The Great Canadian Bike Rally
Editors Note: Jess Kline recently completed an epic road trip on the Night Rod to the Bikers Reunion in New Liskeard; you can read all about her route here. But this trip took her to one of Ontario's most culturally significant towns for an extra-special event, the Harley Owners Group Rally. Check out her take on this quintessential Canadian Bikers Rally below.
The bright sun sparkling off chrome parts, the low rumble of engines, and leather vests bearing a familiar crest… as I looked on at the sea of motorcycles in front of me, I knew I was in for a treat at the 18th Annual National H.O.G. Rally in Kingston, Ontario. The quaint city was transformed July 24-26th for the rally, attracting over 1,100 Harley Davidson owners from across Canada and the United States to unite and celebrate their love of Harley Davidson motorcycles.
As the official riding club of Harley Davidson, H.O.G. offers a variety of member benefits, options and events throughout the year, while encouraging members worldwide to connect and share their experiences. Established in 1983, H.O.G. now consists of 1 million members worldwide, with approximately 50,000 of those members in Canada.
Growing up in a family of Harley owner’s and enthusiasts, I was thrilled to get the chance to attend this year’s national rally. Promoted as the “Great Canadian Rally”, it seemed fitting to host such an event in Canada’s first capital city. With a 2008 Night Rod Special from Clare’s Harley Davidson in Niagara-on-the-Lake, I cruised from Niagara to Kingston, not really sure what to expect from this adventure. Never did I imagine that later that night, I would be sitting in Fort Henry watching the annual tattoo, and chatting with new friends about their passion for Harley Davidsons… but I’ll get to all that in a minute.
Let’s back track to earlier that afternoon. As I sat on a park bench in front of City Hall, I started talking to a couple from Kingston who were thrilled that the H.O.G. rally was in their hometown that week. They shared their stories of travelling all over Canada, the United States and beyond, on their Road King. Their love of motorcycling, adventures, and Harley Davidson’s appeared to be as strong as their love for each other, and it was evident that this lifestyle and their membership with H.O.G. has had a significant impact on their lives.
Despite getting to the event a bit later than expected, I found a number of H.O.G. members who eagerly filled me in on the events of the past few days. The rally started on Thursday afternoon with a casual welcome reception, Canadian-style food (yes –Quebec Poutine was on the menu!) and a fabulous band. I heard there were some great dancers that night! The festivities continued into day 2, which was full of fun and games, including a slow race and jousting competition. H.O.G. reported record numbers of attendees at the bike games. After the games, members attended a pulled pork lunch at MotoSport Plus, and the day concluded with a Rally dinner and awards ceremony in the Kingston 1000 Islands Sportplex.
On the third day of the rally, I made my way into the downtown core, which was packed with H.O.G. members, community members, tourists and more! Everywhere I turned, there was something to see; a H-D Show ‘n Shine, Harley Davidson demo rides, Kingston Police Precision Riding Show, motocross freestyle show, vendor section, tasty treats, and of course a band.
Confederation Basin Marina, which is located where the Rideau River and Lake Ontario flow into the St. Lawrence River, provided a perfect backdrop for the day’s activities.
It was during my travels that day that I received an impromptu invitation from the Town Crier, Chris Whyman, to check out the annual military tattoo at Fort Henry. That evening, H.O.G. members were treated to another show by the Kingston Police Precision riders and a tattoo that included military bands, infantry company marches, highland dancing, and more, complete with fireworks after the show.
During the intermission, I met a H.O.G. member from the Quebec area. I asked him what he enjoyed most about being a member of the organization. Without any hesitation, he told me that he enjoyed the comradery and automatic acceptance among members. I learned that it does not matter where you go, what background you have, or your occupation; everyone is on the same playing field. You can go anywhere in the world, and can always touch base and find a fellow H.O.G. member to connect with.
I had the opportunity to connect with Gina McNeil, Manager of H.O.G. Canada, while I was at the rally, and she reiterated what other members had already shared with me; the organization is focused on friendship, connecting other Harley Owner’s, and reveling in their love and passion for riding. Gina shared with me that several special guests from Harley Davidson Motor Company rode from Milwaukee to attend the Great Canadian Rally. On the Thursday morning before the official rally kick-off, they toured the 1000 Islands Parkway which is one of the most beautiful motorcycle routes to ride in Ontario. Over the course of the weekend, the approachability and genuineness of H.O.G. members stood out to me. They were interested in talking to me, finding out where I was from and what I rode... and I found myself just as interested in learning about them.
Leaving Fort Henry that evening, I saw a few familiar faces from earlier that day. One member allowed me to cut in front of him as we all slowly filed out of the parking area. We chatted a bit in stopped traffic before parting ways. The following morning, as I got ready to return to Niagara, I met a few more members in the hotel parking lot.
They jokingly voted me in as VP of their Chapter, before wishing me a safe ride home. I smiled to myself as I fastened my helmet and waved goodbye to my new friends. That weekend, I got a taste of what it was like to be a H.O.G. member and I loved every minute of it. In the words of Gina McNeil, “we’ll see you on the road”, and so I extend that sentiment to all of the riders I met that weekend (and to those I didn’t have the chance to meet). Safe riding to all and I look forward to seeing you all again!