Big motorbikes rev up under Iranian reforms
DUBAI — The joy of riding big Japanese and American motorbikes was just one of the pleasures taken away from Iranians after the country’s Islamic revolution.
But three decades on, to the delight of enthusiasts, there are signs of restrictions being eased. This month a dozen bikers on pre-revolutionary and newer models were allowed a strictly regulated ride in Tehran.
It was still a far cry from the open highways of “Easy Rider”.
Special permission is needed to ride just one weekend per month and the cruise is limited to specific streets during daylight hours. Women are still prohibited from ridng bikes.
It fits in, however, with other developments as Iran opens up to the West again under reformminded President Hassan Rouhani. The ban outlawing motorcycles with engines above the size of 250 cubic cm was introduced in the early years of the revolution to halt drive-by killings of Iranian officials by the opposition.
It was also part of an effort to eradicate vestiges of an unIslamic Western lifestyle that had prevailed under the monarchy overthrown in 1979. Women were barred from riding motorcycles as it was seen as incompatible with Shi’ite Islamic values. Motorbikes with big engine power were used exclusively by the Basij, the government’s plainclothes security force, which often paraded on them around Tehran in a show of power. Under the reprieve, authorities select members of the Tehran Motorcycling and Car Racing Association to licence for street riding after running them through security checks, the association’s manager Mehrdad Hemmatian said.
Police and Interior Ministry agents monitor the riders while they are on the road.
“We are hopeful that the restrictions on full-sized motorcycles will be revised and lifted,” Hemmatian said. “The restrictions are outdated.”
The government-linked association is also lobbying to bring down import tariffs on sports bikes to six percent from 100%.
People involved with the government are mostly behind the demand for motorcycles as it is easier for them to obtain special permission and they are better able to afford the expensive American-made Harley Davidson motorcycles. Bikers who are not from the elite can buy cheaper Japanese sports bikes for use on race tracks.
Dubai’s desert highway While the motoring association is trying to have the ban fully lifted, Iranian bikers have found other ways to satisfy their passion.
Symbolising the love for U.S.-made Harley Davidson motorcycles, local bike manufacturer Tondar Shahab makes replicas with street-legal engine of 250 cc as opposed to the usual range of 883 and 1800 cc.
Shabab, an Iranian enthusiast who lives in Dubai, often rides with his friend Shahbol on their Harley Ultras from the city to the desert resort of Bab Al Shams, a popular sheesha and drinks stop for riders. “When you have a passion you will find a way to ride,” Shabab said.
The makers of the Xterrain500 are currently gauging interest via an Indiegogo campaign. The company plans to sell the bike for $1 600 — about R21 200 before import taxes. It is powered by a 48-volt 9Ah Samsung battery, which turns a 500-watt/48-volt electric rear hub motor, providing pedalling assistance up to a top speed of 32 km/h. The battery has a claimed range of approximately 40 k m on the level. If the Xterrain ever sells in South Africa, it will compete with Pedegos electric bikes on their fat snow tyres, which sell from R28 260 on snow tyres for a 36 Volt, 500 Watt drivetrain, up to R36 880 for a 48 Volt, 600 Watt system. PHOTO: INDIEGOGO
Women are still prohibited from riding motorbikes in Iran, but not from riding on them, while bikes with engines over 250 cc may now be ridden one weekend a month.