the opportunity to be on my bike riding on the road, lucky to be free, to have a second chance at life as Harley rider and a farther and to forget the life as a drug dealer.
What kind of stuff is a Harley rider made out of?
Jay Rodriguez: A Harley rider is always a unique individual, a nonconformist and independent. The best part about us is that we don't all have to look the same. We all come from different walks of life with different jobs and different attitudes, but the one thing that we all definitely have in common is the passion to ride. Riding bonds us all together and there is nothing that we wouldn't do for a brother rider.
Ernie Rodriguez: Loyalty, support when it's wanted, and a sense of community that you don't find at a polo match. If I had to explain more you wouldn't understand.
Lonnie Gallegos: You don't have to come from a mold to be a biker. First you need to have the passion to ride; to have the desire for the freedom you get from being in control of your destiny out on the open road or just trying to make it back home from work. Get on your bike and make your own American journey. Being a biker is a way of life, not a weekend thing.
What are the biggest challenges to long distance travel by motorcycle?
Jay Rodriguez: Riding long distance isn't the problem; it's finding the time to do it.
Jerry Ramirez: The weather can change on you really quickly, one minute it's clear skies and a few hours down the road it can start raining hard. Other than riding in the pouring rain, I love it.
Pat, Jay, Ernie and Vito Rodriguez at Mt. Rushmore. Courtesy of Harley-Davidson
However do you pack everything you need?
Ernie Rodriguez: There's not really not much to take with you – a pair of jeans, t-shirts, shorts, jacket, tooth brush, camera and a good rider carries a buck knife.
Jerry Ramirez: You never do. You just pack what fits and ride.
What do you find so appealing about traveling the open road?
Lonnie Gallegos: The freedom to enjoy all the sites our country has to offer – the places, the people and the American journey!
Jerry Ramirez: The freedom, the wind on your face, the great views of the countryside plus the fact that it's just you and the road – no phone, no computer, and not a care in the world.
Would you trade your bike for a suit and a million bucks?
Lonnie Gallegos: What you are asking is "Would I trade my life to be someone else?" and the answer is NO! I did have a suit and I had millions. I gave it up to have the freedom to be me. That life style is not what I am about.
Pat Rodriguez: HELL NO! I wouldn't trade my bike for a suit, but I'd definitely take the million bucks to buy a few more Harleys.
Jay Rodriguez: I and everyone out there would be lying our asses off if we answer "no" to this question. For damn sure I would! I'd gladly wear a suit on a Harley. And a million bucks would buy me an army of Harleys!
Ernie Rodriguez: Not twenty years ago, but now I probably would. With a million bucks I could buy a few Harleys, and the suit, well, I'll be wearing it in church on Sundays.
For someone who isn't familiar with Sturgis, South Dakota, what can one expect to find there?
Ernie Rodriguez: Beautiful mountains, the Black Hills, Custer Park, buffaloes – you will find America.
Jerry Ramirez: Millions of bikes and bikers, and a great time with lots of beer and boobs.
Pat Rodriguez: Nice open roads, parties, history, more parties, babes, more parties.
What makes it a mecca?
Vito Rodriguez: It's a place larger than life.
Lonnie Gallegos: The history of Sturgis makes it the place you must ride to at least once in your lifetime during the run itself. You are in biker heaven. 24/7 all you hear is the sound of motorcycles.
Lonnie Gallagos and Jerry Ramirez on their Harleys. Courtesy of Harley-Davidson
Ever been in a bad wreck?
Ernie Rodriguez: I fell asleep on the bike once. Luckily I was at a light, but there was no one around – just me sleeping on the road with the bike on top of me until my friend came along and woke me up. It wasn't a bad accident, just my leg and nose.
Pat Rodriguez: Yes. And, there's no such thing as a good wreck on a bike.
Vito Rodriguez: Never, thank God, but there are two types of riders: those who have gone down and those who will go down.
Can you talk about some of the highlights and lowlights or good or bad days from the road?
Pat Rodriguez: Riding on your bike with a hot chick. Bad day is finding out she's married.
Jay Rodriguez: The highlight for me is just riding with friends. The lowlights are definitely the streets in NYC – dodging pot holes with a taxi cab 10 inches from your rear tire.
Vito Rodriguez: A highlight is that my bike and I become one with the road. Lowlights are assholes on cell phones.
Jerry Ramirez: Every day is a good day 'cause even on a bad day you just get on your bike and hit the road and it starts to get better.
How are people responding to you?
Ernie Rodriguez: Everyone is always friendly everywhere we go. People are always eager to ask a question: "What year is your bike?" "Where are you from?" and suddenly I make a new friend. I meet people from all different walks of life. Small town people who I thought didn't like people on bikes have always responded in a friendly manner. It's all good in America.
Vito Rodriguez: All the time my Harley and I get a lot of looks, waves and thumbs-up, but never negative responses. Those days have passed for the biker community.
Lonnie Gallegos: Most of the time the people I meet on the journey were curious about me, asking "Where are you from?" "Where are you going?" "What type of bike do you have?" "What is the longest journey you have been on?" and they tell me to have a safe trip.
Harlistas: An American Journey premieres May 27 on MUN2 with three additional showtimes on May 28, July 29 and July 30. On-Demand viewing began April 19 and will be available for 60 days.
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