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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

August 20, 1995|DICK RORABACK

HOG FEVER by Richard La Plante. (Forge: $18.95; 288 pp.) Ezekiel, they say, saw the wheel way in the middle of the world. Richard La Plante saw his in Fred Warr's showroom just off King's Road in London. The results were comparable. Lie Ezekiel: "I realized something was missing from my life." Writes La Plante, expatriate novelist: "The American bikes drew me like a magnet: Priceless artifacts from a culture of wide roads, big skies and warm sun." Like many a fancier of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle, the "Hog" of song and story, La Plante became hooked, then obsessed, then broke. He was 38 then; he's 43 now. He's still hooked, obsessed and broke. "Hog Fever" is the chronicle of his ongoing relationship with a succession of Harleys. Ever unfaithful, La Plante falls hard for an 883 cc, "a tight steel horse," "a skeleton draped in muscle." Also a "ladies' bike," soon jilted for a "magnificent" 1200 Sportster. (First ride: "I felt like I had been absorbed by the motorcycle . . . a single entity, half flesh and half steel . . . the air parted in front of me like a warm envelope. I was suspended in time, hanging effortlessly by a silver thread.") Onward, upward and inward--"a state of mind that is something beyond thought"--to the 1320 Springer Softail, the Big Twin, the ultimate . . . Nah. "Level II" of the fever sets in. "It involves an absolute hatred for the look of your motorcycle and a general dismissal of anyone riding a stock bike." The whole idea of owning a Harley seems to be taking it apart and modifying, personalizing. Sleeker. Faster. To the point where U.S. customs won't allow La Plante's bike entry because they don't know what the hell it is! Marbling the author's mania are tales of similarly afflicted friends, of rallies, of rides--to Marbella, Spain in a thunderstorm; New York-Las Vegas with the exclusive Club --of tatoos ("a permanent commitment to the universal tribe of bikers"), primarily of why . La Plante examines the obvious: "Hey, you guys, look at mine; I've had it chopped, extended, bored out and painted black"--and doesn't exactly dismiss it. What he does admit: "You get on as Woody Allen and get off as Clint."

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