By Nancy Collisson, editor, Sahara
I’ve been a pretty confident person. I’ve had it all, I’ve lost it all, I’ve gotten it back and more. I’ve been around the block so I’m not in the least affected or impressed by anyone’s looks, travels, or accomplishments. I’m happy enough for others’ good fortune and success, but I’m never jealous of them. If you tell me you’re this and that, and that you do the other – meh.
Until the other day.
While stepping outside from a hotel lobby, I heard the unmistakable signature VARRROOOM from the engines of nearly a dozen Harley-Davidson motorcycles, and then suddenly these gleaming majestic and historic machines – driven by women or husbands dropping off their pillion-riding wives – thundered up to the front doors in larger-than-life glory.
Carefully backing their ‘hogs’ into premium parking spaces, they un-straddled and began lifting helmets from bandannaed heads, cooly removed their velcroed gloves, and clustered together to embrace and share kisses of greeting. They were lovely women of all ages hailing from all over the world: Japan, Lebanon, Malta, Canada, Australia and South Africa. In heavy black leather boots, they trod delicately into the hotel lobby. Their jeans were duly threadbare at the knees and hips and a few wore belts that in rhinestone brightly declared the brand: HARLEY-DAVIDSON. Over Harley T-shirts all seemed to wear denim vests peppered with patches and pins designating their participation in endurance rides or charitable events.
My eyes widened at the realization that for the first time in my life, I was seething with envy. Sure, I was a confident chick, all right – but I wasn’t a Harley biker chick!
The magnetism commanded by riders of this King of the Road drew the attention of everyone present – valet parking staff, bystanders, tourists, hotel reps who were expecting the ladies for a private brunch, and ME – there to interview them during it. The mesmerizing energy was manifesting in smiles all around! We behaved like children witnessing a parade! Wow! Yay!
Funny thing was, the collective happy buzz started not when the ladies arrived, but when we’d heard the first sounds of the Harley engines.
But, I was corrected on that description when I shared my observations with the charismatic woman, Amani Danhach, who in her striking grin, broad movements, wool cap, and arm tats appeared to own the dining table. I deigned to sit beside her. “No, no, no! It is not a sound of a Harley that you hear – it is a VOICE! Sometimes people in their cars gesture their hands for me to rev! They want to hear it too!”
Attributing human characteristics to their bikes was a common phenomenon at the table. Like an expectant mother, Louise Knudsen, who was due to take her motorcycle driving test later that week, had already named her bike-to-be (‘Bella’). Sara Bianchi’s ‘Artax’ – named after the horse in ‘The Never-Ending Story’ – was a 1690cc Fat Boy.
“I need to take care of my bike. I need to keep it clean, healthy, take it for check-ups, just as I would a child,” Sara added. “In fact, I talk to my bike! I see it in the morning I say ‘Good morning! How are you?’ I need to feel a strong positive relationship strongly because just as I take care of my bike, he will take care of me. It is important for me to feel comfortable and safe and protected, but if I am scared, the bike will feel it.”
“You have to understand that the Harley is very precious,” explained Amani. “For example, you allow no one to sit on your bike without permission! You have a connection to that bike and others respect that!”
So, while the bikes were akin to precious children, for their owners this gathering was like no PTA meeting. Dour tones about lack of discipline and snootiness about bad parenting did not exist to dampen the atmosphere.
“Once when I was a teenager, you can’t believe what I did!” “We’re in a desert country but we’re not getting enough Vitamin D from the sun!” “ Hey, everyone! Let me know who’s participating in the child hunger event!”
So much for the bad-boy image, I thought.
“A culture has developed around Harley but it is about joy and empowerment,” said Amani, PR manager of a global marketing firm and Harley rider for the past two years. “This machine is a tool for you to be happy and free from stress – and this doesn’t make you arrogant or tough! Even among us, there is no difference, there is no hierarchy. We are sharing, down-to-earth people and we care about each other. We are family and you could say we have a sort of brotherhood.”
