x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Bikers challenge stereotypes

During the week they are among Dubai's high flyers: doctors, bank managers and entrepreneurs. But away from the office ...

DUBAI // During the week they are among Dubai's high flyers: doctors, bank managers and entrepreneurs. But away from the office, they are a Harley Davidson-riding, leather jacket-wearing biker gang, tearing up the Emirates' open highways. The Black Eagles Motorcycle Club, formed in 2003, now boasts more than 50 members from 14 different countries, including the UK, Canada, Latvia, Pakistan and the UAE. Anyone wanting to join must own a Harley-Davidson or similar "cruiser" bike, be approved by every member and, most important, undertake never discuss the club with outsiders.
"We are a brotherhood, you will never find out anything from any of the members that they don't want to tell you, they like their privacy," said Hadi Mohammad, a UAE national and the Black Eagles' president. The phrase biker gang makes most people think of the Hell's Angels or The Outlaws - groups with a history of violence and links to organised crime. But Mr Mohammad, a maintenance engineer at a gas works in Jebel Ali, is quick to distance the Black Eagles from that image.
"It's not like what people used to see on the news or anything like that, although if we were into that sort of thing, you would never find out," said Mr Mohammad. He added: "I'm joking, we just love motorbikes and hitting the open road." Far from being outlaws living on the fringes of society, like Captain America in Easy Rider or the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club in The Wild One, the Black Eagles work closely with the Dubai Government. The club organises events for the Dubai Shopping Festival and hosts bike rides with the Ministry of Defence.
Mr Mohammad said the Black Eagles were also far from the "weekend warrior" tag, which has been associated with some other UAE motorcycle clubs."We are in contact every day, we have businesses together, we're a very close group. We can no longer meet as often as we'd like, and we miss that you know, but that's Dubai, it's busy like that." Although there are several motorcycle clubs in the Emirates, there is no rivalry between the groups.
"Everybody gets along- it's only in movies that happens," he said. "We invite them all to our annual party - and in all the years we've been doing it, there's never been any trouble." Despite working with the Government and the friendliness shown to rival clubs, Mr Mohammad said seeing up to 20 bikers roaring around the streets of Dubai still provokes mixed reactions. "People always look at you, and it's mostly in a good way," he said. "Some of them try to be smart, sometimes in a pub or something. We try to be as nice as possible, but keep the conversation among ourselves. It's only really the tourists who get scared or back off a bit."
The Black Eagles, like every UAE motorcycle club, follow the rules of international clubs. But most clubs, like the Hell's Angels, have banned women from becoming members. This club makes an exception. "We make our own rules here, we go by the personality not the bike, or if they're a man or woman," said Mr Mohammad. "Someone may have a good bike, but they may be useless, so what's the point?" Helena Cuenat, a Harley-Davidson owner from England, is one of several female Black Eagles. She has been riding motorbikes longer than most of the men. "I started riding when I was 11, my grandmother owned a bike shop. I've had all sorts of bikes over the years," said Ms Cuenat, who works for GAC Logistics in Dubai, and has been in the UAE for 17 years. "Do people react in a certain way to me? I don't really notice, but sometimes when there's a lot of us riding, drivers passing us will double-take me, as I don't think they expect there to be a woman on a Harley-Davidson."
Ask any member of the Black Eagles to explain the rough-edged romanticism Harley-Davidson evokes, and the answer is the same. "I don't know how to explain it, some people say it's about being a free spirit, and when I'm on my bike I sometimes feel like hitting the road and never coming back," said Mr Mohammad. "I just love motorbikes." greg.aris@thenational.ae