Back in March Harley-Davidson invited me to participate in an once-in-a-lifetime trip: a 500-mile motorcycle ride from Atlanta to Daytona Beach for Bike Week.
Although I’m a complete novice, I’d learned how to ride a motorcycle last summer and was eager to hop back on a bike. Riding into Bike Week with a group of journalists, and noted film director F. Gary Gray, seemed like an amazing way to brush up on my skills. So I signed up.
The ride to Daytona Beach was a part of an ongoing celebration of Harley-Davidson’s 110th anniversary. To commemorate this achievement, the company has enlisted diehard riders to wear the Harley-Davidson “Freedom Jackson” all over the world.
In March, F. Gary Gray donned the Freedom Jacket and caravanned to Daytona Bike Week with three of his friends—actor Malcolm Jamal Warner, Pastor Joe Basile, and photographer Cory Whitted—to highlight the “Iron Elite,” Harley-Davidson’s nod to black bikers.
African-Americans have a long history of riding Harleys. From William B. Johnson opening a HD dealership in the 1920s, to Bessie Stringfield crisscrossing the country solo in the 1930s, black folks have long enjoyed the freedom that comes from riding motorcycles.
These days, black riders express their style and individuality through their bikes in neighborhoods, biking events, and through clubs, but it all boils down to how it feels to ride on a chopper. It’s a feeling that I surely didn’t understand until I gave it a try.
According to Gray, “Riding a Harley is the closest thing to flying that I’ve experience.”
And after rolling into Daytona Bike Week on the back of a hog….I’d have to agree.