Raymond Ma Siu-wing can't wait for the weekend. That's when the 55-year-old dentist exchanges his clinical whites for a wardrobe of black, with a leather vest, bandanna and boots. For Ma, they signal a respite from root canals and bridgework, and the freedom of the open roads on his bike with fellow members of the Harley Owners Group (Hog).
Weekend biker warriors have long rumbled across Hong Kong, where there are now more than 49,000 registered machines, and about 30 clubs that serve the diverse interests and styles of the bikers.
'We have limited roads for riding and venues to meet, but our enthusiasm is no less than in any other country,' says Irish architect and the organiser of next month's Motorcycle Show, Ian Foster.
You might see the members of the BMW Owners Club on big tourers in Shek O on Sunday mornings, and then run across a sleekly garbed group on Ducatis. Then there are the tattooed Mad Dogs, and the flamboyant types of the Chopper Union.
The clubs usually keep to themselves because each embraces different ethos and riding lifestyles. But on November 4, these biker tribes will meet in Chater Road, Central, at the Motorcycle Show, to celebrate their diversity and love of two wheels. The 120-strong Hog will be at the heart of it, in their Sunday-best black in a sea of well-polished chrome. 'We love our machines,' says Ma. 'The Harley is strange; heavy, noisy and clumsy, but you just can't resist it.'
Like Ma, many Hog members developed a passion for the American bike and its rugged image while at university and now, as rich urban bikers, shelling out HK$100,000 to HK$300,000 is no longer a problem. 'We live in style and we ride in style,' says the dentist. 'It's a symbol of freedom. I can break away from my four walls and make a lot of buddies.'
The Hog are tightly knit after many years on the road together, with 'road captains' enforcing safety disciplines on rides, ranging from tours to Guilin to parades in Malaysia. 'The Harley family in Hong Kong is warm and friendly,' says Paul Jarvis, a 51-year-old business consultant. 'It's a mixed group with mixed nationalities with various professional, senior people. Everybody's welcome and it's an excellent platform to expand your social group.'
The biking bonhomie has its costs, however, from the upkeep of machines to long, aching hours in the saddle. Some spouses might also wish their Easy Riders might spend less time on the road. Ma confesses his wife, a teacher, is a typical bike widow and must put up with his yearning for the open road, rain or shine, every Sunday, and every long holiday overseas.
But entire families can catch the bike bug. Cecilia Tang Hoi-chi, a twentysomething PR executive, was raised with bikes because her dad loves Hondas. 'When my father was young, he rode with a group of friends,' Tang says. 'My mum rode pillion, as I have since I was a child. I used to climb on the oil tank and help my father wash his bike, which is as old as me.'
Manoeuvring an 883cc bike in Hong Kong can be a challenge. You need to practise technique and have a lot of energy because the weather can be sweltering, she says.
Tang bought a Harley six months ago and is enjoying broadening her horizons. 'Members teach me how to ride,' she says. 'They tell me about their road experiences. We talk about bikes and how to organise a trip.'
In Sai Kung, Simon Vallance is raising another new generation of bikers. A stalwart of the Classic Bike Club, mainly made up of well-heeled professionals who focus on restoring and preserving vintage models, he owns 16 motorcycles, including a 1924 Sunbeam Model 5, the oldest bike in Hong Kong.
Vallance enjoys getting his hands dirty on an old machine: 'That's part of the enjoyment,' he says. Although many spouses might fret about oil stains, his wife, Phoebe Tsang Yuen-shan, is a kindred spirit. A regular pillion rider on the club's monthly runs, she also helps him run his motorcycle repair and restoration workshop in Sai Kung.
They have even named their one-year-old son after two famous British motorcycles, Scott and Norton. 'He hears and sees bikes every day, and he's started trying to make motorbike noises,' says Vallance. 'So, hopefully, he'll have an interest in bikes.'
The Ducati Owners Club has a flashier culture. Its 40 members range in age from early 20s to 60s, and usually wear vibrant leathers to match their high-performance Italian bikes. 'Our bikes are faster and the colours are sharper,' says club president Alvin Leung Kam-hon, a pilot.
The younger riders relish their superbikes' speed, but the club has a 'play hard, play safe' motto and members dress in full safety gear with knee, elbow and shoulder protection. The Ducati clan like to rev up and pose a little in Tsim Sha Tsui before heading off for a ride on the last Sunday of every month.
'We like gathering in the city centre because we enjoy the attention,' Leung says. 'It's a stunning visual and audio impact when a fleet of more than 20 bikes hit the road.'
Members often break off during rides to unwind at cafes in places such as Tung Chung and Sai Kung. 'Riding is just part of the fun,' says Leung. 'The best part is enjoying a relaxing afternoon with friends who share the same passion.'
The Chopper Union is another group that likes to show off its 'iron horses'. Formed in 2002, the club gathers creative types whose gaudy, customised machines and garb stole the limelight at last year's Motorcycle Show. 'We're people with character,' says spokesman Andy Lee Soun-wai. 'We don't like copying others. We want to be unique. But when people look at our bikes, we have a great sense of satisfaction.'
Lee says his Yamaha Dragstar is more for cruising and showing off than speed, and this year he's customising it with even more gemstones and chains. It's a demanding project, says the 51-year-old art tutor at a mental healthcare centre. 'It's not expensive decorating the bike, but I put a lot of time on the decoration and sourcing materials in Sham Shui Po,' Lee says.
At the Mad Dog Motorcycle Club, the preference is for basics. They may look tough in their black patched vests, but it's the rider not the machine that matters, says club president Rob Carmichael, an architect. 'Stupid 'tough guy' attitudes don't work. But strong characters do.'
The club welcomes any machine. 'The main thing is a long-time love of bikes,' says Carmichael, a biker for 30 years. 'No newcomers to the scene need apply.'
Camaraderie is essential, the Mad Dogs say, as riding with someone through long distances requires a lot of skill and trust. Potential recruits must endure a 'prospect stage' to see if they've got what it takes. Full-pledged members must then get a Mad Dog tattoo to show their devotion to the club. 'No tattoo, no membership,' says Carmichael. 'Anyone who doesn't want the tattoo is not serious about what he wants from a bike club.'
The Motorcycle Show is also expected to attract youngsters on smart Italian and Chinese scooters, police on their latest bikes and maybe the return of the fire bike, complete with hosepipe. But no matter what the machine is, all riders share a bond, says Ma.
'We're all buddies, irrespective of where we're from,' he says. 'Once we're on our bikes we're all bikers and we ride hard. No one cares who you are. We all speak the same language - live to ride and ride to live.'
Motorcycle Show, Sun, Nov 4, 7am-5.30pm, Chater Rd, Central.
For details go to cam-hk.com