My way or the highway

January 20, 2019

Specialised biking is gaining greater momentum in Pakistan, providing adventurists with a great new way to explore the country

My way or the highway

Ask a layperson in Lahore what they think a biker is, and they’ll most likely conjure up an image of a young 20-something zigzagging their two-wheeler across the city, while possibly carrying out unofficial races mid-traffic to obnoxiously flaunt their mettle. There are of course, a large number of bikers in our country, most of whom use the machine as a means to commute and get from place to place. Avid bikers however, suggest that the true nature of biking goes beyond these images, and that there is an advent of a diversified group across Pakistan that is onto something rather special.

Lahore has all sorts of bike lovers -- from sports bikers to adventure riders and cruiser enthusiasts. There are the ‘weekend bikers’, also known as the ‘nashta riders’, aptly named for they organise rides as groups within the city and its outskirts in the mornings. They will set up a point to meet on weekends and once together will sit to eat breakfast, ending the meeting with rides back home after a few hours.

Then there is the ‘big boys’ league’ adventure riding. While other types of biking allows one to use sports bikes or ‘cruisers’ (for example, Harley Davidsons), this type of biking requires one to have an adventure touring bike that is curated for this very purpose. These adventure bikes are akin to SUVs in the world of cars, and allow the rider to traverse all types of terrain due to their jeep-like tyres.

Although biking was all about sports bikes 20 years ago with only the younger crowd interested in taking it up, this decade has seen a lot more older people who are up for adventure riding. Of course, only a more well-off and generally older crowd of people can afford these types of machines.

Ali Sadozai, a 46-year-old avid adventure biker, is part of this crowd. "I have a limited number of days off during the year. Biking for me means being out with my close friends for days in the middle of nowhere and love for the machine itself. You come back recharged, so it’s also therapeutic to some extent," he explains why he loves the activity.

He got into it reluctantly when his friends insisted, "those who knew that I had the keera for the outdoors -- and they were right". They covered all corners of the country from north to south a number of times.

Sadozai is going to be taking his bike to the south this month and travel 4,000 kilometres in eight days while spanning cities such as Karachi and Gwadar. He still insists however, that the true essence of biking is encapsulated by the youngsters who manage to go up north even during the harshest of winters without any of the camping gear or professional equipment that his crowd possesses. To him, "those are the true adventurers".

Biking is and should retain its culture of leisurely activity. It’s another form of entertainment.

Cross-country touring is a major part of what entices and invites people into this realm of travelling. Zoeed Arshad, owner of Inline4bikes, shares his experience, "One’s experience is dependent on the kind of people you ride with. You can end up on top of Babusar Pass enjoying the nature or on a hospital bed because your fellow rider kept pumping you to go faster. I have biked enough to live through the latter and also managed to enjoy a cup of coffee while sitting in front of the Passu Cones."

When asked what the reaction of other people and locals in the North is to this style of commuting, Arshad says, "In all cases, the audience is the constant. You come across people who are excited to know about you and your machine and confused as to why a person would opt for a two-wheeler when they could choose to buy a four-wheeler sedan with the same money. But they are all welcoming and hospitable."

For Sadozai, the reasoning is pretty similar, "Almost every experience is memorable. I understand for some the destination may be important and therefore memorable but for me, when I’m with my friends, the destination is an excuse. We enjoy the process of getting from point A to B."

There are challenges however. Due to the prevalence of rowdy younger bikers within cities who lack maturity and experience, especially those on sports bikes, there is a negative perception of motorbiking amongst the populace in general. A lot of younger people manage to get into accidents and attract unfavourable attention. Due to this perception other types of bikers suffer, as blanket bans are enforced on motorbikes as a whole, such as on the motorways.

Still, this special type of biking is slowly gaining popularity as avid riders share their experiences on social media and create curiosity amongst their friends, and as the conditions of roads improves across the country, such as the roads at Babusar Top. According to Arshad, "Biking is and should retain its culture of leisurely activity. It’s another form of entertainment. When you ride a motorcycle in these areas, it’s as if you had never seen those mountains before. The freedom, the wind… it’s an experience like no other."

Sadozai also believes that there is a scope for adventure riding on our landscapes, "It’s a healthy activity for a people who otherwise don’t have many options to exert themselves. Many foreign bikers going through Pakistan have admitted to me that our northern areas provide one of the best stretches for motorcycle riding in Asia."

With more awareness about this activity and this group, adventure biking and biking in general can certainly gain more precedence in the future.

My way or the highway