Ascona is quiet. Harley-Davidsons are loud. How would they get along, the retirees and the rockers? The spa town on the northern bank of Lago Maggiore, where people speak in hushed tones, read Hermann Hesse and get around on bicycles, was invaded for two days by perhaps 1000, but probably more like 2000 of those legendary bikes. Out of synch with each other only at first glance, these two contrasting worlds blended to become pretty much one on further inspection. Many of the wild, leatherclad men and women had already reached retirement age – it seems rockers also have a succession problem. Not that that necessarily ensures a peaceful night: Even 60-year-old Hells Angels can demonstrate health-damaging behavior. Once they start downing whiskey the way their Harleys guzzle gas, the old familiar reflexes kick in and send fists, chains and false teeth flying. Bar a handful of Italians, the crowd was mostly Swiss, as the license plates revealed – and Swiss rockers are famously sheep in wolves’ clothing. They fetishize the traditional trappings (leather, beards and full-body tattoos), but beneath the tough veneer beats a heart that’s courteous, pragmatic, and controlled. The bands on stage worked hard not to turn “Born To Be Wild” into a parody. I saw no one dance and no one get seriously drunk, and when I ran out of cigarettes I dived into the crowd in search of one to bum, but soon found myself suffering serious nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Swiss rockers don’t smoke – this was Easy Rider light.
Our columnist, Helge Timmerberg, an irrepressible globetrotter since 1969, writes travel books and contributes monthly to our magazine.