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19th May 2009

Hog Fever, by Richard La Plante
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In theory this book is about Harley-Davidsons but, as Dave Blendell discovers, the marque is almost immaterial. This could be the funniest book you'll ever read about motorcycling in general... Hog Fever, by Richard La Plante - From Amazon

The cover blurb reads; 'This book is the handbook for the first-time Harley rider and anybody else who's ever dreamed of a life in the wind.'

Well, it is that. It's also the funniest book I've read for a long time and fairly unusual in that, despite its subject matter, you don't need to be particularly interested in Harley-Davidsons or even motorcycles to find it entertaining. Richard La Plante relates tale after tale of his continual mishaps on two wheels and we laugh with him (as well as at him) as he ponders whether Harley riding is a Zen or mid-life crisis thing.

It's a bit of both in his case. If there's a better biking tale of woe than the one where he ends up alongside the bike he'd just dropped, naked from the waist down… right under the nose of a Policewoman then I'd love to hear it.

From angrily confronting the dealer he'd just pushed his broken bike back to, only to find out he'd forgotten to turn the petrol tap on, to the perils of leading a ride-out to a party and getting everybody completely lost on the way -- the stories just keep coming. The safety message isn't forgotten either as La Plante describes from personal experience why riding a motorcycle while off your head on mind-altering substances isn't a terribly good idea.

The basis of the book is La Plante's Harley obsession, from his first Sportster through to the custom-built beast he throws much money than he actually has at. Each machine is financed by evermore desperate means of which Mrs La Plante's remains blissfully unaware. La Plante quite happily admits to being the type of Harley rider other bikers frequently poke fun at, and freely admits to being a 'weekend Bro'.

As the story unfolds however his bikes change from those playthings owned by a man 'of a certain age' to form a big part of his life. After his first disastrous long distance run he progresses a few chapters later to riding with a group of experienced riders on a route which would test any bike or rider. Finally he is able to claim to be a 'hardcore biker'.

Clever bloke, Richard La Plante. He takes self-deprecation to the point of making himself look a total prat; throws money he hasn't got at bikes he can't afford, and starts out as more Frank Spencer than Henry Fonda. As the tale progresses though things fall into place (as opposed to off the bike), and he gets to where to he wants to be....which is the underlying message of the book.

If you want to do something then do it. If you're not very good at it to start with then keep going, and you'll get there... or at least, Richard La Plante did.

I must admit to having not really 'got' the Harley thing; being blanked every summer weekend by dipsticks doing the 'wannabe outlaw' thing has led me to sub-consciously label the bikes as pretentious and as much a waste of space as most of the owners I've come across. Indeed, Richard La Plante begins his Harley career dangerously close to poserville.

However as Hog Fever shows us, aside from 'Gregory from accounts' and the like, doing their thing when it's warm enough to leave the Volvo at home, many Harleys owners are as fanatical and involved as any other group of bikers -- more so probably. For every owner who has a Harley as a fashion accessory there's another to whom the bike is a big part of his life.

Sportsters on eBay.co.uk

To sum up: an excellent read. I read all kinds of things and read a lot but Hog Fever is one of the most enjoyable books of any kind that I've read for a long time. There are some nice pictures as well including an unexpected gem; actor Terence Stamp (a friend of the author... even after a potentially lethal pillion ride) on a very tasty GT750 Suzuki Cafe Racer.

My copy was very kindly given to me by Doc of Vikings MC Sussex with the request that it was passed on afterwards, I've asked the lucky recipient to do the same so it might just end up in your hands along the cosmic bike book route....or if you want to be boring you can get it from Amazon.

Very highly recommended, whatever you ride if you've got a sense of humour you'll love it.

Reviewed by Dave Blendell

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Hog Fever has been published several times in different imprints, with various subtitles ('The Hard Road To Harley Heaven' or 'Travels on my Harley'). Not widely available, secondhand and some new copies can usually be found via Amazon.

Hog Fever, by Richard La Plante

  • Originally published by Simon & Schuster Ltd (11 April 1994), ISBN 978-0671712440
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