The Maui chapter of Street Bikers United Hawaii turned into a group of 300-plus Christmas elves last Sunday, collecting presents and cash donations for the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots in partnership with the Salvation Army of Maui County.
Chapter President Jake Jacobus spent long hours organizing what turned out to be the biggest Harley party of the year. It began the day before at Kula Hospital with eight three-wheel trikes and a handful of solo riders.
The bikers were due to bring a little Christmas cheer to long-term-care patients. Pushed Baby out of the garage. Pulled on the most insulated of several jackets. Old bones required protection from the 55-degree cold in Kula.
Nice morning for a ride to Keokea. Bright sun projected the kind of sidelight that delights artists. Sailed through the gentle curves to Fong's store. At the hospital, found a sun-warmed spot on a rock wall and enjoyed the tranquility of Maui's oldest and most beautiful hospital.
Aides wheeled some 10 patients out to a garden. There was the muted sound of bikes coming up the long driveway. The riders backed their steeds into stalls reserved for visitors and the "night shift." One solo rider had a guitar lashed to a sissy bar.
Patients were wheeled up to see the bikes. One climbed on but passed on a ride. A couple of staffers took advantage of a short ride. A retired firefighter was given one of 150 toy Harleys donated by an unnamed contributor. Bikers and patients took part in a Christmas singalong.
Sunday, hit Dairy Road late. The "permitted parade" to Lahaina was due to begin at 11 a.m. A half-hour early, a group of some 40 riders came out, stopping green-light traffic. One impatient cage driver honked his horn. Baby ducked out of the turn lane and latched on to the end of the pack charging down Kuihelani Highway.
At the end of the convoy, speeds of up to 75 mph were required to stay with the group. The road captain later said he was running the speed limit. Maybe so. The last vehicle in any convoy has to run faster just to keep up.
Open-pipe Harleys bellowed. Sport bikes wailed. Baby barked.
Most of the riders appeared to belong to one club and be used to running together. Kahekili Highway traffic was stopped so the pack could stay together for the run to the Lahaina Cannery Mall. Along the pali section of Honoapiilani Highway, the pack arced around curves at a sane speed. Nice sight.
For a lone-wolf motorcyclist, it wasn't that much fun. Too busy watching the other riders.
The pack idled down Front Street. Pedestrians grinned and took pictures. Only one spectator was spotted glaring at the bikes. He jerked his closed hand up and down.
The lead riders picked the shady side of the mall parking lot, a linear exhibition of bikes more art than transportation. Most of the bikes were low-slung with huge rear tires. It's a rare Harley that doesn't get modified. How much depends on money. Frame-up customs can cost $30,000 or more. A classy paint job can cost $3,000 all by itself.
The bike that got the most attention was a gorgeous old-school "local boy" - skinny, 21-inch front wheel under a stock-appearing fender, stock-length fork, tractor saddle and wide, low bars. The style was devised decades ago for island roads. The current style is most effective on straightaways. Not many of those on Maui.
The sport bikes parked off to the side. Maui Harley riders are personable on a one-to-one basis but in a group they are clannish and scornful of Japan-built "ricers."
In 1986 at an Oahu Harley-Davidson/Kawasaki dealership, a newbie asked, "What's the difference between a Harley and a Kawasaki" The salesman didn't hesitate. "If you just want to ride, get a Kawasaki. If you want a lifestyle, get a Harley."
A second pack of 24 Harleys arrived. The main group, with police officers stopping side traffic, arrived a little later, filling out the parking lot with more than 200 Harleys, foreign cruisers, a dozen or so sport bikes and two lonely enduros.
The riders milled around, talking story. Around 1:30 p.m., a group roared off to the people-party conclusion of the ride at Cary & Eddie's Hideaway in Kahului. The choke-road mass of riders left later.
Overall, the road version of Toys for Tots was a Harley party. Even so, riders of every persuasion can be thanked for bringing cheer to hundreds of children. And, aren't a child and delighted children at the center of Christmas?
* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is email@example.com.