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Harley-Davidson riders defiant on tariffs

June 29, 2018 12:00 am

The tariff war between the United States and the European Union has only just begun, but the battle has already produced one intriguing group of allies — members of the Storm Riders Motorcycle Club, Catskill Mountain Chapter.

Storm Rider Jay Black is a 37-year motorcycle veteran and all he rides are Harley-Davidsons. Black and other Storm Riders said they will stand by their motorcycle of choice despite the company’s announcement that it will move some production overseas.

The bikers’ nemesis here is President Donald Trump, who blasted the classic motorcycle maker after it announced it was pulling up stakes because of stiff retaliatory tariffs the EU imposed in response to Trump’s provocative trade strategy.

Black said this Wednesday: “It’s not necessarily a brand loyalty as it is making a stand on where we come from. For older riders, Harleys hold a special meaning.”

How ingrained is the Harley-Davidson in biker culture? The bylaws of many biker clubs require members to own and ride an American-made motorcycle. To them, with few options, that means nothing less than a Harley.

In fact, Marc Martino, president of the East Coast Riders Motorcycle Club in Kinderhook, declared Wednesday the East Coast Riders will not rewrite its bylaws and its members will not stop riding Harleys.

To call this a war between Harley riders and Trump may be a bit overstated, but that’s the case with Black, who sees Harley-Davidson caught in the middle. “I think this is the way Harley is letting the president know that the tariffs are hurting them and this is their response,” Black said.

The word “support” is significant here, too. Martino said many parts for Harley-Davidson bikes are machine-tooled overseas and sold in the U.S.. He also said that doesn’t matter. “We want to support our own,” Martino said. “It’s also a nostalgia thing. [Harleys] have a unique sound that no other bike makes. They look unique and you can swap parts.”

This brings us to another significant word: Lifestyle.

“It’s a way of life,” Martino said. Black echoed this sentiment as he lamented the slow passing of the Harley lifestyle as a new generation buys less-expensive, foreign-made motorcycles.

“A major factor is that it is part of a lifestyle,” Black said. “We want camaraderie and the adrenaline rush. A lot of veterans ride because of the connection between war and peace.”

Could it be that these motorcycle riders will become veterans of an entirely different kind of war?