Easy rider

Harley Davidson’s growth in the Middle East owes as much to culture as it does engineering

On Paul De Jongh’s fifth birthday, his father took him for a ride on a motorbike, allowing him to instantly form a strong connection with the unique world of Harley Davidson. His love has only grown since then; De Jongh had his first motorcycle at just eleven years of age, and has been enjoying the freedom of the open road ever since.

His lifelong love affair with the marque culminated when De Jongh eventually took on a role as country manager of Harley Davidson in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA).

“When you buy a Harley, you instantly become part of a massive group of friends,” he says enthusiastically. “When I ride, I often pass another rider with his wife on the back. We have never seen each other and we have never talked to each other, but there is this automatic acknowledgement: ‘How are you, if you are in trouble, I will stop for you,’” explains De Jongh.

For him, and all the riders out there, it is a culture of brotherhood and camaraderie.

When De Jongh visits dealers and rides with customers across the region, for instance, he sees his brand as a tool of strength that crosses borders in a way that no political movement has ever managed.

“I have often heard politicians comment by saying that it is amazing how a motorcycle brand can unite people. There are people from different backgrounds, religions and races, all enjoying the same thing together at a rally and there is no divide. They have fun together,” he says.

Brisk business in the UAE itself is symptomatic of the brand’s wider appeal in the region, De Jongh goes on to add.

“The UAE business initially grew on an expat basis. [At first], there were a lot of expats that came into the region as the UAE developed, specifically Dubai, during the 90s and the early 2000s,” he says. “We are seeing a big growth in interest over the last five years, of not just Western expats, but also Arab expats, locals, as well as women.

“A lot of people misunderstand the concept that Harley is just for men, or just for Western expats,” he says. “But, across the MENA region, we are seeing a big increase in interest from women.”

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