Text and photography: Brett Hamilton
After thousands of years, the walls of Jericho once again shuddered and vibrated as 12 Harley-Davidson motorcycles thundered across the antique landscape that lies just east of the Dead Sea.
It’s strange, actually. I never thought that I’d visit this country, even less so on a motorcycle! In fact, until a few years ago motorcycles weren’t even allowed in Jordan because of the ease of movement that it offered terrorist factions. Thankfully, those days are in the past and BMW, Honda and Harley bikes are now a fairly common sight.
“More than any other place in the world, a motorcycle represents freedom here,” says Claude Abry as he leads us on a tour through his Harley-Davidson dealership in the capital city of Amman. Claude is a Frenchman from Lyon who last year traded his chef’s hat for a mechanic’s wrench, which probably explains why the workshop is so clean.
Similar to most businesses in Jordan, the dealership is a family-run affair with Claude’s wife and daughter helping out behind the scenes.
“Down there, the Bedouin operate in the same manner,” says Claude as he motions with a motorcycle helmet in his hand towards the deep valley where the Dead Sea can be found. “The entire family treks with the goats and camels.”
“Down there” refers to the rift valley where the Jordan River (the official border between Jordan and Israel) enters the Dead Sea. Two giant mountain ranges flank the valley, with Jerusalem atop the western range and our intended route stretching across the range to the east.
Apart from this small section – and perhaps a few plateaus in the east – Jordan’s landscape is quite mountainous and not at all what I had expected to find in a desert country.
Our initial route leads us south along the Dead Sea on a wide highway that’s nestled at the bottom of the mountain range. The blue sea creates a stark visual contrast with the red mountains. It is here that the Israelites entered the Promised Land, where Lot and his wife found refuge and where Jesus was baptised. It is also the spot where I first get an opportunity to ride the Softail Deluxe, which (like the Electra Glide Classic) has been returned to the Harley-Davidson line-up for 2011.
Not much has changed since the Deluxe was removed from the market two years ago. It still makes use of Harley’s B92 V2 engine (1 584cc) and offers classic cruiser styling with exaggerated mudguards and headlight, a deep seat, chromed luggage rack and white-walled tyres. Stylistically speaking, it remains one of my favourite Harley cruisers.
ABS now comes as standard on all Softail models, and for this trip the bike was also fitted with an aftermarket windscreen and sound system (two speakers under the handles that can be connected to an iPod). And I have to say, listening to classic rock (as well as a few Arabian hits) was a lot of fun.
After a quick stop at a fuelling station, we left the Dead Sea behind and headed for a dark mountain on the horizon. Luckily, I had swapped the Deluxe for a new XL 883L SuperLow, because the 100km of tar that followed is probably the best piece of winding mountain road that I have ever ridden. Instead of gouging a path through the mountains, this road sits neatly atop the hillsides, causing the route to sweep marvellously from side to side. But the joy doesn’t last long, because your progress is quickly halted by a long sandy stretch of tar. Clearly, not all roads in Jordan are as exquisite. The majority are uneven, sandy and pitted by potholes. Nevertheless, the mountain passes are fantastic and offer great scenery, steep hills and tight bends that force one into first gear.
In my opinion, the Sportster is the ideal bike for these roads. It is smaller, lighter and more manoeuvrable than the large cruisers in the group and it is fun to scrape its pegs through the corners. The SuperLow is new to the range and offers – as its name suggests – a seat that is a mere 695mm from the tar. It is perfect for smaller riders who want to keep their feet planted firmly on the ground. It also has a relatively soft suspension that provides a surprisingly smooth ride.
By lunchtime we are in the ancient city of Petra, which was carved out of sandstone by the Nabataeans around 2500 years ago. Unfortunately, motorcycles aren’t allowed in the ancient site, so we had to walk, but it was definitely worth the effort. Moving through the narrow gorge and studying the impressive structures was a magical experience. So magical, in fact, that we were now running late. The sun was hanging low on the horizon and we still had to ride to Aqaba on the Red Sea, about 140km away.
We follow the King’s Highway, a road that has served as the trade route between places such as Egypt, Gaza and Damascus for thousands of years. Indeed, it is these exact routes that the crusaders had fortified and defended hundreds of years ago.
It is a lovely route with loads of twists and turns. It also offers a great view of the Wadi Ramm – a large valley dotted with sandstone mountains. It is not, however, a road that one should tackle at night. There are countless pedestrians, children and animals that step out of the darkness onto your path.
But dodging obstacles is less of an issue on the Street Glide Trike. At the front, it looks just like a normal Street Glide, but at the back you’ll find an axle with two wheels. There’s also a Tri Glide Ultra Classic Trike in the range that offers all the luxury of the Electra Glide.
Keeping the trike on the road requires a bit of practice, because just as with a quad bike, you can’t lean through corners. The front wheel has to be physically steered with your arms, though there is a differential at the rear that lessens the effort needed. Surprisingly, one gets used to it fairly quickly, and allowing one wheel to strike the gravel and slide out is a lot of fun. But be warned, the trike won’t appeal to everyone.
With the disappearance of the sun, the temperature also plummeted. Thankfully, another excellent mountain pass managed to keep our spirits up. So with one hand one the throttle and the other shielding my body from the howling wind, I entered the city of Aqaba. I’d love to confirm whether the Red Sea really is red, but under the Arabian moon it appeared pitch black.