Hog heaven

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Hog heaven

Late last month, 50 motorcycle riders left Seoul's Olympic Park for a tour of Korea's World Cup stadiums.

Ninety-six hours later, the pack, which had picked up an additional 100 riders at Suwon Stadium, roared into a parking lot by the Seoul World Cup Stadium.

They parked, then they partied.

Tanned faces and shiny bikes gleamed among black leather jackets, studs and combat boots. During thank-you speeches, Outback Steakhouse meals, give-aways and impromptu musical performances, riders took photos, said farewells and had commemorative flags signed by their teammates, many who rode in a group for the first time.

The ride, which was in celebration of Harley-Davidson's third year of doing business in Korea, and the opening of the World Cup, drew Koreans and foreigners. Members of the tour flew the flags of the 32 countries represented in the World Cup games.

The company's next big event will be in October, when the Korean chapter of Hog, an international Harley owners group, meet at Hyundai Sungwoo Resort.


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LEADER OF THE PACK


"I'm crazy about soccer," says Chang Won-ki, the road master of the biker team that toured the soccer stadiums. "I don't have tickets, but I'll figure out a way to watch the games."

During most of the rally, Mr. Chang, 55, is in the middle of the action -- giving speeches, accepting commemorative plaques and watching people. He wears a band around his arm that says "Captain," and a whistle around his neck that he blows for attention like a sergeant guiding his troops.

He takes a break to direct attention to his motorcycle, a lean, black Electra Glide. He began riding bikes because he thought riders are cool, he says. He was 45 when he rode his first Harley.

Harleys were available in Korea even before Harley-Davidson opened an official store here. These days, more people are riding for leisure, especially to enjoy nature. "It's more fun to ride between the cities than in them," Mr. Chang says.

He helped launch the ride because he loves soccer, wants to publicize the soccer stadiums, and because, as he says, "My country is beautiful."


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RED DEVIL


The 35-year-old father of two rides what his peers call "The Chopper." Kwon Kyung-yeol recently renamed his elegant, fully customized vehicle "Red Devil," after the Korean soccer fans.

"This trip was the first time I took the motorcycle out since I brought it back into the shop," Mr. Kwon says. "It was a perfect ride."

He began building the Red Devil three years ago and is constantly tinkering with it. He started making the most recent alterations in December. He upgraded the engine to a V&S Super, changed the body color from blue to burgundy and gave his Harley a new mirror, front fork and handlebars. He did all the work himself, except for the paint job.

The bike is hard to handle because of the way it is designed. It is long, at 2.8 meters, and has a car tire for the rear tire. "It's all I ride, so I'm used to it," Mr. Kwon says.

Spurred on by friends, Mr. Kwon started riding motorcycles when he was 15 years old. His wife attended the postride party sporting Harley-Davidson clothes, but does not ride.


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FROM JAKARTA, WITH LOVE


The sun streams from behind Varuna Thema as he sits high on his 2002 Harley, a model called the Heritage Softail Classic. He rented the bike for his first ride in Korea.

"The best part of the journey was after 2 or 3 o'clock," Mr. Thema, 44, says. "The weather is good. You see mountains and the other drivers in the line, and there's this bond."

Mr. Thema heard about the rally in Korea through fellow members of a Harley Club in Indonesia. He points to the club's emblem on his vest and says, "I've been a member since 1963."

He had already ridden bikes through the United States, Canada and Indonesia, and thought Korea would make a good addition.

The owner of a motorcycle shop in Jakarta, Mr. Thema planned the trip as a vacation, but wound up finding a Korean client interested in buying a custom bike from him. Before Harley-Davidson opened in Korea, buyers had to get them from abroad.

"It's more than just a business," Mr. Thema says. "It's about trust between customers and clients."


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HARLEY LOYALIST


John McEnaney was 13 when he got his first Harley, an M65. Thirty years later, McEnaney, who turned 43 Thursday, is still a Harley rider through and through. "I can't imagine life without one," he says.

Mr. McEnaney may have a soft spot for the M65, which is at his father's home in Iowa, but he now rides a black 1990 Dyna Sturgis. He has not owned a car since 1977, and only rides Harleys.

He first came to Korea in 1978 with the U.S. Navy. Later he worked for Harley-Davidson in the United States, and came to Korea many times to teach mechanics and skills.

He also prefers country roads: "Seoul is like New York, but once you get out of it, you see the monks, old temples and people working the earth; it makes your heart feel good."

But there are differences in Harley culture between Korea and the United States, he says. "Riders in Korea are very trusting to other riders. Here, if you ride a Harley, it's like, 'Give me a hug.'

"And Korean riders eat much better. We sat for nutritious meals -- bulgogi or oxtail soup. No junk food at all."


by Joe Yong-hee

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