Elvis Presley rode a 1957 FLH Harley-Davidson Panhead. TWO rode the three latest Harleys – Nightster, V-Rod and Ultra Classic – to the European Elvis Convention in Blackpool. Dressed as The King the whole way...
I know I’m breaking one of the golden rules in a man’s life, but I can’t help but stare at the bloke stood next to me at the urinal. After all, it’s not everyday that you take a piss next to Elvis.
I am aware that the King died over 30 years ago, but the figure relieving himself next to me is the spitting image of Elvis Presley. Adorned in a white jumpsuit with enough rhinestones to keep a small costume shop’s shelves stocked for years, it was enough to give me stage fright. An overwhelming urge to giggle suddenly starts to overtake me and I hastily finish up and wash my hands. Walking out I hold the door and glance around to see if anyone is behind, and a figure walks past. “Thang you very much,” he slurs in an American drawl.
As we wander back to the bar I ponder that tonight probably has the makings of being the most surreal night of my life. Something that is confirmed when I queue up to order a drink and find a different Elvis emptying a bottle of Bud into glass A strange sight for many people, but for the contestants at the fifth European Elvis Convention this is the normal. Something we were becoming more than aware of.
Before we walked into the convention our plan was to ride up to Blackpool on three new Harleys dressed in our best Elvis costumes (well, the best we could get for under fifty quid) before entering the amateur Elvis contest. An homage to an American hero on the same bikes the great man rode. That was before a last minute call to the event’s organiser.
“Yes you are more than welcome, as long as you don’t turn up in stupid costumes and cheap wigs, all will be fine,” he said. Which, obviously, was our plan in a nutshell. So we decided to stick with simply riding up in ‘character’. Which presented its own problems in January, as our Elvis outfits (looking strangely more like Evel Knievel jumpsuits) and Harley-Davidsons had all the weather protection of a blade of grass. But one must suffer for one’s art, and having spent a few minutes in the contest hall it was more than apparent that the convention was far more than simply an event. This was a way of life. For one weekend a year, a hotel in Blackpool becomes Las Vegas, 1974, and the King is back on stage.
Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has entered the building...
Urry was an egg, Pole barely more than a stick and I was 15. I remember the day well: I was in WH Smiths in Woking when a middle-aged shop assistant suddenly burst into tears. Elvis was dead. After a moment’s panic that Costello had met an early death, life went on. For the people who we are going to meet in Blackpool at the Elvis convention this weekend I suspect that 16 August 1977 had a greater impact.
Perhaps it is because I am older and wobblier than Urry and Pole that they have very generously offered me the key to the Electra Glide Ultra Classic. Or perhaps editor Cantlie has told them to put me on the comfortable Electra Glide because TWO’s employee insurance has run out and he’s bothered about the old biffer freezing to death or being shaken to bits on the road to Blackpool. Whatever the reason, I am extremely glad that I have not been given either of the other fairing-less Harleys.
My wife’s got a degree in psychology and not long after meeting me she diagnosed me as an introvert. An introvert is someone who feels a little self conscious about riding down Orpington high street on a huge Harley-Davidson dressed very badly as Elvis Presley. I have never owned a pair of dark glasses in my life, but now I understand why they are so popular with the famous. Wearing darkened bins, even these cheap plastic gold Elvis ones, helps you ignore the fact that everyone is staring at you.
The Ultra Classic is a big bike and I have visions of me and it lying down together on a mini roundabout. There’s only one sight funnier than a fake Elvis on a Harley and that’s a fake Elvis underneath one. The frame feels so bendy that I’m scared that the back of the bike might fall over while I’m still holding the handlebars, but as usual with a strange bike it doesn’t take long to get used to it. The weight is low down and the massively wide bars give plenty of leverage. The bike is also not as wide as it feels so filtering is not too difficult. And it is virtually impossible to be in the wrong gear, even though there are six of them.
By the time we reach the M25 it is obvious that the boys have done me a favour that they are likely to really regret. The 96 cubic inch V-twin is deliriously happy at exactly 80mph in top. Not 78 or 83, but spot on eighty. The others are stretched out like sails struggling against a headwind as I relax back into the comfy seat and acquaint myself with the flight systems. We have cruise control, which will be perfect for the long stretches of M6 when I can set it for the 80mph sweet spot. There’s also an audio system with an array of speakers spread around the bike and a selection of buttons and levers with which to operate it. Normally I’m not keen on playing music so loud that a county can hear it but when you’re part of a trio of joke Presleys on a winter’s morning on the M25 there’s no point trying not to attract attention so Desert Island Discs is cranked to full volume.
By the time we hit Birmingham the other two have started to strike martial arts poses to try and stop their muscles seizing up. While the others have lost feeling in their legs, I’ve lost Radio Four and am now onto Slade on the CD player. Heated handlebar grips would be a nice standard feature on a £16,995 bike but otherwise I’m very comfortable. You get palm warmers on a Gold Wing and plenty else besides, but the Wing is not a real bike the way an Electra Glide is. I love ‘Wings and have done many hundreds of miles on them, but I can’t help thinking that if you want that level of gadgetry and sophistication you might as well go a step further and buy a BMW 7-Series. The Harley rumbles, coughs, groans and shakes like an old industrial engine. Character.
We stop several times on the way up to Blackpool because Pole’s Nightster has got a tank the size of a shrew’s bladder. The Ultra Classic could get most of the way on a tankful of gas, but I need to stop anyway because the Velcro on my Elvis belt keeps coming undone and I’m liable to lose a key part of my costume. As you can tell from the photographs I represent the post-burger Elvis.
When we arrive in Blackpool it is I that look the youngest. The other two can barely walk. Like the Nightster the Ultra has a criminal build quality. Five separate jubilee clips hold on one of the exhaust guards and cheap fasteners are scattered all over the bike. It’s inexcusable for such an expensive machine. But Christmas cracker quality aside, the Electra Glide Ultra Classic is the best and most loveable Harley I’ve ever ridden. The V-Rod is more sporty and able, but the Glide is what the company is all about.
There had been talk of us having a crack on stage at the Elvis look-sing-alike contest but as soon as we arrived it was obvious that this would be like turning up for the Senior TT with a Honda Melody. The standard of Elvishness is incredible with the top three blokes being barely distinguishable from the real thing. Elvis is like Harley. You may not like the image, you might not like the Vegas tackiness, but in among all that are some very good tunes. I’ve never lusted after a Harley but I’d leap at the chance to ride an Electra Glide again. In warm weather, dressed in conventional bike gear.
Continue Viva Blackpool - 2/3
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