Most successful sportspeople have a role model growing up. Someone they can look up to when taking their first steps into the pro lane. But for a young Shadi Al Dhaheri, growing up in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, with dreams of becoming a stunt driver, there was no one from the region that could inspire him. Now, at 35, Al Dhaheri is one of the Middle East’s top stunt bikers, performing his tricks and wheelies all over the region. Next week, from Thursday October 22 to Saturday 24, he’ll be speeding through Gulf Bike Week, showing off his skills. And Al Dhaheri says his success is all about drive. “When you love something and you believe that one day you’ll be there, doing it for real,” he says simply, “then you will.”
Al Dhaheri’s love affair with biking was ignited at home, he says, while messing around with bikes with his older brother. “I was eight years old when I first got on a bike. It was my brother’s and he tried to teach me how to drive, but my feet couldn’t reach the pedal,” he recalls. “Then at 11, I got my first bike, a small Suzuki.” These days Al Dhaheri is riding some seriously high-powered machines, and as the rider reels off the various beasts he’s tried, it becomes clear he has a particular penchant for Japanese machinery. “My favourite is the Kawasaki 66,” he says, adoringly. “It is 600cc, it’s powerful, the handling is easy, and the design is beautiful. It’s perfect.”
The Saudi biker likes to push his own boundaries, and tells us with passion about both his drive to succeed and also some of his disappointments. “I travelled to Bulgaria last year for an international competition. Honestly, I just wanted to compete and see how I compared to the other riders, but I wasn’t used to the weather conditions there. It was very rainy and I’m not used to riding in the rain. It was very slippery. The bike was sliding and I hurt myself, so I couldn’t continue in the competition.” You can still see the hurt in his eyes.
This year will be Al Dhaheri’s third time performing at Gulf Bike Week, and he has been challenging doubters since the beginning. “The organisers didn’t believe that we have a great stunt rider from the Middle East, so to begin with they brought in some guys from the States,” he reveals. “Then when I showed them what I could do (and they were shocked), that’s what gave me a big opportunity to travel from Saudi Arabia to Dubai for the show.”
This year, Al Dhaheri will be bringing his full cache of adrenalin-pumping, heart-stopping skills to the Dubai Autodrome – including acrobatics. The stunt star says that the tricks, though they may seem hard on the body, are actually all in the mind. “With stunt biking it’s about how you visualise the trick, and if you believe in it. Plus, of course, how fast your reactions are. If your reaction is fast but you don’t visualise it well, your mind can’t do it. You have to put the trick in your mind, and calculate the exact moment to jump. You have to have both parts for it to work.”
Al Dhaheri still has the enthusiasm of that eight-year-old boy riding around the back yard, and despite his family’s initial misgivings, he has followed his sporting dream. But he’s still not done raising the bar. Yes, he may be the first Saudi Arabian pro rider but he’s riding hard to ensure that he won’t be the last. “It seems like the last five years the new generation are getting into sports and extreme sports – they like activities like this and it’s really motivating to see,” he says. “My goal now is to guide the new generation, and show them how to do it the right way. And I hope I can get more years riding in too.”
From Dhs70. October 22-24. Dubai Autodrome, www.gulfbikeweek.com.
Where to ride in Dubai
Dune bash across the desert on a dirt bike or take regular lessons to learn how to handle the bikes and manage different terrain. Classes are taught by Arab motocross champion Mohammed Al Balooshi and Swiss Motocross title winner Chris Moeckli.
From Dhs1,550. www.mx-academy.ae (050 951 1151).
If you’re more of a cruiser than a speed freak, take a tour of the city on a Harley-Davidson Road King on your own or go with a guide. See Old and New Dubai,
Al Ain and Jebel Hafeet.
From 1,590 (day tour including guide and lunch). Tue and Fri, 8am-5pm, www.dubaimotorcycletours.com (055 953 2064).
Ducati Dubai Club
If you’re the owner of a Ducati you can share your passion for bikes, meet with other owners and go for group rides with other enthusiasts.
Visit the Desmo Owners Club Dubai Facebook page.