Prince Turki with the pilots and staff of Rabigh Wings Aviation Academy. (SG photos by Bizzie Frost)THERE is nothing that Harley-Davidson bikers love to do more than to hit the open road at first light – and that goes for the Jeddah Harley Owners Group (HOG) as well. Since these American motorcycles were first introduced to Jeddah in the mid 1990s, their popularity has increased enormously, and on the morning of Feb. 11, around 92 of them gathered together on the Corniche to ride to the Rabigh Wings Aviation Academy. It was a long time since my husband and I had ridden with the Jeddah HOGs and as it was good to meet old friends, admire each other’s bikes and join in the general chatter in the cool morning. Nowadays, there are very few expatriates among the group, and this is one of the rare social activities in Jeddah where we get to meet Saudis.
The Director of the Jeddah HOG, Eihab Shawli, as cheerful as ever on his bright yellow Ultra Classic Electra Glide was among the crowd. It is now his third year in office and he has seen some great developments. “We have more than 250 active members now and lately I have seen an increasing number of young riders. This is a positive thing, as these riders will make a strong foundation to build on for the future! We have also seen a huge improvement in the quality and diversity of our rides. HOG members enjoy the sense of belonging to an organized community that cares for its members and allows them to practice a hobby with others that share the same interests. Family is also an important part of our lives and we always emphasize family participation in our activities,” he said.
To this end, a bus had been added to the entourage for wives and children. A few wives were also riding the pillion with their husbands, and as always there was a back-up vehicle from Harley-Davidson.
It was Rabea Haddara who had came up with the idea of visiting the Wings Aviation Academy, and Mohammed Bawazir who organized it with his team of volunteers. He has been the Activity Office for the past three years: “I try to arrange a monthly activity during the good weather. On this outing, we have a total of 190 including families. For the ride, together with our Safety Officer, we have organized five Road Captains, five ‘Tail Gunners’ or ‘Sweepers’, and two ‘sprinters’.”
It is no easy task organizing so many bikers into disciplined groups, something that is essential for safe and fun riding. The night before there had been a briefing, and when we arrived at the meeting point at 7 A.M., the officials and Road Captains were all wearing day-glow orange vests so that they were easily identifiable. Zaher Al-Tayeb, the Safety Officer for the Chapter, did a great job in organiZing everyone to get us away on time. We set off in five separate groups, each with a Road Captain in the lead, and a “sweeper” at the back just in case there were any problems. We left at 7.30 A.M., right on our scheduled departure time.
Group riding is easy if everyone follows the rules and works as a team. The Road Captain makes the decisions, and when he gives a signal, each rider behind him is expected to copy the signal so that the message is clearly passed on to all the bikes down the line. There are various hand signals, from an instruction to ride in single file, or in dual staggered formation, or to warn bikers of a pothole in the road, or an oil slick or other hazard; then there are right or left turn signals, slow down, or halt. As we got going on the 125 km ride, the ‘sprinters’ also ensured that other traffic didn’t harass us – occasionally, enthusiastic ‘shababs’ come a bit too close trying to photograph us with their mobile phones!
Once the 92 Harleys had been parked beautifully in line on the edge of the apron of Rabigh Wings Aviation Academy, the HOGs were welcomed by the CEO of the academy: Prince Turki Bin Mugrin Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud – informally dressed in jeans, a polo shirt and a baseball cap. He is a licensed helicopter and fixed wing pilot. “This is our first social event here,” he told me, “and we look forward to having more.” A huge banner was in place with the HOG bald eagle logo and a motorcycle on the left hand side, and the Rabigh Wings logo and an aircraft on the right, and the words “When Sky Eagles meet Street Eagles”.
All the Wings instructor pilots were present, along with the Chief Pilot and Director of Maintenance and administrative staff. A ‘bouncy castle’ had been set up in the gardens for the children, and a barbeque lunch was being prepared. It was perfect weather for the event and tables and chairs were set up in a well-shaded garden. Red Bull, who are loyal supporters of HOG events, provided plentiful drinks, with shots of Grenadine, Peach and Strawberry to add interest to their well-known brand.
With all the open space of the airfield at our disposal, there was a ‘slalom’ competition with 30 bikes taking part. The academy had generously offered 20 “joy rides” to the bikers, which were allocated in a draw – although apparently more that 40 people took the opportunity to fly. On the first rides, three aircraft took off together with over sixty Harleys roaring down the runway after them.
Disappointed that we didn’t get a flight, but nonetheless very happy with a great day out, we headed back to Jeddah early, riding with a few friends and enjoying the envious glances coming from people cooped up in their cars!
– Saudi Gazette