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Road Runners

MOTORCYCLES WERE used by the war veterans of the 40s, the outlaws and rebels of the 50s, and the mods and bikers of the 60s.  So where do the bikers of Abu Dhabi Exiles fit in?  Louisa Norman talks to three of the group's members to see what really makes them tick...

With manufacturers' names like Super Rat, Road King and Ninja, motorbikes - and their riders - have earned quite a reputation for themselves over the years.  Gone are the days of gang rivalry and gun crime; now the roving bands of leather-clad motorbike enthusiasts are a moderated version of their predecessors.

At first glance I was not disappointed as I shook hands with Stefan, Phil and Belinda of the Abu Dhabi Exiles.  They were undoubtedly true bikers, dressed in the obligatory white T-shirts, tasselled leather jackets and biker boots; they modelled windswept locks and had a rough and ready look about them.

All three have been in Abu Dhabi nine years or more, although 48 year-old Phil has just left to return to his home soil of Canada.  He made the trip back so he could take part in the annual Seven Emirates Ride.  "It's hard to leave Abu Dhabi; it's just fabulous here," explains Phil. "It's the perfect place for bikers."

Surrounded by rolling hills, enormous dunes and long straight roads as far as the eye can see, the UAE seems to offer the perfect escape fromt he hustle and bustle of city life.  With thousands of kilometres of roads that are perfect for driving, the country is a haven for motoring enthusiasts.

The Seven Emirates Ride is now in its eighth year and is an 'open ride' that welcomes bikers from different clubs.  This year the two day excursion took them out to Ras Al Khaimah to explore the beautiful Hajar Mountains, stopping at Khatt Springs to regroup before completing the round trip back to the city.

Founded back in 2001 [2004 actually], the Exiles are one of many biker groups in the UAE - but the only one to welcome all makes of motorbike. Anyone can join, whether they have a monster hog or a modest town bike.  The only requirement is that all bikes must be 500cc or over so they can keep up with the pace.  Organising social and charity events all year round, the Exiles travel all over the UAE and boast over 150 members. [150 all time, around 50 in 2009]

A self-proclaimed cruising club, the Exiles are proud of their 'good two shoes' approach to riding.  "We don't make a spectacle of ourselves, we stick to the speed limit, and even have a safety office on board," Belinda, 46, explains.  This is where the Hells Angels image I had at the forefront of my mind becomes a thing of the past. Belinda explains to me that most members are working professionals by day.  Belinda herself is an operations manager, Phil is president of a Canadian oil company and Stefan, 35, is described by Belinda as "the rock star" and plays in Heroes' resident band The Placemats.

In a quest to give something back to the community, the Exiles take part in many charity campaigns.  Last year they made a special delivery to the children's ward of Al Ain hospital, strapping everything from Barbie dolls to cuddly dinosaurs onto their bikes to deliver the toys in person.

Most have been brought up with motorbikes and have engine oil running through their veins.  Stefan recalls his introduction to motorcycles; "With our family it was in reverse: my baby brother caught the bug, then me, then my old man."

For someone like me who finds the prospect of driving a car here terrifying, I cannot imagine what weaving in and out of traffic on two wheels must be like.  "I actually feel much safer here on a bike than in a car," says Stefan. "You can get out of the way quicker on a bike!".

"You always have to ride defensively in the city, always looking over your shoulder," Phil adds.  "Normally you have to watch out for your own mistakes - here you have to check for other people's."

"It's the perfect place for cruising - it's when you get out of the city that the fun begins!" Phil explains.  In staggered groups, designated Road Captains guide the bikers out of the city, past the traffic to the open roads of the desert and beyond.  Away for two or three nights at a time, the Exiles leave their work and homes behind and enter the world of life on the road.

"There are no bike gangs here, which reflects well on the UAE," says Belinda.  Instead you often see groups of bikers congregating at service stations en route to the desert roads.  She puts this easygoing attitude down to the multicultural mix of people and the relaxed attitude.  Belinda tells me there are over 20 different nationalities in the Exiles, but the club is predominantly Emirati.  "Elsewhere, people or groups claim territory, but that isn't the case here."

Despite their burly appearance and my determination to uncover the rebelliousness of the 1950s, the Exiles are nothing short of ordinary folk who share a love for these roaring machines.  "The bottom line is that the Exiles are for people who like nothing more than riding bikes in nice weather," adds Phil.

Louisa Norman
Abu Dhabi Week,