Far from joining a group for its popularity and notable cool-factor, Amani explained that she took up her passion upon the sudden passing of her fiance. He had suffered a heart-attack and was a Harley biker.
“Until that time, I had never once even ridden on a Harley – not even with him,” she said. “After he died, I was so sad. I think I wanted to understand what he had been experiencing and what had made him so happy, so I got my license and got my first bike.”
Shortly thereafter, Amani acquired and began riding her late fiance’s bike, an 1800cc Softail Deluxe, which was the one she had ridden to the brunch. “Now, I only always ride his bike. I’m comfortable with the weight of the machine and even the wide handlebars.”
Like all most riders Amani had customized the bike, as she said, “to just the way I like it.” Along with the bikes themselves, the accoutrement of riding that can extend to elements that allow riders to adjust “the voice,”, comfort, and style of the bikes can make owning a Harley a pricey proposition.
“I’m addicted to it – all of it,” admitted Amani, “the clothes, the accessories – all, all, all. I even ride to work. I love it.”
“No, no, not me,” said Sara. “I don’t have to wear the clothes or accessories. I am very happy just to have the bike.” That said, Sara was nevertheless sporting a retro-style shirt with “Harley Davidson” stitched across its front. “Yes,” she smiled, “I might wear some Harley clothes for an occasion like this, but in general, just going for a ride, I’m okay with any T-shirt I have.”
“But that’s the thing about the Ladies Group,” explained Amani, “we’re very down-to-earth. These things are not important and we all know it. We connect through the magic of the bike and let me tell you it is one hell of a thing. If I’m on my bike – yes – I show off my bike! As it is visible to many, yes, it is a kick!”
“Yes! getting caught up in all of it can be very expensive, said Louise, who works for a premiere automotive company. “I always realized that because I’ve had many family members who rode. Never did I imagine that I would ever take it up, but it suddenly occurred to me that it was the right thing for me to do! My kids are grown now and this – only the Harley – feels right for me!”
Many Harley aficionados make riding a family affair, “My entire family rides!” Anna Danilian beamed. “I ride as a pillion with my husband and my eldest son rides, and any day now my younger son will have his license.” We just love it.”
Considering the ultra-high level of enthusiasm and excitement that the iconic brand generated, I wondered aloud whether an introverted person could become more confident by taking up riding.
“Riding a Harley pushes your boundaries in a positive way, so yes, one develops more confidence,” said Sara, “but I would never tell anyone what to do because people need to find out for themselves what they need to do.”
Amani agreed. “Everybody has his way. Once you are on a bike you experience three things. One, you are completely focused on nothing else. Two, the air comes to you! It fills your lungs and reaches your brain effortlessly and this is so good for you! Three, once you are on a bike it is like nothing else! It is a kick! You reel you are unique, different. You want to rock the road!”
“Riding, you enter an area requiring very high focus,” added Sara. “You are responsible only for yourself. You get an adrenaline high with a smile and relax naturally. It is empowering, liberating, and very relaxing. It is very Zen. You forget about everything because you’re totally focused on a subconscious level – because you are automatically in a kind of zone where you just know what you have to do.”
Knowing ‘what to do’ with an automatic sense requires experience, but riders must be vigilant. “You have to be assertive. You have to claim your lane,” said Sara. “You have to let drivers know ‘this is my space!’”
But are you ever scared?
“Well,” Sara reacted with surprised laughter, “ if you are scared, you’d better not ride! I’m not one who even likes riding as a passenger in a car, so I’m happy to ride a cycle – alone.”
“With me, I have always known that I can do whatever I want to do. If you think you can, you can and that’s it!” said Amani.
Ladies of Harley-Davidson Dubai Officer Claudia Borg works with Harley Owners Group (HOG) Membership Officer Yara Karam in organizing rides and charitable events for such causes as a fundraiser to fight child hunger sponsored by the World Food Program.
“We are dedicated to providing a wonderful and safe experience for our Ladies,” said Claudia. “I welcome and encourage ladies to join whether they are riders or not!”
Who’s going to join me?
On a happy note: Louise passed her test!