MOUSTAPHA SARHANK is a man of antipodean world view. To him, the universe moves in antithesis — so, he elaborates, one can never know darkness without first experiencing light, one cannot be content without first feeling need.
And Sarhank, as a Harley-Davidson aficionado, can only listen to the sound of silence after he cuts the high-octane rumble of his beloved Road King machine. Except he’ll never let you call it a machine, of course.
“I ride when I’m depressed. I ride when I am crammed with challenges and I ride when I want to bond with the environment. So I ride at very awkward times,” says Sarhank. “I usually ride when other people are sleeping. When the environment is toned down, you start to listen to sounds you don’t actually listen to. Sometimes I listen to the sounds of the desert. It’s alive. So I shut off the engine, sit comfortably on the chair of my Harley and sip my coffee. It’s then that you can see the breeze wafting in your face. You smell the desert and you listen to the voices, which could sometimes be silence. This is the bonding with the environment. You go back home and you feel rejuvenated. It cleans you from the inside.”
Sitting in his ornate Oriental-style office, a cigar holder at his side and a fat cigar waiting by the laptop in front of him, Sarhank cuts an imposing figure in his immaculate suit and his booming, authoritative voice. He is refreshingly lucid, fluid even, in his dialogue. But like hearing a riddle from the oracle, you only fully grasp the full meaning of what he is saying when he ceases speaking.
Except when I suggest he might not actually need his bike.
Courtesy of WFP
“I need a bike!” he exclaims, his voice rising several decibels. “That you don’t need a bike is debatable, because bikers will tell you ‘I need a bike. I need a bike because it is a reflection of me. Not because I want to throw away money buying a bike.’ I’m talking here about true aficionados, about true bikers. They have it in their souls.
“I want to acquire a two-wheel engine because on that engine I feel alive. I feel that I am rejuvenated. I feel that I am free. Maybe this is a way where I bond more and more with what God has created. When I am on a bike I pray. I remember the Divine One. I start having a conversation on why I am alive. Why should I continue being alive, what is the message that God has given me?
“It is very personal, what I’m saying. I’m not saying that this happens to all the bikers. It’s just to answer your point, which is I don’t need a bike. No, I beg to differ. I need a bike because maybe this is one of the ways where I will say I am fortunate God has given me life. Maybe it reminds me that I am so feeble. That I am vulnerable. So I have to work harder and harder and harder to ensure that I am paying my dues to the society that I am part of and I am paying my obligation toward the Divine who has created me. Maybe the bike creates all this atmosphere for me. So it becomes a vital part of my life.”
So, obviously, Sarhank does need his bike. And, as he emphasizes, it’s not just a machine.
Barry Iverson/Egypt Today
“On a bike there is a continuous rapport between you and the bike that you are riding. It’s not just a machine that you are using to move from point A to point B. Quite the contrary, it is an experience that you are living. And since it is an experience you are living, then in my mind you should maximize the outcome.
"The model you choose is a reflection of personality. It's not necessarily the bike you can or cannot afford. It's the best personalization of your way of life and way of seeing things."
“When you are on your machine, think about something that makes you happy. Because in any case the adrenaline is going to kick in. Think how fortunate you are. Think maybe about how you can help out and help out [in a different way]. Think about your obligation toward your society, toward your company, toward your family, toward your parents. Because you tend to take these things for granted. And in my mind you should not take these things for granted. We have to think about them, and when you are on a bike you start seeing these things in 3D. They become very apparent in your eyes. So maybe by the time you get off a bike you’ll have come to a solution to something that was bugging you but you were not able to see it or evaluate it in a lucid manner.
“Business people who are plagued by challenges — daily responsibilities — when they are on a bike they tend to feel as if they [had a session with] a psychiatrist, they’ve spoken about their issues. And when they get off the bike, they are totally rejuvenated. It does help a lot with the process. That’s why I am saying the ride itself should be a way of life, it should be a process.
