Holy Harley! Motorcycle manufacturer blessed by Pope during 110th anniversary
The cacophony of snarling noise grew louder with every utterance from the head of the Catholic Church but rather than silence the horde of leather-clad bikers, security actively encouraged the ruckus.> This was the unusual scene in Rome this weekend when three days of Harley-Davidson celebrations culminated in a rare blessing from the most famous of religious faces (after Jesus, of course).
AOL Cars donned a leather waistcoat, hopped aboard a H-D Fat Boy and got the inside scoop from the iconic motorcycle manufacturer's birthday bash.
Rewind back to 1903 and inside a 10x15ft shed, Bill Harley and three Davidson brothers are busy beavering away at their first petrol-powered push bike.
Today, the juggernaut of a brand has 14,000 dealers across the globe but despite the epic reach, the marque treats its millions of customers as a global family... and like most large families, it likes to celebrate milestone events in an equally large fashion.
Harley-Davidson's 110th birthday is no different, hosting parties of enormous proportions across the globe, from its hometown in Milwaukee to Mexico City.
"We've ridden from Switzerland," revealed one couple in matching 'Chapter' waistcoats that proudly display information of their hometown and other Harley gatherings they have attended. "There is always such a good atmosphere and we get to meet people that like to party as crazy as us," they added almost in unison.
Party they did as major landmarks - such as the Stadico Olimpico - and an entire coastal town were transformed into mini festivals as H-D devotees showed off their metal, listened to live music and shared stories of previous gatherings.
Even some of the most important company leaders could be seen in amongst the throngs of riders, swapping tales and getting into the party spirit. Bill Davidson, Vice President of the Harley-Davidson museum and the great grandson of founder William A. Davidson revealed at an intimate press conference that he had been riding around Rome "talking to all generations of riders."
As is tradition with Harley meets, Rome was temporarily shut down on Saturday so the hordes that had ridden from far and wide could amass and, as a show of strength, parade through the city that so proudly hosted the event.
Thousands of bikes - charting decades of Harley-Davidson design and incorporating nearly every model to roll out of Milwaukee - gathered in the Port of Ostia. Police were on hand to barrage major roads leading into Rome and when the signal was given, the V-Twin engined beasts rolled out.
Flags and banners highlighted the various clubs or 'Chapters' - including those from Russia, Spain, Germany and the UK to name just a few - as packs of machines wound their way through the cobbled streets.
One group from the Netherlands rode in matching orange jumpsuits, one rider was dressed as Father Christmas (complete with Coca-Cola paint job on his Electra Glide) and another had towed a giant jar of Nutella all the way from Alba in northern Italy.
Sunday followed a similar pattern but this time the masses of machinery flocked to Saint Peter's Square where the Pope added a few special words to his mass, following a private blessing of the brand that occurred on Friday.
Native speakers drowned out Pope Francis's words with blaps of the throttle as the understanding crowds cheered in agreement, those who couldn't translate revved anyway. "I salute the many participants of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle rally," Pope Francis said as crowds cheered and engines rumbled.
An Elvis impersonator roamed the square posing for photos, balloons were released into the sky and crowds blew whistles. It was like attending V-Festival, not a mass in Vatican City and certainly a stark contradiction to the stereotypical drunk and disorderly biker gathering.
With over a million members, the Harley Davidson Owners Group (or HOG for short) is the largest motorcycle group in the world and with almost half of all Harley sales last year going to first time buyers, that group looks set to expand... As do the monumental anniversary celebrations.
Take a look at the gallery below to get a real feel for the celebrations