Biking With Liberty
166 riders pursue their motorcycling passion together, dispelling the image of 'reckless' bikers
By Sujata Devadas, March 22, 2017
Liberty Riders at Jebel Hafeet, Al Ain, UAE (l to r): Nabeel Manna, Muhammud Usman and Zoheb Khan
UAE national Ahmed Al Taleb has been biking solo since 1995. In 2013, he began a Kawasaki Owners Group with five biker friends, to ride together on weekends to impromptu destinations. Now, his group has evolved into a 166 strong biker family.
“My biking group took off in 2014 as Nafisa Sayed, a Bahraini and our first female biker joined us and became group administrator,” says Ahmed, an HR professional and Abu Dhabi resident. “She brought in several others. As word spreads about our biking family, female biking members increased. Dubai biker Mohamed Usman Ghani lives right across the Dubai Autodrome. He brought in several bikers from the Northern Emirates: Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain and Ras Al Khaimah. In June 2015, by an overwhelming vote, we changed our group’s name to ‘Liberty Riders’.”
With good reason - why?
Dispelling myths and presumptions
Ahmed Al Taleb works for Zadco, a petroleum company. His Deputy Leader is Dr Abdullah Al Jaberi, a radiologist, also a UAE national. Surprised?
Our vision,” Ahmed explains, “is to change people’s view about bikers. Liberty Riders stand firmly against the insinuation or the presumptuous view that bikers are ‘violators of traffic rules’. Where is it written that bikers invariably break laws? Our 166 bikers honour some guidelines.”
The prime guideline is safety. “Gear the slide, not the ride,” says biker Abu Khalid. “If a biker has an accident, he or she will slide across the ground, incurring several injuries. A biker's protective gear is to minimize harm to the biker.” The minimum requirement for Liberty Riders is a helmet, gloves and boots. Some members also wear a protective leather jacket. Such riding gear can cost well above AED 7,000/-.
Follow the speed limit and road regulations.
Respect other motorists; take adequate care with regard to pedestrians.
Respect all other Liberty Riders, acknowledging their different religions, cultures, nationalities and race as an integral part of global culture.
No stunts on the road; no street-racing.
This option and that…
Many of the Liberty Riders have powerful sport bikes. Ahmed had a Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14R earlier. Dr Abdullah has a BMW S1000 RR, group administrator Hossam Abd El Nasser has a Honda CBR 1000 RR, Usman has a 2016 Yamaha R1, Suhaini Abdul Rahman has a DUCATI Monster 796 Ltd Anniversary Edition. A wide range of bikes!
Is there no temptation to test the speed, capacity and the trigger response of such marvelous bikes? “If the highway is quite empty, yes, definitely, the thought steals in,” admits Ahmed. “But please understand. We have families. Our youngest rider is Saif Al Kaabi, 18 years old. Our popularity is because we value life.”
“Biking is a great stress reliever, my favourite mode of road transport. When I bike to work, I honour traffic rules and respect other road-users. For adrenalin and exhilaration with this passion, test your bike’s prowess and venture into stunts not on the streets but at the Dubai Autodrome or at the Yas Marina Circuit” emphasises Dr Abdullah. "Avoid endangering others. I don’t just preach it, I practice it. At top speed, I angle my bike and manoeuvre around tricky corners, timing it in seconds. Given the facilities available, there is no excuse for doing stunts on the road, speeding and violating traffic rules.”
“Driving a car is like watching a movie, while riding a bike is like being in the movie,” adds Usman. “When you manoeuvre the bike around a corner at high speed, your knee scraping the tarmac, you feel the wind across your body and your head is inches away from the ground!... that is a thrill. Bikes are not just about twisting the throttle and going fast in a straight line. It is more about body position, controlling your breathing on the track, understanding the racing lines, finding the right wheels, the right suspension settings etc. The bike becomes an extension of your body, to truly experience ‘riding’.”
