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Jebel Hafeet - the greatest road in the world?

Al Ain's hairpin mountain road earns praise from an Australian journalist seeking out the world's best asphalt.
With nearly 12km of perfect, winding tarmac and an almost lunar landscape, Jebel Hafeet has put Al Ain on the world's motoring map. Jorge Ferrari
With nearly 12km of perfect, winding tarmac and an almost lunar landscape, Jebel Hafeet has put Al Ain on the world's motoring map. Jorge Ferrari

At 11.7km long, climbing 1,219m, with 21 corners and a surface as smooth as glass, it's little wonder that the road up and down Jebel Hafeet, in Al Ain, is regularly voted as the world's greatest drive. I managed to go through an entire tank of petrol when I recently drove it in a Ferrari 458 Italia and came away elated, utterly spellbound by its sheer brilliance. Viewed from the air, it looks like the world's most technical grand prix circuit, and it's on our doorstep.

So when the editor of Australian motorcycle magazine Road Rider asked his readers to suggest the world's best road for bikers, for inclusion in a future series of features, Jebel Hafeet unsurprisingly got a fair share of the votes. And Peter "The Bear" Thoeming is actually here, having made the journey from Sydney just to try it out for himself. "I made it clear to our readers that this was to be no democratic election," he jokes. "If a road makes it onto the list then it'll be me who's ridden it. So here I am."

Thoeming has been a motoring journalist for 25 years, choosing to leave his position as an art director for record company CBS in Australia. "I decided I'd woken up my last rock band to take them to a photoshoot," he recalls, "and I decided, seeing as I had some time on my hands, to join a friend of mine and ride our 250cc Honda dirt bikes from Sydney to Dublin in Ireland." The madcap journey took seven months and he covered the voyage for a magazine and radio station. A new career was born.

"The idea for these features came to me after I watched that movie, The Bucket List [it's about two ageing men deciding to do all the things they really wanted to do before "kicking the bucket"]. I started looking on the internet and there are loads of websites detailing thousands of roads, so I thought I'd throw it open to the readers," says Thoeming. The criteria he lay down included a decent road surface, good corners, impressive scenery. "But beyond that," he says, "the roads needed to have a special, unquantifiable magic."

Jebel Hafeet happens to be the first to be judged and BMW has kindly provided him with a new K1300S sports bike, along with a special set of protective clothing that's supposed to keep a rider cooler than conventional gear. It's 45°C today, though, so it has its work cut out.

Yesterday he spent the entire day riding up and down the jagged mountain, getting a handle on it and judging whether or not it makes the grade as one of the world's greatest roads for motorcyclists. "Many of the lists out there are made up of routes that are brilliant for car drivers but useless for bikers," he remarks, "so I've really tested this one. Unfortunately, there's a bit of roadworks going on and there's some gravel on the surface, which isn't good news when you're on two wheels."

In his considered opinion, does Jebel Hafeet get the thumb's up? "It does, without a doubt. It ticks all the boxes regarding corners, surface condition and scenery," he enthuses, "but it also has that extra specialness. You're rising from a flat, dust-shrouded plain and the mountain is almost invisible from a distance. It's fascinating, and the anticipation levels that build as you approach it simply add to the thrill. It's an otherworldly environment and simply a terrific road for spirited riding."

Jebel Hafeet makes it onto another "world's greatest" list, then. We should be proud.

Updated: September 30, 2011 04:00 AM

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