“When you get off the bike the one thing you should say is, ‘Thank God I am safe.’ Because this in itself is very important. You cannot divide your convictions or your belief system from the ride itself. Again, this is very personal. I do it. I have to thank God I am safe on my feet again. And then I thank my Harley — she was a loyal lady. She ensured that I was OK. And I actually give her a pat and a polish.”
Quick to point out that it is quite acceptable to refer to a bike as a woman, Sarhank has an amused look when I tell him that Indji Ghattas, dealer principal of Harley Davidson Egypt, once told our sister magazine Business Today Egypt that for many bikers a Harley is like a girlfriend. “Let me then say it is a woman psychiatrist.”
A pretty female psychiatrist, I jibe.
“Yessss,” he says, laughing out loud.
“I second of course what Indji has said. In fact, I always nickname my bike my road queen. I handle my road queen with extreme care and attention. And I don’t ever take my road queen for granted. And because of this, I think she has been very good to me in return. Yes, we use the term ‘she.’ Like we are on a ship. For a man biker, the bike represents many things in his personality. For me, I believe that this bike is a true reflection of beauty, of loyalty and of perseverance. And each term has its roots. Beauty because it is a beautiful art form — it’s all made of [shiny] nickel. Perseverance because it really takes the road, leaving hundreds and hundreds of kilometers behind and still [performs well]. If you are loyal to the bike, the bike is loyal too because as an extension of who you are, it tends to want. It’s like a horse. At the end of the day the horseman and the horse become one entity. In my philosophy, the bike and the rider also become one entity. They are inseparable. You treat the bike well, she will treat you back well. To sum it up, she is she. But she’s not a wife. Definitely she’s not a wife.”
Again the sound of his mirthful laughter reverberates around the room. “I’d love to go and treat my wife like a bike and see her reaction.”
Returning to the more serious issue of giving back to the community, Sarhank sees no wisdom in setting Harley Davidson owners apart.
“They are part of the society. They have acquired the bikes because for each one of them the bike represents something that is important. It is for him his way of leading his own life. So the bike in itself is a reflection of the personality, a physical reflection. People in different echelons of business and in different industries [also] like to acquire a Harley motorbike. They are on the bike because they love the bike, they do not want to show off on a bike. A bike does help them in ways that people who do not drive them cannot really visualize. Take for instance the adrenaline rush: When you are on a bike there is definitely an adrenaline rush. Motorbike enthusiasts always claim they need to feel free and that they feel free when they are on a bike. Business people are no different.”
Yet Sarhank does acknowledge that bikers do not necessarily conform to the conventional Egyptian lifestyle, and that they are quite often met with curiosity and bewilderment.
“My son also loves to ride bikes. Expected. The only person who can barge into my bike space is my son. Because he treats the bike well.”
“When they see many bikes moving [together], people here look at them with awe. And they want to reach out, they want to see. They want to understand what this bike is, the number of cylinders it has, the horsepower. Is it Chinese? Or American? They always ask this question. They’re very inquisitive. ‘What is this and what is this humongous muffler,’ they ask. What is this tank-like sound, because those mufflers, number one they trigger the alarm systems on all the cars when they move next to them. Number two, they do create very high decibels. And there is a reason actually. The sound, in addition of course to that it brings joy to the rider, is meant [to make] people around notice that there is a bike.”
This, stresses Sarhank, is not so much exhibitionism as it is a survival instinct. “People do not necessarily appreciate motorcycle bikers like they do abroad. One of the ways to [alert them] is to have humongous mufflers. And the other is to have sirens, like the big wheelers on the street, so others [know we’re there]. We also ride with our lights on so we are noticed. And when you park somewhere, people always [approach] and we always tell them watch it because the engine is extremely hot. Because most of the HD engines are air-cooled, except with one model, the VRX family, but the majority are air cooled.
“People here are fun because they like to reach out, and you start to talk with them and even in their questions youngsters are different from older people, but [they all] want to understand. And we like to speak to them. Like I said, we are not alienating ourselves. We are not trying to give a message that, ‘Guys, we’re different.’ No, what we’re trying to tell them is that we ride differently. We do not make irrational moves — there is a system, a protocol.”
