When a customer purchases a motorcycle at Apol’s Harley Davidson in Alexandria, they are invited into an exclusive club.
The Harley Owners Group (HOG) in Alexandria is one of 1,400 chapters of riders from around the world. The Harley Davidson owners congregate every Wednesday for a ride around central Minnesota and dinner among friends.
For most, it’s a way to connect with people who also love to feel the road they ride on. For Mark Koch, HOG was a way to make him feel at home.
Three years ago, Koch and his wife, Karen, moved from Sioux Falls, South Dakota to Alexandria. He has worked for Nationwide Insurance for the last 15 years.
“My wife is from this area and Sioux Falls was getting a little too big for me,” Koch said. “We asked if we could relocate and my job allowed me to. Now I could see myself retiring up here.”
His comfort level with Alexandria didn’t come naturally. Douglas County did not feel like home that first year. After a year of feeling out of place, Koch decided that it was time to relive a part of his past.
“I used to ride my motorcycle a lot when I was younger,” he said. During the '90s, he made it a point to attend the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. "After about a half a year of living here, I bought a trike from Apol’s that February. I took my first ride with them that summer and I was hooked.”
Koch can no longer ride a traditional bike. After a hip injury and a replacement surgery, he hung up his key for several years. Now he’s back on the road in a new place with some new friends.
The Alexandria HOG is approaching 250 members. However, during each weekly ride, the group usually varies from 20 to 40 cyclists.
“When I was younger I liked the bigger crowds,” Koch said. “Now I like the smaller group. It feels more inclusive when it’s smaller and I feel like I can make a connection with the people I’m on the road with.”
The Alexandria HOG chapter is run by a board of directors that determines when and where the members take their group trips. This summer, they meet at Apol’s at 6 p.m. every Wednesday and ride to nearby towns for a dinner reservation.
“There’s a lot that goes into the planning,” Director Jim Engstrom said. “We have to find places that are unique to that town and that can have a reservation set for up to 50 people. We have to coordinate the route with the road captain to make sure that it’s not keeping us out there too late. There’s a lot of organization that goes into this group, but we also do stuff on the side.”
The Wednesday night rides aren’t the only time the group gets together. Often they will take spontaneous rides to get ice cream on the weekends.
“We will go out on Saturdays for some official rides that we call mystery rides. Sometimes we do unofficial miscellaneous stuff like taking rides for ice cream,” Engstrom said. “Whoever is in the group and wants to come is always welcome. There’s a lot of camaraderie in this group. We want to be out there together. It’s not a chore – it’s just fun.”
When Koch bought his bike, he felt like he was stepping outside of his comfort zone. After living in Alexandria for six months, he was unfamiliar with the place and the people. The Alexandria HOG chapter was a step in the right direction.
‘After I opened myself up to the members they started to get more comfortable with me,” Koch said. “I joined to meet some new people with the same interests as I had. I didn’t expect to get to know the area so well.”
Getting the chance to ride in several directions outside of Douglas County opened up Koch’s perspective on the area.
“I didn’t know how beautiful it can really get around this area in the summer,” he said. “Some of the places I get to see are breathtaking. I can’t think of a better way to get to know a new place you live in than going on these rides.”
The culture that the Alexandria HOG chapter has created is not just friendly, but also, it’s a family.
“When we meet up it’s not a little wave and some small talk,” Engstrom said. “It’s a firm handshake or a hug and genuine interest in the other person. We are a family.”
Koch was invited into the family and has no plans of leaving. Not only has he found a home here in Alexandria, but also some like-minded people to spend his time with.
“My favorite part about riding with them is that we are all different people who love to do the same thing,” Koch said. “I could have a teacher on one side of me and somebody who works in finance on the other.
"There’s no other feeling like it in the world.”