A Harley lover who doesn't throw caution to the winds

Updated: 2011-10-07 08:50

By Guo Shuhan (China Daily)

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A Harley lover who doesn't throw caution to the winds
Yang Wei(right) and her friend Zhang Xuan prepare to go on ride on Bashang Plateau, Hebei province, in June. Provided for China Daily

BEIJING - Some people are more enthusiastic about life than others and hope to leave their imprints on the world - on land, in the seas or up above in the sky. Yang Wei is one of them.

The 41-year-old manager of a construction company has chosen to roar along highways on her Harley-Davidson, an iconic American brand motorcycle symbolizing passion and freedom to her.

"It (the Harley) helps me experience the freedom that is absolutely impossible otherwise. It is hard to express in words, but I feel like the one when birds hover in the air, fish swim in water and sturdy steeds gallop on grasslands," says Yang, wearing a cropped hair cut with yellow highlights, white-painted nails, black jacket and blue jeans - typical Harley wear - in an interview with China Daily.

Harley-Davidson is no stranger to China. Its "bar and shield" logo appeared in China as early as the 1920s. China's renowned architect Liang Sicheng (1901-72) was a great Harley lover, says Ling Yanhong, another female Harley-Davidson fan and a friend of Yang, who used to work for the brand's showroom in Beijing.

But the brand, Ling says, disappeared from the Chinese mainland for decades during late 20th century. Its agency was re-established in Beijing only in 2005.

Like most Chinese, the brand didn't find a place in Yang Wei's dictionary until a fuggy summer day in 2008 when she was trapped in her "cage-like" car during a traffic jam on Beijing's Fourth Ring Road.

"I was on the edge of dozing off when a series of low chugs from a motorcycle drew my attention. Then I saw a young foreigner in linens riding past me on a shinning heavyweight motorcycle," Yang recalls.

"His thin light clothes were flowing in the breeze. I was surprised to see him deftly shuttle on the choc-a-bloc road as if he was 'floating through the sea of cars', while my car moved helplessly at tortoise pace under the scorching sun."

The motorcycle captivated Yang instantly. Rather "the freedom from constraint" got hold of her, though she came to know only later, through the Internet, that it was a Harley-Davidson. Not long after, she applied for a motorcycle-riding course, obtained a license and brought home her first "huge toy", a Sportster 883 Low, weighing more than 250 kg, the lightest one for beginners.

The path to "freedom", however, was not easy. The part-time professional off-road racing driver dared not try her motorcycle for a whole year, because her friends kept warning her against accident by narrating gory stories.

Yang's first real driving experience began as late as 2009, and was not memorable. At first, she only circled quiet roads at a "fairly low" speed in the Yuquan Mountain on the western outskirts of the capital with sweating hands and a fast-throbbing heart.

Only after completing the compulsory and professional driving courses offered by Harley Owners Group in March 2009 did she ride with ease.

She is now one of the about 10 active Harley woman bikers in Beijing who go on group cruising rides on mountain highways nearly every weekend. Her bigger and heavier Softall Fat Boy, bought earlier this year, and exceeding four times her body weight, has already covered over 7,000 km.

Harley is only part of her colorful life outside the office. She is also an expert horse-rider, surfer and skier.

"Adventure sports do give Yang the thrills. She is the kind of person with a disposition of softness in solidness." says Du Li, another of Yang's friends. "And I think Harley helps represent her personality to the extreme."

The extreme, however, has its limitations. "Never put yourself on the edge of danger" is a sentence always on Yang's lips.

She feels fulfilled when other drivers extol the harmony between her and her riding, yet never rides her Harley at just more than half its maximum speed.

The Chinese get their impression of Harley mostly from Hollywood blockbusters. In films, men with stocky build and in tight black leather clothes and long flowing hair and a dense array of tattoos on their arms, scream along roads helmet-less, leaving the air behind them resonating with trembling "vroom".

Yang says some Chinese youngsters do imitate the characters on the screen, but she believes driving at a comfortable speed and enjoying the sunshine and sights along the way is quintessential Harley style. And she doesn't think that young, aggressive people can harness a Harley well.

"Don't be perplexed by Harley's exaggerated shapes. Riders get pleasure from group cruising, not personal performances. If a driver wants to express himself or herself recklessly, he or she would become vulnerable to potential risks and pose a danger to group mates," she says.

"Only those who know how to release their emotions in a controlled range can experience the perfect pleasure of a Harley-Davidson."

China Daily

(China Daily 10/07/2011 page5)