As a leather-clad biker in her 60s, Carol-Ann McCamley is used to turning heads when she roars up the street on her Harley Davidson.
nly learning to ride a motorbike at the age of 45, she loves nothing better than taking to the open road every weekend with fellow devotees from the Belfast HOG Chapter.
Belfast Harley Owners Group (HOG) is a thriving group of Harley Davidson riders who share a joint love of the iconic bike.
The Belfast chapter has been running since 2012 and has 150 members who are all part of a global organisation boasting a million riders worldwide.
The “Ladies of Harley” is a relatively new addition to the supporters’ club having formed just five years ago and currently has 35 members.
The only condition of membership is that you must own a Harley.
And next weekend picturesque Silent Valley is set to thunder to the sound of hundreds of engines as Harley Davidson riders take over the popular beauty spot.
Dozens of bikers create a welcome spectacle in Newcastle during their annual three-day rally every August.
Carol-Anne is looking forward to joining 175 fellow devotees for the much-anticipated annual event. The mum-of-two and grandmother of six has been a member of the club since she bought her first Harley at the age of 46.
One of just two females at the time, she was often the only woman accompanying male riders on their weekly runs.
“My son was into motor cross and my ex-husband was into bikes so we always had bikes in the family,” she says. “My children were just starting to be independent and didn’t really need me as much.
“One day I was walking the dog when I realised, I needed a new challenge and decided to book motorbike lessons.
“I think some people thought I was having a midlife crisis and yes, maybe age did have something to do with it, along with just wanting to do something new.
“My own kids didn’t think much of it because bikes were very much our way of life but my grandchildren were a bit taken aback when Granny pulled up on a bike.”
After just four months of lessons, she passed her test and bought her first bike, a Yamaha Virago chosen because it is low to the ground, making it easier to handle.
And a year later, when she was able to drive without R plates, she was thrilled to take delivery of a Sportster Harley and immediately joined the Belfast HOGs.
She explains why having a Harley meant so much: “I just loved the shape of Harleys and what they stand for, to me there was always a certain prestige attached to having a Harley. They are also easy to ride.
“My bike is beautiful; it’s all singing and all dancing and everyone looks at it.
“It was great when the Ladies of Harley formed as everyone is just so supportive.”
Being a woman on a Harley — as well as a woman of a certain age — does cause a bit of a stir when Carol-Anne is out and about on her bike. But she insists age is no barrier to enjoyment and takes the frequent stares in her stride.
She laughs as she explains: “People usually think that I’m some biker chick on my Harley until I take my helmet off and they realise I am just some oul doll and granny riding it. It is really funny how you are viewed but I love the fact that I am 62 and can go out on my bike.”
Not long after she passed her test, she joined thousands of Harley riders to take part in one of the biggest global events on the supporters’ calendar — the legendary Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in the US.
She says: “I hired a brand-new bike to ride at the event and when they handed it to me, they said, ‘All I ask is that you bring it back dirty’. I couldn’t work out how to even start it until I was told to use the fob I had put in my pocket. It was a thrilling two weeks.”
Another veteran of the HOG club is current director Michael Morrow, (41) from Dundrod, who got his first Harley 10 years ago.
Dad to Aidan (14), and Olivia (12), Michael, who is an operations director for an engineering company, is married to Diane (41), who enjoys riding pillion with him.
“Our main driving force is getting people out on their bikes enjoying themselves,” he says of HOG.
“I first set my motorbike test when I was at university and always wanted a Harley. I went to college in American and worked and owned Harleys in America right up until before Covid-19.
“I grew up in a family of petrol heads although I am the only biker.
“Being part of the supporters’ club is like being part of a big family, the camaraderie is fantastic.
“I’ve made lifelong friends through the group and travelled the world. Most of my best friends now are HOG members and I know I can rely on them if I ever need anything.
“Harleys are a bit different and there has always been the sound of it, nothing else sounds like it. You could say we are all bike mad.”
As Harleys tend to be at the higher end of the motorbike price scale, riding one can sometimes be seen as a bit of an elite hobby.
But Michael, who is keen to attract younger members to the club, insists it is a joy open to anyone and that second hand bikes can be picked up for as little as £5,000.
“We would love to see more young people joining. We really are an organisation full of really good people and if you’ve got a Harley, you are welcome to join us.
“We do special runs for new riders at the start of the season.”
Harley season runs from March to October when there are weekly runs as well as big events staged by other clubs worldwide which are open to local members.
Fundraising is another huge part of the club which has raised several thousand for the NI Air Ambulance in the past three years alone.
The club made headlines in July when two members made a mercy trip with other international riders bringing 59 tonnes of aid to Ukraine, returning with a pet cat whose family had taken refuge in Belfast.
Now members are gearing up for the highlight of their annual calendar when close to 200 local and visiting Harley lovers will descend on the Co Down coast for HOG’s annual rally.
The event is hosted by the Burrendale Hotel and members are invited to camp for free in the grounds and have full use of hotel facilities.
The highlight of the weekend will be the Silent Valley run at 11am on Saturday when all of the bikers will ride through Newcastle Main Street towards the Mourne Mountains.