Aykroyd rides the blues away
Ottawa-born comedian is serious about his Harley — and cycling for a good cause
When Dan Aykroyd says you don’t need a therapist if you own a Harley-Davidson, I can relate. I’m a big fan of the stress-relieving benefits of riding a motorcycle. But when he insists that riding his bike is helping to save the planet, I’m not so sure. Fuel consumption isn’t fantastic with big, heavy motorcycles, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it costs less to run my manual-transmission Ford Escort station wagon than my Softail, which must be fed with premium fuel.
In his case, though, it makes sense because his primary family vehicle is a monstrous SUV, a V-10 Ford Excursion, which he calls “the best car built anywhere on the planet.”
“As far as pollution goes, I ride a Harley-Davidson and it’s a two-cylinder, not a 10-cylinder,” he said in a phone interview this week. “And I do try to ride it in the summer. I really use the thing to go grab ice cream or the newspapers or coffee or to take the kids into the dentist in town here when I’m in Kingston.”
The Ottawa-born funnyman, who’s famous for creating big-screen comedies such as
Ghostbusters, Coneheads and The Blues Brothers, is spending a few weeks relaxing at the Aykroyd family estate in the Thousand Islands region. He says he rides his bike — a 2003 Harley-Davidson FLHP — every day of his summer vacation.
Aykroyd, who celebrates his 55th birthday on July 1, has a long history with Harley-Davidson. His first one was a 1971 police edition, one of several cast off from a dismantled Golden Helmets drill team. He says he learned to drive it in winter, in the alley behind his place in Toronto.
The electrical system was always a source of frustration — when Aykroyd moved to New York City for Saturday Night Live, the electrics cut out while crossing the George Washington Bridge. “I used to have to take the cowl off and rewire it all the time,” he recalls.
The bike still runs, and will find a new home in the Niagara Region, in a museum of Aykroyd memorabilia that will be built in Beamsville, Ont. It will be part of the winery Akyroyd plans to open next year.
His current steed is an anniversary-edition police bike, built in 2003, the year that HarleyDavidson celebrated its 100th anniversary. Aykroyd says he bought five of them off the factory floor. One went to his old Kingston friend, Wally High, a musician and songwriter. Aykroyd isn’t one to ride in a pack, but he likes riding with High on their twin bikes.
“If I ride with anybody, it’s him. It’s safer with two. You watch out for each other,” he says.
Helping each other out is second nature for most members of the biker community. We acknowledge each other on the road, and quickly learn that you never pass by another rider stranded at the side of the road, no matter what kind of motorcycle they ride. Aykroyd is well aware of the kinship.
“In 99 per cent of the motorcycle community, you have a tremendous camaraderie and it extends to all motorcycles,” he says. “I remember when people used to ride Harleys and say, ‘I’m not going to wave at that Honda.’ I don’t feel that way. They’re risking their lives like I am and I want to be acknowledged, so I always wave. If you zip by me on that Ducati at 100 miles an hour, I’ll give you my index finger.”
He’s calling on the community to support a fundraising concert in Port Dover, Ont., next month, organized by his riding buddy High. The ultimate biker band, Steppenwolf, blues-rocker Jeff Healey and High’s band, the Non-Prophets, are part of an all-ages outdoor show during the Friday the 13th rally. Thousands of motorcyclists flock to Port Dover every Friday the 13th during the calendar year.
All proceeds go towards a musical instrument lending library (MILL) established in memory of Joe Chithalen, the Kingston bassist who died in 1999 of anaphylactic shock caused by a peanut allergy. He was touring Europe with the Mahones at the time. There’s a MILL in Kingston, one in Clinton, Ont., and one planned for Port Dover, where Chithalen is buried.
The purpose of the library is to provide children with musical instruments to try out. “It’s really, really a wonderful idea,” says Aykroyd, who’s a father of three, “and I think it should spread to other communities, especially in the States where they have these inner-city crime problems … put a saxophone in their hands instead of a Glock 9.”
Aykroyd won’t be able to attend the concert, but you will catch a glimpse of him on the big screen this summer, playing the part of a New York fire chief in a new Adam Sandler film. I Now Pronouce You Chuck and Larry opens on July 20.
Dan Aykroyd was a devoted Harley rider before he began his stint on Saturday Night Live in 1975.