“Bikers are not, by definition, reckless.” adds Suhaini Abdul Rahman, a Malaysian biker and a stay-at-home mom to two sons. “Use the controlled environments to challenge your bike and your skills. Admit it. Human beings are fragile! Don’t just wear mere T-shirt-and-shorts. Wear protective gear to bike.”
So far, only one biker has exited the group for breaching guidelines. 166 bikers understand the values enshrined in the vision to change the public’s view of bikers as ‘irresponsible’.
Liberty family, an act of faith
Four months after joining Liberty Riders, Usman became a captain, looking after the entire Dubai and Northern Emirates chapter. “Liberty Riders is not a bike group. We are a family,” he says. “meeting at each other’s houses. We bring our family along. Our conversations are hilarious, very uplifting. If any of us needs help, within seconds, the entire group comes to the rescue - to lend a bike or help decide what to eat.”
“Many road-users in UAE drive as if they are unaware of bikers’ presence on the road, like we are invisible.” says Suhaini. “That is dangerous. It is therefore much safer to ride in a group than to bike alone. It is a great way for me to get ‘away’ from the home routine, while my husband takes care of our two sons in my absence. It is wonderful company. Respect is the normal attitude; no discrimination. Majority of the bikers are male, a brotherhood. I have met some of our female bikers, but not all of them. All of us are not free on the same weekend.”
“It is an act of faith that binds us together. It is about trust and discipline. I would bike anywhere with this group.” says Nafisa with quiet confidence.
Ahmed stopped biking solo. “I prefer riding with Liberty Riders in staggered formation, two parallel lines drafting behind the leader. It is far more fun.”
Liberty Riders ride in staggered formation
The roads are drop-dead gorgeous in UAE," says Usman, "almost as good as some of the race-track surfaces around the world. Routes like Kalba, Jabel Jais, Jabel Hafeet are mind-blowing. The infrastructure is great. Secondly, Dubai Autodrome and the Yas Marina circuit are amazing tracks to race or ride on. The superb maintenance, ease of access, the helpful staff all accumulate to ensure a great biking experience. To UAE bikers, I say, try riding on the track once. You will get hooked.”
Vistas from the Muscat ride (l to r): Dr.Abdullah, Imran Khan, Mahboob Mohd. Habeeb.
Total distance covered: 1200 kms.
The destination and the route for weekend rides is planned just a day or two ahead. His happiness abounds as Ahmed says: “Some current members did not initially own bikes in the UAE. But they learnt about us and bought bikes to join our trips. Canadian citizen Suhail, our most experienced biker, led us to areas that were quite new, unknown to me.”
On a recent Thursday, March 16th to be exact, Liberty Riders geared up at 6pm for a ride to Muscat, the capital of Oman, UAE’s neighbouring country. Headed by Dr Abdullah, they biked to the Abu Shakla border, then Sohar, then Muscat reaching half an hour after midnight. On any biking trip, they stop a number of times — for prayer; for tea; for refuelling or for photography and conversations at picturesque locations. They covered 1200 kms.
The next day, they biked to Yiti for breakfast. Then through the scenic Sifawi route, they reached Yeti beach. Bandar Al Khairon and Al Qurum were their next stops before returning to their hotel. It took eight hours on Saturday via Sohar and the Khalba border to return home to Abu Dhabi.
A trip to Qatar is on the cards. Suhaini would love it if Liberty Riders organised biking trips in Europe. “In the summer,” she says, “when the temperature peaks in the UAE.” Yes, indeed!
“Along with UAE bikers, bikers from South Africa, Moldovia, Malaysia, UK, France, Russia, America, Romania, Pakistan, India, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, Philippines, Yemen and still more countries are part of this family!” says Ahmed. “We stay in touch on a daily basis. Biking is our passion. It just clicks!”
‘Stay legal, ethical and moral’ are the rules of the game. Accepting these rules, Liberty Riders know there are brilliant ways to have fun. Their chosen option is biking.