The Sexual Politics of the Harley – Halfway to Baker City

There have been times Paul and I have thought about swopping our push bikes for some more oomph

After just a few days into this trip, Paul and I fantasised about swapping our bikes for Harleys … they are made for this sort of trip … endless miles on empty roads sweeping through the enormous landscapes. Effortless. Men of a certain age cruising around without a care in the world, thinking they were Dennis Hopper or Peter Fonda. They gave us their dropped hands greeting in respect as they passed too … we felt part of their club. Cool or what? Harley heaven.


Today’s ride was really hard, including a 50 mile section across an arid landscape with nowhere to fill up with water and heat in three figures. Throw in the fumes and clatter of several thousand Harley’s and it became an even greater trial!

Now, after cycling in three figure temperatures for the last few days in Hells Canyon, we hate them. With a vengeance. The bikes that is, not the blokes. When you’re hot and bothered and struggling up yet another mountain in the blistering heat, those huge, ugly, over-chromed lumps of iron are so goddam irritatingly noisy. Why can’t they purr past with understated power like the Gold Wings and Beemers do? And there were loads of the buggers on the road from Halfway as, unbeknownst to us, there was a Harley rally in Baker City over the weekend. Our own personal Harley hell?


Customisation is the name of the game if you buy a Harley

The ultimate symbol of American freedom and machismo (after the gun?) … the Hog, the Fatboy, the Road King … owners customise their machines to the hilt in an expression of individuality and oneupmanship … so how come they all look the same? … just big and brash. Even down to the ‘uniform’ of denims, black leathers, bandana, beer gut and (optional) bird on the back. And the woman is always but always on the back. You get a few women riding their own bikes for sure, but we’ve yet to see one bloke behind a woman rider. Why’s that then?

Perhaps it’s because the double seat is called a ‘king and queen’ seat (the ‘queen’ rear section being higher) and no self-respecting guy would be seen dead sitting on anything with such a wide range of meanings and implications? Or perhaps its just the obvious relinquishing power and control to a girly thing.  No idea really … I’ll ask some of them … their scary looks belie their overt friendliness. So far.


Climbing out of Halfway this morning we saw some real live cowboys complete with lassos

Anyway, back to the day … ‘Camel up’ was the expression used for drinking as much water as possible before starting off, so that’s what we did … and then I got a second puncture just as we left our breakfast diner … possibly an indication that after nearly four thousand miles the tyres are done for? Ten minutes of teamwork later we’re good to go … into the hundred degree heat and hills, with nothing between here and there except fifty miles and those aforementioned Harleys.


We met Celia and Harry from the UK on the road today heading East. Celia is originally from Benfleet. Their Bike Friday machines have Rohloff hubs and belt drives and pack down into the suitcases for flying home. It means the cases remaining almost empty – Harry just had tent poles in his!

A day of pedalling uphill and, frustratingly, downhill through a familiar scrubby landscape ensued (has America finally run out of different types?) with the main point of interest being the Oregon Trail Interpretation Centre which turned to be a mile off route, up a hill … I don’t think so! Bumping into two Brits who were going east was a pleasant surprise … that’s only the third lot of fellow countrymen we’ve met. We only told them nice things about the days ahead (why spoil it for them?) including the heads up about the free floor space in the church in Halfway.


Baker City was overrun by Harley’s – and boy they are noisy!

Baker City was absolutely chocker with Harleys … hundreds of them lining Main Street, and I must admit that they looked very shiny and impressive. And they were silent. I did still want to test the domino theory though.The street smelt of testosterone and burgers but had a real carnival atmosphere. It was a bit like a mass fancy dress party where everyone turned up in the same cliched outfit though. We stuck out but joined in and as we were having a rest day the next day, we even allowed ourselves a few craft beers. Luxury. Why wasn’t every evening like this? Paul and Mike crashed out in their tents immediately on getting back (going by the snoring) and I remember only a few tracks of the Au Pairs before the land of nod took over. The next day was a Zero day so we could lie in. Bliss.


We camped on the edge of town outside Baker City (10,000 bikers in town meant there was very little choice) so we cycled in to see the action and sample the local beers and restaurants. This bird, one of a pair, was a frequent visitor to our campsite. Any ideas what it is?

Once you decide to have a rest day you psychologically switch off and any energy you did have simply drains from your body and the mere thought of getting on a bike for hours in the heat becomes a ludicrous notion. So that’s what we did and that’s what happened. The morning was spent blogging and drinking lattes in town … the afternoon was spent eating and blogging in a different cafe. Then I did ‘culture’ * and the boys didn’t. Having had an exhausting day, we cooked up, cleared up, cleaned teeth and were in bed by 10, already dreading our 4am alarm calls. The inevitability of onwards.

* by ‘culture’ I mean the new Transformers film!

Today’s Miles:  52

Miles since First Landing: 3856


Written by Terry Wooller


  1. If you’re not a Hog fan, probably not the best time to be cycling Eastern Oregon:

  2. We just reached Cambridge with 116F/46.6C on the meter. Will have a rest day here (staying with a warmshowers host). Well done for getting through the Hell! Good luck for the next miles.
    Esther and Warren

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