Escape: Dubai Bike Week - Whizzing Through Oz

Invading the Middle East's inaugural Bike Week

By Jamie Elvidge, Photography by Jamie Elvidge

Outside the convention center is a piazza with colorful bean bags strewn everywhere and a huge hookah pipe stand where you can rent a big, glass water-bong and puff tobacco in flavors ranging from mint to mango. There's a big stage, and a constant changeover of local bands, almost all rocking in Arabic, but rocking just the same. Around the corner is the makeshift Red Bull Arena, where American stunt riders E-Dub and two-up team Rome & Randie are blowing up the skirts of all the Arabs. Okay, so they're not wearing skirts, but some of the locals in their long, white dishdashas don't seem to know what to think of Randie's pink Mohawk and mid-wheelie reverse-cowboy antics-sooo not Muslim! It's freestyle phenom Nick De Wit who really wows the crowd, though, slinging his Suzuki RM250 in loops across the desert sky.

The convention center itself is loaded with an impressive number of new bikes and wares. Marcel A. Bode, general manager of Harley-Davidson UAE, explains how the event came to be as he gives me the grand tour: "Harley-Davidson was the first motorcycle brand in this part of the world," he says, "and it's still the most trusted manufacturer in the Middle East." That may sound a tad ironic, but the fact is Harley has invested not just in the UAE, but the entire Gulf region, including Saudi Arabia, since the late-'80s. The Asian and European brands didn't appear until very recently. "Harley was always finding ways to develop the market here," says Bode, "to promote motorcycling as a lifestyle."

So Harley invited everyone to this party, turning a small, club-style get-together into a massive festival. Every moto-maker seems to be here, from BMW to Buell, KTM to Confederate, plus Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Yamaha and even Victory. And let me tell you, watching those dishdasha-clad locals try on the space-age Vision was a huge high point for me-they loved that bike! There are lots of aftermarket products on hand, too, even deeply American brands like Draggin' Jeans and Two Brothers Racing.

Keith Code's California Superbike School also has a presence in Dubai, and this year students get to rip around the track on KTM Superdukes. The city's autodrome was the first racetrack ever built in the Middle East, and Superbike School weekends are always a sell-out. "We had 63 riders at the last school," says Petra van Zoelen, marketing director of Code's Middle Eastern offshoot. "They come from all over the world-Arabs, Europeans, Australians, Americans-and they always have a great time together."

Just like a slice of the Dubai Bike Week scene. "It's a huge melting pot here," says Bode of the biking community. "Having people from so many different places doesn't change the biking experience; it just makes it more interesting."

I'm beginning to understand that. The next morning I arrive on my trusty Sportster for the Wheels for Autism ride. There must be 500 bikes in the piazza, and I'm blown away by the diversity. I've never seen so many different brands and styles in one place: Camo Gold Wing? Check. Custom Hayabusa? Check. Can-Am Spyder? Check. Skull-laden Fat Boy? Check, check, check. As I walk around snapping pictures of men in kilts and girls in pink leathers, I'm stunned by the multitude of languages and accents drifting through the crowd. There are riders here from South Africa, Amsterdam, Lebanon, Argentina and the Ukraine, all mingling like the best of friends, brought together by the brotherhood of goodwill and two wheels.

"I've been a biker for a long time, honey," says Floridian Ricky Landrum, a gruff-talking, long-time expat, brought to the Middle East because he's in the oil business, but here at Bike Week to feel part of a family. "People here are from damn near every place in the world, but when we're on our bikes, we're all brothers and sisters."

By Jamie Elvidge
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