Published in Bloomberg Businessweek Middle East (October 2013)
High On the Hog The Ladies of Harley group in Dubai is intent on changing perceptions about your average Harley-Davidson rider. By Priyanka Pradhan
As a pack of bikers zips by on the back roads of Dubai, onlookers catch a sudden flash of fringed boots, pink fingernails and pretty helmets. Meet the Dubai Ladies of Harley motorcycle group that is growing in popularity and challenging perceptions of bikers in the emirate. These easy riders are all women who love their lipsticks and heels as much as their powerful motorcycles.
Club membership has been growing in recent months with around 30 riders in the UAE alone. The intrepid ladies photographed for this article come from cultural backgrounds as diverse as Iran, Lebanon and Russia, yet their passion for biking finds them riding alongside each other most weekends.
Russian fitness instructor Elena Efimova’s love affair with motorcycles began 19 years ago. Her first motor was a lightweight model, bought from a former soldier in Russia. She is currently the proud owner of a 1,680cc Harley-Davidson Softail Standard, which she bought second-hand about a year ago for AED30,000 ($8,167). Efimova spent another AED16,000 customising her Harley. “For me, riding is mostly about relieving stress,” she says. “I hit the road about 5:30am on weekends – it’s like a form of meditation. “We sometimes ride out as far as Al-Ain. We don’t plan where we are going — the journey is more important than the destination, really.”
Thirty-four-year-old Iranian maths teacher Shima Mehri has been an avid rider since relocating to Dubai four years ago. “When I lived in Austria as a five-year-old, I’d see a lot of women bikers zoom by. I was fascinated by them,” says Mehri. That childhood fascination soon turned to disappointment when Mehri returned to Iran with her family. At the time, women were banned from riding motorcycles in the Islamic Republic. “When I moved to Dubai I took up riding with a vengeance, simply because I could.” In the early days, Mehri says she faced resistance from her family and friends to her new hobby. “Many of [my] friends distanced themselves from me,” she recalls. “But over time, I have managed to convert some of them to bikers.”
Mehri purchased her Harley-Davidson in January 2012 for AED50,000. She dreams of one day taking it to Iran. “I’d love to ride my Sportster Low Rider on the scenic routes,” she says. While the Dubai Ladies of Harley are challenging conventions, they don’t take themselves too seriously. “If you’re a biker, you’ll find yourself on a bike; if you’re not, well, you’ll get off. It has nothing to do with being a man or a woman,” says Efimova.
While the ladies know their bikes from a mechanical point of view, they also share a deep emotional bond with the machines. For Amani Danhach, 25, her Harley story is one of loss. She hit the road after someone very close passed away after a heart attack on a biking tour. Amani was determined to own and learn how to ride as a means of keeping her friend’s memory alive. “He’d always say ‘live to ride, ride to live’, and I wanted to continue his journey,” she says. “In the beginning, it was a bit difficult for me because I thought of him whenever I was on the If you’re a bIker, you’ll fInd yourself on a bIke; It has nothIng to do wIth beIng a man or a woman road. But I love it, and in fact I now have the same bike as he did, a Softail Deluxe 2005.”
While the model retails for around AED100,000, Danhach declines to reveal how much her customised model set her back. Elsa Abi Nader, regional marketing manager at Harley-Davidson MENA, says the rising number of women riders across the Gulf is testament to their growing sense of empowerment in this region. “We have 100-plus women riders in the region, scattered across Morocco, Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon, Qatar and the UAE,” she says. “It’s the simple joy of riding … that empowers them not just as women but as human beings.”