Yongsan colonel’s Harley is rare, so he’s an uneasy rider
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Children on Yongsan Garrison call it the G.I. Joe bike.
Olive-drab, rustproof and capable of holstering an M-4 carbine, Col. Clayton Cobb’s Harley-Davidson MT-500 definitely looks like something that might come packaged with an action figure, though its history is a bit more full-sized.
According to Cobb, his motorcycle was one of only 500 made by Harley-Davidson in 1999 and 2000, when the company bought the rights to build the bike’s engine from a British manufacturer in a bid to re-enter the business of selling motorcycles to the U.S. military.
After the U.S. Army decided not to buy the bike, which was designed for scout and courier duties, Harley-Davidson ceased production and sent the motorcycles it had made to museums, dealers and private collectors.
Cobb’s bike, No. 15 of the 500 made, wound up with a New Orleans Harley-Davidson dealer, then with a private collector in Michigan.
Eventually, the collector put it up for sale. Cobb bought it “for the novelty and the fact that it’s bulletproof to the environment.”
Cobb said the Army paint and the lack of chrome make it resistant to rust.
“I had a chance to ride and work on one when a National Guard unit brought it to Afghanistan,” he said. “They couldn’t keep it running, so we all beat on it and when it was running we took turns riding it.”
Cobb said his bike has received a lot of attention around Yongsan.
“Every time I park outside the [post exchange] or outside my house, I can always find someone taking pictures of it. I’ve had people wave me over in traffic as if they needed assistance, only to ask about the bike,” he said. “I’ve had people ask me why I’m using a military vehicle to go to my house.”
Despite the novelty of having a military-looking Harley, Cobb said owning the bike has a downside.
“It’s increasingly difficult to maintain,” he said.
Many parts, when they’re available, must be ordered from Britain. Others have to be made on special order.
So, Cobb, who has been riding Harleys for more than 12 years, has considered selling the motorcycle, though he’d prefer to see it end up in the hands of someone who understands its value.
“It wouldn’t break my heart to see it end up in a collection, where it belongs, instead of an everyday rider,” he said.