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13th November 2017 by Yo-yo

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Happy to be in Exile

Exiles on motorbikes ride UAE's fast and slow roads

The UAE is a country devoted to its own traditions that also welcomes other traditions introduced by the diversity of nationalities that live here. For example, the UAE today is home to more and more motorcycles riders - expatriates and Emirates, women as well as men.

These motorcycles riders are no Hell's Angels or other disreputable types rampaging in highways and rural lanes. As in Australia, Canada, the US and much of Europe, middle aged middle class solid citizens ride for relaxation, to feel the wind and sand on their faces and the roar of a powerful engine in their ears.

Coos Van Minnen, the Dutch regional director of Emmerson Valve Automation, says that he rides "just to switch off" He says he has tried fishing and other pastimes, but they aren't as satisfying as riding his Harley Sportster 1200 Custom "when you're driving, you have to concentrate entirely on what you're doing," he explains. "There's no room for anything else"

Suleiman is an Emirate former air force pilot who has been riding his Harley Davidson Tour Bike for five years. He says he loved motorcycles from childhood, but for years his parents didn't want him to ride. Now he says "They have to put up with it because I'm not giving it up."

Terry Lesser and Channa Grove are a Harley couple; he's British, she's an American. They met two and a half years ago. Two years ago, she started riding as a passenger with her boss because his girlfriend didn't like motorcycles. Terry had been looking at motorcycles for years but couldn't make the decision to buy until a year ago- Channa's approval. So Terry bought a Harley Heritage Classic because "it looks like the old ones that Hells Angels used to ride" and now he and Channa use it together. Their goal, she says, "is it to bring awareness to drivers in UAE about motorcycles. We want to get respects from cars" Channa adds.

Harley Davidson is the dominant brand of motorcycles in the UAE, and the sport of motorcycling developed with expatriates and Emirates buying bikes and joining HOGS, the international Harley Owners Group. Later some of them split away and formed new groups, the largest being Abu Dhabi Exiles.

Exiles' president Graham Parsonage who is Australian says the club now has 75 members representing 17 nationalities with 50 motorcycles - some members are wives or companions, passengers not drivers. Every year for a membership card and a T-shirt and the right to join the group on a local ride every Wednesday evening, to attend the annual party in April, to contribute to charity, and to participate in the Seven Emirates Ride.

The 2006 Seven Emirates Ride took place over a mid-February weekend, with 44 Exile riders joining. For the fifth time, riders completed a fast tour of the UAE, some 800 kilometres starting Thursday at 8.00am at the Adnoc Station near Spinney's off the Corniche in Abu Dhabi and ending around 4.00pm on Friday in Dubai.

In 2001 at the first Seven Emirates Ride, 23 motorcycles including eight belonging to Exiles showed up. Last month, the number had quadrupled to 92, among them three trikes, three wheeled motorcycles that look like giant children's tricycles.

Divided into three groups, each led by a captain and leaving about 10 minutes apart, the 92 vehicles lined up for the ride, carefully organised to offer hilly challenging terrain and at least touch each emirate in the UAE.

The plan was to head first to Al Ain for gas and breakfast at the Hilton Hotel where some riders from Dubai and Oman would join (140km); into Oman and Buraimi, Magdah, Al Rowdah and gas at Hatta (140km); through two tunnels to Kalba and the east coast; Fujairah and lunch at KFC; gas at Dibba (140km) and on to Ras Al Khaimah and the hotel of that name for the night. By 5pm, even the stragglers had arrived, in time to clean up for dinner at the Rak Golf Club.

Friday's programme was much easier: Everyone slept late, leaving the hotel at noon for an easy ride past a troupe of mellow camels - apparently unafraid of the motorcycles - and then on the newest portion of the Emirates Road, to end up at Hard Rock Cafe in Dubai around 2pm for lunch - and with that, the 5th Seven Emirates Ride was officially over.

This reporter went along on the ride, in a car, and briefly for about three kilometres, on the back of a motorcycle. I found it uncomfortable and frightening. Sitting behind the driver, the passenger sees only the sides and in the dual rear view mirrors which are tiny. As the bike goes into a curve, driver and passenger have to lean to maintain the balance. I would certainly prefer driving the motorcycle to being a passenger - however, I was happy to be back behind the wheel in my car and enjoy the air conditioning.

But in the car there are fewer adventures. As the first group of 30 bikes was riding in Oman, when they came to a narrowing of the road, the leader raised his arm with index finger extended, signalling the riders behind him to go into single file. Each person following raised his or her arm with finger extended so those in the back would see.

All this happened outside a police station. Moments later, a police car chased the riders and stopped them. The agitated policeman who got out spoke animatedly in Arabic with one of the Emirate riders. He had interpreted the signal to go into single file as an insult to the Omani police force. Explanations, apologies, international relations restored, the ride continued.

That was the most dramatic part. The ride finished with no major accidents, two cycles down briefly, one slipping on a diesel spill at a roundabout in Al Ain and another sliding on sand on a bumpy road in Oman; only one motorcycle didn't finish on the road, it went into the repair truck that followed along the whole route, courtesy of Mohamed from Extreme Cycles, and it's owner into one of the cars accompanying the ride.

Motorcycle safety is a major concern of the Exiles club. At the beginning of the ride, safety officer Gerhard Gleissner - German and Managing Director of Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Company - reminded everyone about speed limits - a maximum of 120km on the highways and as posted everywhere else - and holding the formation.

Alma Kadragic
City Times, Khaleej Times,