Two riders were mounted on original Knucklehead models from 1946 and 1947, ie without rear suspension and with minimal fork travel. For these bikes the 5500km that lay ahead, of which 2000km would be on gravel roads, should prove a merciless punishment. The third bike was a Panhead – again a rigid frame model – completely assembled from accessory parts from the W&W Cycles warehouse. Only the photographer who was hired from outside had a modern(ish) scoot: an enduro-like modified 1995 Sportster. No helicopter assistance, no 4x4 support, no TV crew, no doctors, just four guys on four old bikes on a five-week trip to Patagonia and ‘Fireland’ in South America looking to silence the Harley critics once and for all.
Jumped start (Amsterdam to Buenos Aires)
Three weeks after the bikes had left Europe, the four riders Joe, Paul, Tommy and Volker leave for Buenos Aires, to straddle their 74 cu.in. V-twins. Paul’s riding a ‘46 rigid Knuckle on 19 inch wheels and Joe’s on a ‘47 Knuckle – both feature hand-shift, foot clutches and long-range five gallon tanks. Next is Volker’s heavily modified off-road Evo Sportster – this has huge carrying capacity for Volker’s photographic equipment. Last is Tommy’s Panhead, well proven in an earlier outing to Panama!
Only there’s bad news right at the start: at Buenos Aires airport we meet the DHL manager who regrets to inform us that the bikes are in fact still in Europe. The plane has developed a fault and is stuck in Amsterdam. There’s no Plan B just yet. But at least passing through Argentine customs is a cinch. The climate is hot, but damp, and the locals receive us with overwhelming warmth and friendliness. Alberto, and his buddy Flavio have organised a grandiose ‘asado’, meaning an orgy of steak, steak and more steak. They even make room in their homes so we forget the Harleys for the time being and think about our bellies. A couple of hunks of charred meat and some cold ones later, we fall into a blissful sleep…
Argentine Asphalt! (Buenos Aires to Pedro Luro)
Next morning we awake to the news that the bikes have arrived in Buenos Aires. After uncrating them the equipment goes on the bikes. Tomorrow we’ll roll!
When tomorrow arrives it’s raining buckets. So we decide to finish packing in a more leisurely manner and don’t get seriously rolling until the afternoon. We manage 400km on the Ruta 3 to Azul with a stopover at ‘La posta del viajero en moto’, a travellers must-see. It’s a humble shack filled with stickers, presents, graffiti, pictures, postcards from bikers from all over the world. The day ends in the now traditional way: asado, beer, bed. The following day the landscape changes from flat to flatter. So we roll along to our own tune… eight cylinders thunder through Bahia Blanca to Pedro Luro. That’s 550km in one hit.