Harlistas Cubanos: Vintage bikes in action

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by Laura Rodriguez

MILWAUKEE-- Tucked away in the streets of Havana is a Harley Davidson repair shop where Cubans like Sergio Morales have taken an American symbol and made it their own.

"They love Harley Davidson and they do anything and everything to keep the machines going. If it means to take the part from a lawnmower or a Russian car or make the part themselves, that's what they do," said Gunther Maier, a photographer and filmmaker.

Gunther Maier was intrigued by an article he read on Sergio Morales and after two trips to the island nation, he decided to document it all and publish a book titled Harlistas Cubanos.

"It intrigued me very much because I'm into vintage Harley's," said Maier.

In Cuba, there are Harley's dating back to 1937 that are still on the road because of Cuban innvoation.

"Whenever something breaks down, they trade amongst eachother because nobody throws anything away. If you go to some people's garages or houses there are rooms full of screws labeled exactly where they go. Even if they don't need them for their bike, they'll use them for somebody elses bike, they trade very heavily," said Maier.

Many Cuban Harlistas also rely on relatives who live in other countries to bring them Harley Davidson parts.

According to Maier, about 150 Harley Davidson motorcycles are left in Cuba and some consider them an endangered species of sorts.

Harley Davidson stopped exporting to Cuba in 1960, after Fidel Castro came into power.

"Before the revolution, Cuba and Havana was a hotbed for Americans and so Harley Davidson was one of those products they wanted to have there, but after the revolution, lots of things American were not liked anymore by Fidel," said Maier.

The Cuban riders featured in Harlistas Cubanos weren't able to come to the anniversary celebration in Milwaukee because of travel restrictions and financial reasons, but Maeir hopes to represent them this weekend. 

"I try my best, I don't speak Spanish, but I feel I have Cuban blood in me. I feel like I'm a lilttle Cuban, un poquito," said Maier.

Maier's book is part of the Harley Davidson Museum's permanent collection.

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