Sunday, April 3rd, 2022
The “Season Opener” event for the Prague HOG traditionally takes place on the first Saturday in April. Together with the Harley-Davidson Club of Prague (HDCP) we ride the comparatively short distance to the spa town of Poděbrady about thirty five kilometres to the north-east of Prague.
It is a Harley led event, but anyone can join in at the end of the line. Hundreds, if not thousands of other motorcycles do this and the procession can eventually stretch for several kilometres. The clubs of other makes like to follow us in, there is even a regular group of ancient, but beautifully restored, Simpson mopeds. People can join as individuals and many do that as well.
The town of Poděbrady certainly loves the attention. Hundreds of people line the rural route between Prague and the town and this swells to some thousands as we cross the river Labe and enter the town itself. A special fair is usually in place along what is called the Colonnade in Lázeňský park, which is where we park all of the bikes.
Because of the Covid pandemic, the city council had specifically requested in both 2020 and 2021 that the ride should not take place – but it appeared that it would be able to go ahead in 2022.
“Appeared” was the word.
There must be considerable commercial benefits to Poděbrady arising from the parade. Businesses in the centre are thronged with bikers and the other visitors and people go to the town who, otherwise, probably would not. Despite this, the Police chief of Nymburk (the chief town in the District) was quite insistent that Prague HOG and the HDCP should fund the “policing” of the event. We actually do this, indirectly, the Police do lurk on the outskirts of town to collect speeding fines from the unwary – I have been caught myself ! I must confess though that, with regard to the parade itself, I had never realised there was any policing ! We Harley riders have our own marshals, the trusty “vestáci” and, despite the throng, it is always a very good natured affair and I have never seen a hint of trouble. The purported cost was quite considerable so, of course, our leaders declined the offer and so we were told we could not go there ……
Obviously, we were still going to do the ride, this is still a free country after all – but we had to change both the schedule and the constitution of the participants.
In fairly strict secrecy, members of both clubs were informed of a date, and a meeting time and place. This meant excluding non-Harley riders, to maintain the secrecy and keep the numbers down – but that could not be helped.
The year of 2022 had started warmly, temperatures of over twenty degrees centigrade had been experienced in early March. But, Mother Nature is perverse and, as the day approached, the Mercury took a neat swallow dive and it was below zero when Lucie and I left home to make our way to the starting point. In case we ever need to do it again, I will not specify exactly where we met – but it was rural and open and it is fair to say I was grateful for my leather jacket and riding trousers as we gathered together waiting for the off.
It was bright, with a bit of sun, but it was cold – a factor which may have influenced us having what I considered to be a fairly meagre turnout. There were sixty-five Harleys, parked in a neat line, but that was from both HOG and HDCP. I cannot believe the slightly “naughty” aspect of the gathering would worry anyone and, in more clement weather, I would have expected at least double that number ! As we started up to move off, I looked along the line. It was still cold enough to see people’s breath and the exhaust gases showed as little clouds in the early morning light. As I always do, I marvelled at the vast variety of styles and finishes – no two alike !
We moved off along the rural road toward our destination. At first, because of a plethora of roundabouts, our progress was quite slow. Even without our parade being expected or scheduled, almost everyone we passed seemed to immediately whip out their ‘phone and start filming us. Children waved and, at least, the waving back kept the circulation going in our arms ……
We did have amongst us a pair of really very old motorcycles, both Harleys from the 40s or early 50s and this did limit our speed by more than a fraction.
We wended our somewhat leisurely way across north Bohemia. It is a pleasant route through villages where only the occasional observer was to be seen instead of the usual partying crowds. Lucie and I had somehow got ourselves quite near the back of the line and the twin columns of Harleys stretched ahead of us into the distance. Even sixty-five bikes can make quite a showing.
Some blossom was out and the bright-green of the early leaves were visible on a few trees, but the change in weather meant that the majority of the countryside was still a little bit drab. Not that I saw much of it. One of the ancient Harleys was directly in front of me in the column. It had a tiny rear light that did not seem to incorporate a brake-light – and I had to watch him very closely at all times.
Finally, we came to the town of Poděbrady and passed over the bridge across the Labe river (which Google Maps ™ will insist is the Elbe, which it later flows into). There were a few people looking, probably there by accident, but they still waved. It seemed odd to be able to see the river. It is usually totally obscured by waving and cheering onlookers.
We had secure paid parking pre-arranged (accessed via a gateway in Fügnerova street) and we found it without difficulty as it was close to the colonnade where we usually park anyway.
Then Lucie and I set out, with the others, to have a quick, circulation restoring, walk around the town. Finding somewhere warm for a coffee was also quite high upon our personal agendas. The Colonnade, which runs through Lázeňský park, looked strange and deserted without the twin lines of shiny Harleys and the hordes of onlookers – somehow bereft of its usual glitz. Without all the bikes, Poděbrady is just a quiet and slightly drab little spa town – nothing very interesting at all.
Lucie and I decided we needed something little to eat as well as something warm to drink. At the top of the park, we found the Ice Caffe Adria (Jiřího nám. 39/15, 290 01 Poděbrady) and chose it for our drinks.
This turned out to be quite a bonus. The hot chocolates. White for Lucie and dark for me, were exactly that. Hot, thick, melted chocolate. I have to confess that I found mine so good that, to Lucie’s horror, I ran my finger around the inside of the cup so as not to miss the tiniest piece of it ! Two cakes, something custardy for Lucie and yet more chocolate for me accompanied our drinks and neither of us left so much as a tiny crumb !
But the best thing of all was that, although our orders were taken by somebody breathing, the delivery was by a robot ! They were brought silently to our table by a mechanical device that, when it announced itself, proclaimed itself to be a waitress. Manufactured as “non-binary” but electing, in these odd times, to go XX. I have to confess I found it most amusing.
We retrieved our Softtail and retraced our steps to Prague. Not a long journey and the progress of the day had made it a few degrees warmer, so we were not frozen when we got home.
Our day of defying the law was over !