x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Motorcycle rider beats heat and deadline

A Dubai motorcyclist covers 1,697km in 23 hour to qualify for Iron Butt membership.

DUBAI // A Dubai motorcyclist has ridden 1,679km in 23 hours through sandstorms and blistering heat to win a place in an exclusive US club with a somewhat cheeky moniker: the Iron Butt Association. The Chicago-based association has some 50,000 members worldwide. To get them to let you in, you have to ride a motorcycle for at least 1,000 miles (1,609km) in 24 hours or less.

For the past two years, Nelson Suresh Kumar, 40, had been dreaming of riding his classic Royal Enfield across the Emirates to qualify for membership. His plan to do it this summer was almost derailed when some friends who were to join him dropped out. Instead, Mr Kumar mapped out a solo ride from Dubai to the Saudi border. He made the trip last week, travelling along Liwa Crescent Road up to Ras al Khaimah and then back to Dubai.

A native of India, Mr Kumar has already submitted documents and fuel receipts to the association to prove he completed the trip. He is now waiting to hear back from the club's officers on whether he will join its ranks. His journey began a little after midnight on May 28 from a petrol station near Lamcy Plaza in Dubai. He made it back to the same stop at 11.09pm the same day. The club's rules require that someone witness the start and end of the ride.

The trip was not without its challenges. The fierce heat almost got to him as he negotiated sandstorms in Liwa, where temperatures hit 47°C at 10am. "I poured water all over myself many times, ate chocolate and cereal bars, drank a lot of juice," said Mr Kumar, who owns the Royal Enfield motorcycle dealership in Dubai. "I must have drunk six to seven litres of water. "The heat you deal with when you are on a motorbike is different compared to the protected environment of a car. You have a wind chill effect and a wind heat effect. It gets burning hot."

Mr Kumar, the head of Dubai-based Classic Motorcycles, organises shorter motorcycle rides every Friday around the emirate. He took a gamble crossing Liwa in the morning heat because he was unsure whether fuel stations would be open at night. He collected fuel receipts to verify his progress. While this slowed him down, the organisation's rules demand receipts instead of GPS tracking logs. Exhaustion set in during a stretch from Mafraq to Al Ain that should have taken an hour but took double that time.

"I was so tired and hot. I rested on some lawns and that refreshed me," said Mr Kumar, who sent hourly text messages to friends concerned about his safety. Though he suffered heat boils and shoulder and back pains, Mr Kumar and his friends are planning to tackle the Iron Butt Association's most difficult challenge - the Bun Burner, or 1,500 miles in 36 hours - in October. "The heat boils were nothing," he said. "You must overcome a static state of mind when the vehicle is moving on its own and you feel you don't need to control anything."

Chewing gum and listening to music helped him stay alert. Mr Kumar has traveled long distances before. He rode a Yamaha almost 29,000km from Argentina to Alaska. Fellow motorcyclists were impressed. "Nelson did in one day what we do over three days. His is quite an achievement," said Ron Anderson, a South African corporate manager with Sun Insurance who organises an annual three-day, 1,600km motorcycle ride, the Turtle Run, from Dubai to Oman and back.

rtalwar@thenational.ae