Dubai is like no other place on Earth. Imagine Oz, only with camels instead of flying monkeys.
The richest of seven states that make up the United Arab Emirates, Dubai has become famous for its opulence. Like some crazy mirage rising out of the Arabian Desert, its fantastical skyline boasts some of the most creative and unrestrained architecture on the planet. You simply can't imagine Burj Dubai, the world's tallest building, with its 160 habitable floors, until you see it poking a hole through heaven. Yes, there is a 25-story indoor snow park (with real snow), where you can ski a black-diamond run or board a half-pipe, even though it's 125 degrees outside. And yes, you can live on a man-made sand-island suburb shaped like a palm tree.
So, when I tell you about Dubai Bike Week-or Gulf Bike Expo (www. gulfbikeexpo.com), as it's officially dubbed-don't go conjuring images of Jello wrestling and weenie-biters.
I first heard about the Middle East's Bike Week during my first visit to Dubai in 2007. I'd happened into the local Harley dealer trying to rent a bike, and heard people buzzing about a recent rally that sounded to me like the kind of ride my local H.O.G. chapter puts on every other weekend. It seemed a bunch of friends rode to Abu Dhabi, about 120 sandy clicks away, then returned to Dubai to kick some tires and-unlike my local club-not have a beer, since this is a Muslim country and drinking is forbidden outside the Western-minded hotels.
The simplicity of the Sportster comes in handy for those hours I spend lost in the chaos a
Three years later I heard from an Arab Em friend that the local Harley-sponsored Bike Week was about to become the real deal. Maybe not a Sturgis or Daytona, but there would be global OEM presence, a flock of stunt riders, a custom bike show and hey, Deep Purple was headlining! That was more than enough to warrant booking a plane ticket. After years of reporting on the same old motorcycle events, I'm ready for a new angle. Mohammed willing, I'm hungry for a spectacle.
Appropriately, though quite by accident, I arrive in Dubai aboard a brand-new, two-story Airbus A380-a kind of cruise ship with wings, complete with a club-like lounge where everyone can tip a few before touchdown in Islam. Once off the plane, I hop a Pink Top cab-a taxi driven by women, for women only-because where else can you do that?! First stop: the Harley dealer on Sheikh Zayed Road, where I have a press bike waiting.
Yep, this is Dubai, where the royal family spends its time watching the skyline grow on city-sized yachts. You'd imagine I'd arrive at Bike Week in style-say, aboard some customized starcraft-but instead I was gifted with a humble, stock Sportster. Mind you, I love the 1200cc V-twin, but corners are an oddity in the UAE so I was sure the bike's agility would go to waste.
Camel racing is huge in the United Arab Emirates. Up the road in Abu Dhabi, the camel race
As I throttle into the bedlam of Dubai's surface streets, I have a sudden change of heart. The labyrinth of roadways here is constantly under revision and reconstruction to keep up with the city's insane growth, but that's not half of what causes the pandemonium. Dubai's tantalizing tax incentives make it a magnet for international business, so about 70 percent of the population is expat. Over 100 nationalities are said to be represented here, so imagine that many different driving styles on the road, and with very few discernible traffic rules. Italians, East Indians, Americans, Germans, Egyptians, Norwegians ... you get my point. The Sportster's dexterity turned out to be a blessing.
After an hour of unintentional sightseeing, a young Arab dangling from his ape-hangers pulls up next to me and asks if I'm trying to get to Festival City. With a deafening blat from his straight-pipes, he roars away and I chase him, away from the high-rises and over historic Dubai's Creek, which divides the old city from the new, and finally into the midst of the most eclectic motorcycle party imaginable.