x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Harley's angels in Dubai spread their wings

The Dubai Ladies of Harley motorcycle group is growing in numbers and changing the perception of a typical Harley-Davidson rider.

The Dubai Ladies of Harley group, which has grown to about 60 members, takes to the roads. They are all different, but each of the women defies the stereotypes attached to
The Dubai Ladies of Harley group, which has grown to about 60 members, takes to the roads. They are all different, but each of the women defies the stereotypes attached to "biker chicks". Photos Charles Crowell for The National

Think of the typical Harley-Davidson rider … now think again. The Dubai Ladies of Harley motorcycle group is growing in numbers and changing the perception of the true biker. Each has her own reason for riding, but they claim a strong sorority.

For some, it was a feeling of empowerment and sense of independence. For others, it was the powerful roar that captivated them and helped them to stand out from the crowd.

For all, it was the search for friendship and family that finally led them to become a "Harley-Davidson lady".

Membership of this exclusive club has been growing, with about 60 to 65 in the UAE. Each has a story to tell and each defies any stereotypes attached to biker chicks.

Maryana Rian, 34, is the only Emirati woman to not only own and ride a Harley-Davidson, but also work at the showroom in Dubai.

"My Harley-Davidson, my baby, changed my life," says Maryana, who grew up watching American films with Harley-Davidson bikers who she thought looked "pretty cool".

"Maybe there are other Emirati women riding Harleys, but they are keeping a low profile because of their families and cultural restrictions," she says.

Maryana says she is lucky her family was more accepting than most Emirati families, although it still took time for them to accept that their daughter was riding one of the world's loudest and most powerful motorcycles.

"It wasn't popular in the 1980s or early 1990s. Emirati men mostly owned desert racing bikes and we women would have to just sit and watch them drive around," she says.

"We weren't allowed to drive on a two-wheeler. Some of the automated four-wheel buggies we were allowed to drive. But I wanted something more powerful, more challenging."

At the age of 18, she tried to obtain a motorcycle driving licence but was frustrated by her family's refusal to sign off because she was a minor. So she borrowed bikes from friends and practised in secret.

In 2001 she finally got the licence but had to wait another five years before she could finally buy her "dream" bike.

"I still have it and drive it around. I will never give it up," she says, adding jokingly that the 2006 classic black with silver chrome Harley-Davidson Sportster is her "husband".

"I customised it to fit my personality. It is now a matt black, known as the ghost-bike look. I love it."

She bought it second-hand for Dh28,000; "cheap", she says, compared with prices today that start at Dh40,000 and can reach Dh190,000, depending on the style and build.

At least running costs are cheap. She pays Dh12 a day to fill up her 17-litre tank.

"You would know my bike. It has a lower back and a bigger wheel at the front. Like a small chopper."

At first Maryana hid the bike at the house of her neighbours, an expat family from the US who understood the allure of the Harley and even washed it for her daily.

"They loved it. I'd walk out of my house and go over, change and then hop on to my bike and off I went."

Then as she changed jobs, from banking to the government sector, her biking days were put on hold as she travelled and lived abroad.

Two years ago she came back determined to relaunch her biking adventures. "Someone said there was an opening at the Harley-Davidson showroom for a sales executive, and so I applied and got it," Maryana says with a smile. "I work, live and ride Harley-Davidsons."

Over the past year, she had noticed more and more women come into the showroom, between two to three women a month on average, and that they came with their husbands but end up inspired to get their own licence.

"Harley-Davidson women are from all walks of life," she says.

When Emirati women ask Maryana if Emirati male bikers give her a rough time, she tells them it is the complete opposite.

"They are like my brothers, protect me and are proud of me.

"I tell women not be afraid to make their dreams come true. If I can do it, so can you."

Established in 1903, the Harley-Davidson group in the UAE will be celebrating its 110th anniversary with trips across the Emirates and beyond.

The first showroom opened in the UAE in 1989 and there are branches in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

For Angela Hallaschka, 48, from Germany, and Deanne French, 39, from the UK, being working women, wives and mothers dide not stop them from buying and joining the Harley-Davidson bikers group.

"I think in my case it was some kind of a midlife crisis," laughs Angela, who bought her Harley last year.

She works at the German Embassy and often rides to work on her bike, changing on arrival from her leather outfit into a proper suit.

"My co-workers love it. They hear me coming a mile away. Everyone in the building knows when Angela had arrived."

She pauses before adding: "A Harley is something special. Its sound is deep and sexy."

Angela's husband also has a licence, but it seems he is not as brave as his wife.

"He is a little bit jealous as he sees how confident I am on my Harley. He is a little bit afraid to ride like me," she laughs.

Her bike cost more than Dh50,000, a shiny dark red one, called "Rubian", like a ruby.

"It is a powerful girl. It is my second child, my daughter," says Angela, who has an 11-year-old son.

"The bike gave me a new confidence. I love it how people are always smiling when they see someone on a bike, especially a woman. They always give us a thumbs-up."

For Deanne, the most important change in her life since she bought her own Harley-Davidson in 2008, a "beat-up, used Harley in need of love", was the friendships she had formed.

"I can call up any of my biker friends and they will be there for you," says the mother of two boys, aged 7 and 8.

"It is hard finding and forming strong friendships in Dubai, and since I have been riding my bike I keep meeting and making new friends.

"I have 500 brothers and sisters now. I love them all."

Deanne has been around bikers since she was 18, but often ended up just following them in her car.

She bought her first bike when she was 21, a 125 Honda sports bike, then she sold it to replace it with a "beast", a Suzuki 650 Katana, before finally settling on her Harley.

"I am currently riding a Softail Night Train Harley. It looks like a Batman bike," she laughs.

"I got bored of chrome, too much polishing. So it is jet black."

All of the bikers warn of the need to be extra careful on the roads.

"It is dangerous. we avoid the main busy roads like Sheikh Zayed as sometimes cars veer towards us when they want to get a closer look or even try to harass us a bit," Deanne says.

"More awareness is needed."

For Amani Danhach, 25, from Lebanon, her Harley story is one of love and loss.

"My partner, my love, passed away a year and half ago during a Harley-Davidson tour. He had a heart attack on the last day getting ready for the last drive," she says.

A month after his death, Amani became determined to own and learn how to ride her partner's bike as a means of keeping his memory alive.

"It may sound silly but every time I ride Jack's bike, I feel he is there with me."

Her family, from Tripoli, tried to block her attempts to obtain a licence until they understood her determination and dedication to her late love.

"They had to accept my decision. I love riding his Softail Deluxe. It is a piece of work, chrome silver and dark red, like blood," she says.

"But I would love anything of his, even if it was just a bicycle."

Amani, who works in PR, can be seen riding to meetings on the Harley she named Angel.

"My clients know me and when I show up in my H-D jacket I feel empowered."

And like everyone else in the biker's club, Amani feels she is part of a very special family.

"Our nationalities, our age and our backgrounds don't matter. We are all Harley-Davidson bikers and we spread joy wherever people see us."

"I feel like I am the queen of the road. I feel privileged.

"If there is Ferrari or Bugatti next to me, trust me, I take the attention away from them."

rghazal@thenational.ae