HOG, SWEET HOG; HARLEY OWNERS GATHERING IN A.V.
Sheriff's Department mechanic Ed Gilner has been riding motorcycles for about a dozen years but a Harley-Davidson only since 1993.
He now swears by the twin-cylinder behemoth - an ``American icon,'' he calls it - and could never go back to riding any other makes.
``It's just the sound and feel of a Harley. It's different than any other bike. Nothing feels like a Harley does,'' said Gilner, 50, of Quartz Hill. ``Once you ride one of them, all the others just seem to be so mundane.''
Gilner is among the 1,000 Harley owners expected this weekend at the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds for the seventh annual Southern California State H.O.G. Rally, which runs through Sunday.
The Harley Owners Group, a worldwide organization, was formed about 15 years ago as a way for the motorcycle manufacturer to stay in touch with its customers, rally organizers said.
Gilner's license plate says ``BAT HOG'' because his black bike ``looks like something Batman would ride,'' he said.
Rally coordinator Denyce Johnston says there are 52 H.O.G. chapters in California, with about 40,000 members. The one in the Antelope Valley has 168 members who hail from Acton to Barstow.
``It's a social group actually. It's a way to have Harley owners meet and make new friends,'' Johnston said. ``Our main thing is to ride and have fun. We call it the `R and F factor.' Whatever we do, it has to have the R and F factor.''
The image of Harley riders has changed over the years. They are no longer seen as the stereotypical biker ruffians or social misfits, an image spread by movies and television in the 1950s and '60s, members said.
Johnston, a 49-year-old school secretary at Vasquez High School in Acton who wears silver hog earrings, said Harley riders are doctors, lawyers, professionals, retirees, and even a state senator.
``They are white-collar, blue-collar. Anybody who can afford to has one,'' Johnston said. ``It's not the stereotypical biker. It's not that way anymore. We're respectable, family people.''
Harley-Davidson motorcycles can cost anywhere from $7,000 to $22,000. Johnston rides a 1340 cc Heritage Soft Tail Classic.
Retired autoworkers Nonie and George Massman rode to the rally from Buena Park.
``We love Harley-Davidsons,'' said George, 55. ``They are just great. They've got a T-shirt that says, `If I had to explain (the bike's appeal), you wouldn't understand.' ''
Nonie, 54, said their Harley is a good way to spend time with her husband. The couple has logged 45,000 miles traveling to every state in the Union, and every province in Canada and Mexico.
And the ride on their Ultra Classic is comfortable, said Nonie, likening her seat to a big reclining chair with armrests.
Planned rally events include the Poker Run, where participants draw cards from five different locations and the winners are picked for best hand and worst hand.
The stops are at the fairgrounds, Foster's Freeze in Rosamond, Carl's Jr. in Mojave, the Apple Shed Restaurant in Tehachapi, and the Harley dealership in Lancaster.
At the fairgrounds grandstand, bike games include a ``churro bite,'' in which riders and passengers travel down a straight line slowly, and the passengers bite off a chunk of the sweet Mexican confection as they pass. Organizers may slather the churro in whipped cream.
Other contests include a hoop toss and putting clothespins on a line. There also will be a bike show and a bike ride through Palmdale and Lancaster.
PHOTO (1--Color) The license plate on Quartz Hill resident Ed Gilner's Harley-Davidson, left, refers to its stylish suitability for a certain Caped Crusader.
(2--Color) Ed Gilner, Antelope Valley Harley Owners Group historian, straddles his motorcycle in anticipation of this weekend's rally, when hundreds of bikers from a variety of backgrounds and hometowns will arrive for riding fun and friendly competition.
(3--Color) Harley-Davidson rider Mike Baranik motors his hog through Lancaster.
(4) Fabian Terracciano cruises through town on his Harley-Davidson.
Jeff Goldwater/Daily News