x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Keeping her grounded

If you're a typical twentysomething who has grown up in the UAE, a passion - or at least a passing interest - in fast motors and beautiful horses is almost par for the course.

Sabah Mukri poses with her pride and joy, a 2009 Honda CBR600RR. Sabah passed her motorcycle test 18 months ago and is now a committed biker.
Sabah Mukri poses with her pride and joy, a 2009 Honda CBR600RR. Sabah passed her motorcycle test 18 months ago and is now a committed biker.

If you're a typical twentysomething who has grown up in the UAE, a passion - or at least a passing interest - in fast motors and beautiful horses is almost par for the course. It's admittedly less usual for a 26-year-old Indian woman whose family run a successful furniture emporium to be a self-confessed biker chick, but a few raised eyebrows aren't going to stand in the way of Sabah Mukri's lifelong devotion to superbikes. Especially when you're still riding high from the buzz of your greatest biking achievement to date.

"My knees touch the ground now when I turn a corner," says Sabah, who - impressively - only got her motorcycle licence a year and a half ago. "I did my first track day in September, 2009, and by the third practice I was getting my knee down on every corner. "It is the most incredible, crazy feeling in the world, to have the tops of your knees grazing the ground as you lean into the bend. You need to start hanging off and relaxing while keeping the throttle smooth; I didn't realise I was so close to the ground at first. Once you get the knack it becomes almost automatic, a lovely feeling. I don't know, something just kicked into place with that bike."

'That bike" is Sabah's pride and joy, a 2009 Honda CBR600RR which she bought in July last year. "The bike is perfect for me, its height and weight are just right and it has more than enough power. It's smooth and very stable and it's very forgiving and predictable. It's my first superbike and so far, I am really pleased with it." Sabah explains that deciding to take her test at the height of the UAE's unforgiving summer swelter, in August, 2008, was good timing. "I took my lessons quickly and passed first time. There aren't many people wanting to take bike lessons in the middle of summer, so I got it out of the way and was able to get my first bike, a Kawasaki Ninja 250R, and get going. My mum happened to be out of the country at the time."

Most mothers whose daughter gets a bike licence behind their back might understandably flip out at the thought of their child careering around Dubai's roads on two wheels. However, Sabah's mother is used to an adrenaline-addicted family. "Mum was a bit surprised at first, but she helped me pick out the bike. I think she's used to it because my dad used to be really into dirt bikes, and also I've been horse-riding for years so she knows," says Sabah.

"They're both actually very supportive and don't mind me spending all my money on leathers, boots, equipment, and of course the bikes." Fortunately, Sabah's day job, running the recently opened branch of Pinky's behind Mall of the Emirates, allows her enough time to pursue her passion by practising at Dubai Autodrome in her spare time. "I'm really lucky, because I do have time to go to practice track days," says Sabah, before confessing that the family business was named after her. "It was a childhood nickname that my father took for the business. I don't really go by that name any more, though."

Indeed, she harbours an ambition to make an entirely new name for herself one day, in the world of professional biking. "I really want to get better. After my third ever track day, I managed to get my knee down on every corner, which I think can take some people longer to master. I haven't done any competitions yet, just training with coaches and with the California Superbike School, which comes to Dubai a few times a year. But if I get any quicker there are spin challenges that you can be involved in and through that, perhaps get a place doing national level races. If I did that, I would be the first female in the national races. Even in India, there is still only one professional female biker."

With boundless motivation, Sabah is looking forward to the end of the month. Sabah is signed up for the first Abu Dhabi California Superbike event, at Yas Marina Circuit on February 25 and 26. "The circuit is going to be incredible and I am looking forward to advancing my training with the school. They bring in instructors from around the world and they go through everything step by step, from theory to on-track.

"You look at things like control brake response, vision, body pistons. It's going to make a huge amount of difference to my technique and confidence." Sabah explains that she is by no means a lonely female biker, and counts a dozen or so friends and acquaintances who also love riding bikes, whether cross-country on road trips, or burning rubber on the track. But her main focus is on improving her abilities.

"I only occasionally go for a road trip now because once you have gotten that feeling of scraping your knee against the ground, the appeal of a long straight drive pales a little bit. You just want to repeat that feeling over and over," she said. motoring@thenational.ae