SOME RUSSIANS HUNGER TO HOP ON A HARLEY
MOSCOW — The dream of generations of youthful American rebels has become reality for a handful of Russia's new rich: They have become the proud owners of Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
''Anyone who buys a Harley in Russia has done everything - owned a posh apartment, tried a couple of fancy sports cars, and spent vacations in the sun. Then he is ready,'' says Alexander Chulitsky, manager of the motorcycle company's first Moscow store.
The store, which displays two large bikes and a wide range of clothing and accessories in a former movie theater, opened last December and has sold 15 motorcycles at prices ranging from $20,000 to $35,000.
An upgraded custom-built model, with extras like silver-plated exhaust pipes, must be ordered specially from the United States and can cost much more.
''We realize that sales are not that big, but many people buy the bikes just to tell friends they have a Harley in the garage of their villa,'' Mr. Chulitsky says.
He says rock stars and television personalities often visit the shop, casting envious looks at the shining chrome and black leather seats, asking questions about the engine, but leaving with a leather jacket or a pair of hobnail boots.
A leather jacket costs about $1,000, or around 10 times the average monthly wage. ''In the West the movement started with a bike, and then people started buying the whole wardrobe. Here the clothing trend comes first,'' Chulitsky says.
Russia, with bitterly cold six-month winters and rough, potholed roads, has always lagged behind Western countries in developing the cult of the motorbike. In Soviet days, a motorbike was a cheap means of transport for farmers and low-income city folk. Noisy, trembling Soviet-built machines, driven by elderly people in ugly muddy green crash-helmets, are sometimes seen on suburban streets.
Most ''serious bikers'' in Russia today ride Soviet bikes, transformed by local experts into flame-painted Easy Rider-style choppers with gleaming chrome parts, leather seats, and two 3-foot-long forks.
Their groups have names like Night Wolves, Hell Dogs, or Russian Cossacks, and their clothes are emblazoned with the Harley logo - real or fake. Russians call them Kharleishchiki (Harley-riders). Though, few can afford the real thing.