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Interview

One in a million

By Mario

With over 1,000,000 members, the Harley Owners Group is the largest factory-sponsored riding club in the world.
We caught up with H.O.G. NZ Regional Director, Craig Urquhart, to find out what it is that draws so many to sign up.

Craig Urquhart’s route into motorcycling had an unusual start. He got his first motorbike aged eight: a gift from his tradesman father who had taken it as payment for a job. It was a 50 cc Benelli, not exactly thick on the ground in Aotearoa. Progress was then modest, entailing a Honda 100, a 125, a 175, then a big leap to a Yamaha XT500. And, yes, he wished he had held on to that one.

Like many riders, Craig had time out from riding, especially with family commitments. “Then I had my mid-life crisis and bought a Harley,” he jokes. “I got my first one about nine years ago, a Harley Deuce.” The bug bit pretty hard and since then Craig has had ‘eight or ten Harleys’ he says with a suspicious vagueness. Current ownership includes an absolutely gorgeous 1942 WLA that was the star of the 2018 Beach Hop parade and which Craig has on permanent display in the HOG clubroom above Auckland Harley-Davidson. He inherited it from his father, along with a 1927 JD example awaiting restoration. Completing Craig’s garage is a day-rider and a Tourer.

Craig Urquhart's 1942 WLA

Join the club

When Craig got back into riding he very nearly didn’t buy a Harley at all. In fact he was happily sitting on a Triumph T-Bird in the showroom when a conversation with the salesman turned to Harley riders. Specifically, the fact that they all turned up en masse, went out on spontaneous rides together, acted like a huge bunch of mates and seemed to have an irritatingly carefree way about them. “I think I might be a Harley rider,” concluded Craig before heading into the showroom next door containing the Deuce.

H.O.G. Auckland Chapter Committee members

He joined the Harley Owners Group almost immediately and was soon put forward for and elected Treasurer of the local Auckland chapter. After a spell as Assistant Director, he became Regional Director for New Zealand. The organisational aspect of HOG is on another level to most motorcycle clubs. Craig is one of five Regional Directors in this part of the world, the four others covering Australia. Ultimately, he reports to the Harley-Davidson regional office in Singapore which then links to the United States. Craig represents around 2,000 HOG chapter members in New Zealand – quite a large proportion of the 7,000 or so Kiwi Harley Owners, who are also a focus.

 What's the attraction?

Organised rides are a big part of the H.O.G. experience and ethos, including charity fundraising, with regular Chapter meetings. “Different Chapters have different activity levels,” says Craig. “But if you take Auckland Chapter, they’ll have two rides this weekend and most weekends–Saturday and Sunday. They’ve even had track days.” So has Craig piloted any Harleys around a circuit? “Sadly I missed the recent launch event of the LiveWire at Pukekohe but I’ve been invited to new model launches in Australia before, including on track.”

H.O.G. started with big rallies in the US back in the 80s and these signature events happen at least once a year in each country. Craig recalls the last one, early this year, fondly. “I rode into Ohakune about 12 months earlier and it just felt perfect for a rally. The ability to close streets off, to ‘own’ the township, to ride up the mountain. We received a Maori welcome from local iwi at the top of the mountain. It was pretty special, and we had some glowing reviews from members. Thunder Mountain, we called it, and we had about a thousand riders there. After a little bit of trepidation from council, the locals were very welcoming. Not least because Harley owners are a generally affluent bunch and those thousand riders spent as much as 10,000 Mardi-Gras goers.”

The level of organisation that underpins the Harley Owners Group, while it has its guidelines, delivers for members too. The interview with Craig took place in the huge clubroom above Auckland Harley-Davidson, where Craig’s 1942 machine takes pride of place. These member areas feature right across the globe, with members able to drop in and use the facilities.

Craig at Auckland Harleys Customer Lounge

Camaraderie and connection

Craig emphasises the loyalty and spirit that underpins Harley ownership and club membership. “There aren’t many other brands that people have tattooed across their backs,” as he puts it. “You walk into an establishment anywhere in the world with a H.O.G. rocker on your jacket and someone will walk up and talk to you. It’s a common interest and a common passion, no matter what walk of life you come from.”

As for H.O.G., Craig says everything boils down to one simple aspiration: to ride and have fun. And of course to do that involves keeping people safe. “It matters to the Motor Company, and why wouldn’t it? These are tomorrow’s customers.”

To that end, the club has education programmes, including such things as safe group riding, and an officer training scheme known as HOT–Harley Officers Training. “Every Chapter has a dedicated safety officer,” says Craig. “In the case of Auckland a previous incumbent used to be a motorcycle cop, so he’s well experienced. Each Chapter also undertakes medical training in case anything goes wrong.”

H.O.G. has undertaken training in conjunction with Ride Forever, often in groups, and recognises Ride Forever coaching through all the levels. “Sometimes there’s a perception that training can be a bit regimented, or there are some members who’re a bit set in their ways. But we had a group went out on a Friday a couple of weeks ago, and the reports were that they had a great day, they really enjoyed it and they truly learned some stuff,” says Craig. “As we say, ‘ride and have fun’ and that’s exactly what they did. One of the downsides of my role is I spend so much of my time looking after 7,000 Harley owners, events to run, doing interviews like this, flying around the country to meet the Chapters, I hardly ever seem to have time to ride! But a Ride Forever course is at the top of my list.”