As a ‘lone rider,’ Sarhank’s other survival instincts include careful selection of when and where he rides alone.
“I do not go for long rides. [Even before the revolution,] I did not go into hundreds of miles alone because of road safety and the behavior of car drivers. They do not appreciate bikers. So I choose very well the roads and the times so that I can mitigate the risk — it’s really the obligation of the rider to ride and return safe.”
Courtesy of Harley-Davidson
Riding a Harley is all about freedom on the road, and if there is one community initiative bikers have a vested interest in, it’s road safety.
But with the nation’s worsening traffic conditions, sometimes plotting the route is not always enough.
“Do you know what impact a small pebble can have on your windshield when you are riding at 100 km an hour? Detrimental.”
“It’s a very [complicated] issue that requires a lot [of orchestration],” explains Sarhank. “Number one, you require the roads themselves to be built the right way. Number two, you have to ensure all the big wheelers on the road follow the regulations, and they don’t. Number three, you have to ensure the cars themselves follow the regulations, and they don’t. Then there is the behavior of car drivers. They do not appreciate bikers. So you end up on a street and an open road and all of a sudden it’s as if you are racing one another, even wheelers are racing one another, [carrying their load of pebbles]. Do you know what an impact a small pebble on your windshield when you are riding your bike at 100 km an hour can make? Detrimental. Let alone that you lose focus, and in a pack that will be a disaster. And then there are gasoline spills. If you are speeding [and there is a spill] there is a big possibility that you will be injured. The question is, are you going to get out of it in one piece or not?”
“Or a gasoline spill? The question is, are you going to get out of it in one piece or not?”
Perhaps a new bike might encourage Sarhank to venture a little further?
“The new models of 2013 are truly remarkable, I have to admit. And they have really tried to upgrade the engines and the way the different models look. I might be interested not to sell my old bike but to look at a new model, a new family, one that is water cooled.”
So does this mean you are ready to pick out a new bike? I ask.
“When a man [sees] a nice-looking woman, does he divorce the old one and marry the new one?” he returns. “Supposedly no. It’s the [same with] a Harley. You acquire a new bike when there is a new technological breakthrough. If this is the case, then you might be willing to acquire a new bike. And this does not happen every year. Plus the fact that you have invested tremendously in your old bike in terms of personalization that you tend to be bit skeptical in acquiring a new one and doing the same thing again and again and again. Am I ready to part from it and acquire a new one? It’s a bit difficult because it took years for me to build it the way it is. I’ve had the bike since 2007. I even personalized it with my family so all the nickel has the family crest. As I said earlier, the bike is an extension of your personality. It is very difficult to detach yourself from it. And it takes years and years before you are emotionally ready to let it go.”
Another oracle answer, and I try once again to get a more definite response. So, I ask again, will you walk away with a new one?
“Not necessarily. Because I always like to prioritize and I like to see value,” comes the sanguine reply. “If I will allocate a certain amount of funds to acquire a new bike then I have to ask myself a few very personal questions. What have I done? Am I ready to put this disposable income into a new bike? Or I can use the funds in a way that is a bit different, because I already have one? The issue is not amassing bikes. The issue is, will the bike bring something in terms of value or not? I always evaluate things from this premise. Unless you are a collector, or an extreme biker. An extreme biker who is affluent wouldn’t mind having multiple bikes in different shapes and different capacities. For him or her there is nothing wrong with that way of looking at it. But for me as a person, one bike that does what I always wanted it to do, I think, is enough.”
Pausing for a moment, Sarhank then goes on to emphasize, “And then there is something that is very important in the equation, which is qanaa’a [self content or satisfaction]. Coming from this premise, if I have a bike that does the job and is so personalized that it does the job very well, then I don’t need another one. Yes, sometimes with the heat I have a little bit of heat burn here and there, but I have become accustomed to it. It’s part of the joy. You [apply] a bit of burn cream immediately and you’re good to go. You have to have [conviction] that what you have is enough. [Otherwise] it will never end. One day you have to stop somewhere.” et