A unique experience
Bizzie Frost attended the 2nd Saudi National H.O.G. Rally in 2008, and gave us a thorough report on this unique experience
Following the success of last year’s 1st Saudi National Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.) Rally, Mr. Ahmed Halawani was given the task of organising the second one. Already an experienced biker, he bought his first Harley-Davidson motorcycle in 2005 and in 2007 was elected as the Director of the Jeddah Chapter. Although he hasn’t been to any HOG rallies outside the Kingdom, he attended a Harley-Davidson Rally Co-Ordinator training course on how to organise and direct one. “It was a great training programme and I used all the skills that I learnt there,” he said. Working together with Mr. Monther Al Mutlaq (joint owner of
With Al Baha around 550km from Jeddah, and 1,100km from Riyadh, Halawani described some of the logistics in planning the event: “It involved a lot of travelling to Al Baha as we had to make sure the roads were good enough, and that there were enough fuel stops, and to note any emergency stops. We also had to get permission from the Governor of Makkah province, Prince Khalid al Faisal, and Prince Dr. Faisal bin Mohammed bin Saud bin Abdul Aziz, the son of the Governor of Al Baha province, and this required a lot of private meetings. We are very grateful to them for allowing us to hold this rally.”
One hundred and thirty bikers were registered to arrive in Taif on October 22, so Halawani had to ensure safe riding principles were carried out during the rally. Ten “Road Captains” were appointed to lead groups of around 13 bikes each to ride between At Taif and Al Baha, along the
Road signs to warn motorists of dangerous bends and corners have been charmingly translated from Arabic into English to read ‘Dangerous curves’, and these signs were seen at regular intervals along the route. Although there are frequent petrol stations and small shops on the way, washroom facilities on Saudi Arabian highways are notoriously grim, especially for ladies. However, it is all part of the big adventure!
An important part of H.O.G. events is the family involvement and, as women cannot drive in
As all the Hogs congregated in At Taif and Al Baha it was also interesting to note the wide age range of the bikers. After a few enquiries, Mr. David Joury, aged 60, was found to be the oldest one there. He has been biking on and off for many years, and recently bought a Heritage Classic. He explained his passion for Harleys: “I grew up in
A close runner-up was 59-year-old Torbjorn Nilo, a Swedish businessman on a visit to
Nilo’s sister, Mrs. Anneli Dearing, is a nurse living in Jeddah and is a Lady of Harley. She is a very youthful ‘wannabe’ grandmother and has been passionate about Harleys since she was only 12 years old. “My brother and his friends had bikes and I will never forget the first time I heard their Harleys come up the hill to our house. But I never owned a Harley before coming here. Then my brother came to visit in June 2005 and we went to the dealership and we made a decision right there and then to buy one.”
Most Harley owners would dearly love to own more than one, and another man in this category is Jeddah businessman Amr Amawi. He has been biking for almost 20 years and bought a Harley “for the camaraderie and for what Harley stands for – love of nature and cruising, and being together in groups of like-minded people”. However, he was reluctant to tell me how many Harleys he actually owns: “I have got a few but I prefer not to say how many. I do love them and I love to customise them and show them.” He took three bikes on the rally, all prize winners in the show.
As all Hogs know, looks are everything, whether on the bike or at dinner after a ride – lots of black leather jackets and leather waistcoats glinting with souvenir pins, and black jeans and T-shirts with elaborate Harley-Davidson pictures on them. During the first dinner at the Intercontinental Hotel, a few of us were enjoying the fancy dress show, and voted that one man in particular should be awarded the ‘Most Authentic Looking Harley Biker’ (although such an award didn’t exist even at this rally!) He was a tall, dark, handsome man, with very long ‘pepper and salt’ dark hair tied in a pony tail, a beard, the prerequisite leather waistcoat and black jeans, plus an impressive black Stetson hat.
