Sweeter than axle grease

Is the musky new fragrance from Harley-Davidson a passport to biker heaven? Would-be real man Richard McClure finds out
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Time was when man would happily wear the same underpants five days running. Not any more. The male population is in the grip of personal grooming. Sales of men's fragrances have been booming since the mid-Eighties and new magazines such as XL and Men's Health are telling us how to keep up appearances. Now the last refuge of grime is under threat. Harley- Davidson, the spiritual home of bikers, greasers and rockers everywhere, is test-marketing its first aftershave, "Legendary", in France. If it's successful, it will be available here later this year.

But flicking through the Harley catalogue, there's an obvious flaw to the Legendary campaign. Harley men don't shave, and the pages are awash with hairy chops of every description, from three-day stubble to the full ZZ Top. The average man is supposed to spend 140 days of his life shaving. These guys don't look like they could muster half an hour between them.

If the Wild Ones astride their gleaming, custom-built choppers aren't going to wear it, who is? Well, people like me, I guess - sad wage slaves who inwardly yearn to shrug off the shackles of conformity. We may not be able to tell a Road King from a Bad Boy but we still dream of Easy Rider, the open road and big skies. The Harley experience, like the catalogue says, "isn't just living, it's throwing yourself at life. It isn't just observing, it's becoming part of the scene". Perhaps Legendary is what I've been waiting for - my passport to the world of lawless abandon, wet T-shirt competitions, and endless bottles of Jim Beam.

There's only one way to find out, and a batch of Legendary is duly sent over from Paris. The bottle is reassuringly male, shaped like a hip-flask with its chromed steel flashing like a fender. The label even promises "un resultat immediat", which my dodgy French translates as "instant babe magnet". It's the colour of bourbon, the odour a rich brew of axle grease and musk. With a liberal dousing, and dressed in leather jacket and denims, I'm finally ready to throw myself at life. In truth, I look more like Peter Stringfellow than Peter Fonda, but, hey, when's he ever short of a girl on his arm?

Since the only iron horse in my possession is my sky-blue Hyundai Pony, with a "Look out for the badger" sticker in the rear window, I opt for the Tube. There are nervous glances as my presence wafts down the carriage. It seems I'm in danger of causing a new toxic fumes scare. I choose to dismiss the sniffing and occasional cough. There's obviously a bug going round.

My destination is the Brixton Academy in south London to see Megadeath. This, I reckon, is the nearest I'll get to "the scene" on a chilly Monday night. On the way, I stop for a quick pint with my American friend Dan. He was once a bona fide biker, riding his 1000cc Kawasaki ZX10 around New York State. But his rebel yell was hushed years ago when he skidded on an oil patch and bust his leg.

Now he's married with two kids, and works in insurance. These days, Dan wears Polo, but he's encouraging about Legendary's credentials. "It smells like cheap soap, but it's quite manly and leathery," he says. "Not too floral - that's the most important thing."

Queuing at the Academy, I try to strike up conversation with a group of Japanese rock chicks who pretend they can't speak English. Instead, I get talking to a vision in leather trousers. She even likes the aftershave. "Mmm, it smells just like Paco Rabanne," she says, nuzzling my neck. "That's what I buy my boyfriend." Damn. "Yeah, it's got a nice smell," chips in an attractive, but mature, blonde woman. "I'd definitely buy it for my son when he starts shaving." Boyfriends? Sons? What is this? I haven't felt so deflated since a stranger on the Tube said I reminded him of a rock star - the singer out of Status Quo. It ruined my evening.

The following night I'm at the Intrepid Fox, a biker hang-out in central London. In desperation, I've doubled my dose of Legendary. Standing by the pinball machine, Jack Daniels in hand, I'm trying to look nonchalant while my chin is breaking out in a rash and my nasal passages approach meltdown. There isn't a flicker of interest. If anything, I feel I'm being given a wide berth. One woman keeps glancing in my direction but I eventually realise she's looking at the TV screen above my head. The only person to approach me is a half-cut crustie who wants to know if I've got any skins; not really the company I had in mind.

After an hour, I sidle up to two raven-haired women at the bar. One is wearing a deadly combination of suede and lace. Communication is hampered by the pounding music so I lean in close, allowing her the full benefit of my fragrant charms. Her sour-faced friend, drinking lager while glumly chewing gum, ignores me. Conversation peters out and a painful minute's silence follows before I admit defeat.

On my way out, I speak to Dave, the square-jawed doorman, whose immaculate pony-tail is looped through a black baseball cap. Dave wears Aramis. He isn't surprised by my lack of success. "It smells like something you'd buy from Boots," he says, recoiling from a whiff. "It's typical of the Americans to try to fob us off with that. All that Harley-Davidson clothing is just glam rock tack."

He pauses to look me up and down sympathetically. "In all honesty, mate, you'd be better off at the Hard Rock Caf."

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