x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

The Air Bag: The bond of the bike

Motorcycles span societies across the globe, from weekend warriors looking to escape the mundanity of everyday life to families able to afford little else in poor countries.

During my BMW off-road course last week, which you'll read about elsewhere on this site, I stayed at the Hatta Fort Hotel, an upmarket place with a charming 1970s vibe set right in the middle of the imposing mountains of the region. Working there was Laxman, a small Indian man with a wool cap and an eternally friendly smile, always ready to say hello and carry your bags.

As I was getting on my bike preparing for the day's lessons, Laxman walked up and admired my machine. I asked him if he rode motorcycles. "Oh, not this one," he smiled sheepishly. "This one too big."

No surprise there, seeing as his head came up to the handlebars. "But I have a small one at home," he continued, "good for two, maybe three people."

I had to laugh, and his comments brought to mind my trip to Pune, India, a couple of years ago. I was amazed to see hordes of small, cheap motorcycles buzzing the streets like insects, most carrying complete families and doing duty as cargo carriers. Ironically, I was there to test drive the Tata Nano, a car that was touted as being cheap enough to get people off bikes; it hasn't even made a dent in the motorcycle market there, which is actually growing.

It's a stark contrast to what I'm used to coming from North America. There, motorcycles are mainly for fun, a pastime currently being led by the Baby Boomer generation; in other words, those with money. These people will park their SUVs at the weekend and ride out somewhere in packs of shiny, expensive bikes simply to enjoy a fleeting feeling of freedom from an otherwise mundane world.

In my travels around the globe, I've grown to keep an eye out for motorcycle trends; it's interesting to see the differences. For instance, Europeans see bikes as a serious means of commuting, what with the price of petrol and the traffic and parking situations there. In fact, there is a huge market for all-weather motorcycle gear. And the more affluent the countries, the bigger and flashier the bikes. Here in the UAE, motocross and off-road bikes are wildly popular, what with the wide expanses of desert and wilderness to be enjoyed.

By their very nature, motorcycles are among the most versatile modes of transportation on the planet. They can travel where other vehicles can't, making them ideal for both people who live in rural and underdeveloped areas as well as those adventurous types looking to explore. And depending on the model, they can be very inexpensive, allowing poorer people the luxury - nay, the necessity - of transportation.

It's good to know that, wherever you may find yourself in this world, you'll probably be able to ride something, be it a Harley-Davidson on a lonely highway in the US or a tiny Hero Honda in the Himalayas. And because of this, you'll always have something to talk about with a bike rider; the bond is as intrinsic as it is unmistakable.

I'm not sure if Laxman would have been interested in the punishing off-road course held at the hotel, but you could tell he was fascinated by the many bikes and riders that were there. And I couldn't help but imagine his smiling face throttling up his own bike in India.