Mr. Ghassan Hourani has a contracting company in
Harleys also appeal to the younger generation in
Another young and very enthusiastic Saudi H.O.G. member who uses his Harley as his main form of transport is 31-year-old Mohammed Kalantan, an electrical technician from Yanbu. His wife and two small children live in Makkah, so nearly every week he rides the 860km round-trip back home on his ‘no frills’ 2001 Ultra Classic Electra Glide. “Before, I used to like speed bikes. I bought a Harley because I like travelling and adventure. My wife also comes on the bike. Even when she was pregnant, I had a recording of the motorbike sound and I played it to our unborn son. I hope eventually he will ride better than me.”
Looking at all the different crash helmets, one in particular stood out as being different. It belonged to Colonel Haitham Attar. He used to fly fighter jets in the Saudi Royal Air Force and explained about his unusual helmet: “It was my flying helmet and has been with me for 20 years, so I am very attached to it. It is made out of lightweight Kevlar and is bulletproof. It also reduces noise levels – good when the bikes are going through tunnels! I like the team spirit of H.O.G. – they are really nice people and you see all kinds of different cultures here.”
Once in Al Baha, the Rally took the bikers on a challenging ride down the Al Baha escarpment. This road twists and turns its way precariously down some 2,000 metres of the rugged Asir mountainside, going through numerous tunnels on the way. It even took some of the more experienced bikers by surprise. On several occasions, as groups of growling Harleys were in the enclosed space of a tunnel together, one or two riders couldn’t resist unleashing more noise by revving their engines.
At the bottom of the escarpment is the picturesque ruin of the Marble Village, Thee Ain, and it was an incongruous sight to see so many Harleys against this secluded backdrop. With the light fading behind the mountains, we sat cross-legged on carpets to enjoy a local dinner, followed by traditional sword dancing, all organised by Prince Dr. Faisal bin Mohammed. Everyone enjoyed the outdoor location and the distinctive Saudi atmosphere of this event, and the sword dancers encouraged the bikers to join in with them. The bikers then had another unusual challenge: a night ride back up the escarpment road.
By international standards, the Saudi rallies have been small, as I learned from Mr. Jamil Ayas, the General Manager of the Jeddah dealership. He has worked for the Company for 16 years, in different countries including Scotland. “I did the Aviemore Rally – we had 10,000 riders show up!”
A well-known and always cheerful face on the local H.O.G. scene is businessman Amr Al Khaldi. He has been an active H.O.G. member and officer in the Riyadh Chapter for six years and rides a 2007 Street Glide. As well as riding extensively in the Middle East, he has also ridden through Europe. “Two years ago we did a trip to Ireland and we loved the roads in Europe. As they say, it is not what you ride but who you ride with, so that is one of the major advantages of the H.O.G. group; regardless of who you are, what religion or what colour, we are just brothers and sisters. This ride has been great; I like the curves on the mountain rides. It’s a challenge, and I love it.”
Marwan Al Mutlaq, a joint owner and Managing Director of Harley-Davidson Riyadh, was very pleased with how the rally turned out. “I think this rally is exploring Saudi Arabia in ways that have never been done before, and showing the opportunities for riding here. The participants get a chance to see first hand the special flavour of the country. I am very happy that by starting Harley-Davidson here, we have given people the chance to enjoy something they never had – when I see the smiles on their faces, and having a fun time, this is all about Harley.” The rally also brought smiles to the faces of spectators along the route, young and old; they waved enthusiastically at the bikers and many used their mobile phones to photograph the unusual spectacle – and be photographed with the bikes.
At the end of the rally, the advisor and co-ordinator for tourism in the Al Baha area, Gharmullah Al Ghamdi, said: “Prince Mohammed bin Saud bin Abdul Aziz was very happy when he was asked if the Harleys could come here and he gave instructions to make sure that you are well looked after and given a warm welcome. We hope you have all enjoyed yourselves and we will welcome you back at any time.”