As the first rays of sunlight illuminate the sky, Del Gasan moves through the silent city.
The streets are empty, the morning mist swirls around looming skyscrapers and the world is sleeping – until the Junkyard Dog begins to growl.
Gasan isn’t an early morning jogger, a keen commuter nor a friendly dog walker – he’s a biker, and the beast in question is his customised Harley Davidson chopper.
For Gasan, 38, motorbikes have been a lifelong obsession that has only intensified as the years passed. “My grandad was into bikes,” he says. “He used to build old British bikes and my dad was into the whole rocker thing, so it was kind of inevitable that when I got older I was into bikes, too.
“I got my first bike when I was 17 and I built it up myself. When I moved to Dubai from the UK eight years ago I brought it with me. After I arrived, I realised there were no groups where people could hang out and really immerse themselves in the motorbike scene, so I set about creating one myself.”
That’s why Gasan started Cafe Racers Middle East motorcycle club in 2013, to bring like-minded people of different cultures and backgrounds together.
Now it has more than 11,000 members from all over the Middle East – the newest of which is his daughter Ava, 3, who is already fascinated with the family steeds.
“Cafe Racers Club was the first-ever space of its kind for bikers to come together in the UAE and the motorbike scene has just exploded since then.
“It’s amazing to see the diversity of people who come on our rides and attend the event and I can’t wait until Ava is old enough to ride with me – she’s definitely a biker baby.”
Following the success of Cafe Racers, Gasan launched the Art of Motorcycles in 2019 and is currently gearing up for the third event on Friday and Saturday, November 5 and 6 at Warehouse Four in Al Quoz.
The huge meet, which is free to attend, will attract thousands of bikers from across the Middle East to Dubai for a massive celebration of custom bikes, art and photography.
The shows have a deep personal meaning for Gasan. “At the end of November 2019 my dad passed away, I had been made redundant and my daughter had just been born, so I was trying to take everything on board,” he says.
“I’ve always been into bikes and art and photography, so I decided I was going to put a show together as a sort of tribute because there was nothing else like this in the region at all.
“I jumped on my bike and rode to all of the biker cafes and garages that I knew and asked everyone to get behind it.
“The first year it totally blew up and we blocked off half of Alserkal Avenue with motorcycles and by the second year we were drawing in really big sponsors like Breitling, Harley-Davidson and Vespa.”
Every year, Gasan curates 20 to 25 custom motorcycles and selects 10 artists and 10 photographers to showcase motorcycle-related works at the free event.
There’s no one in the city better qualified for the job.
In more than 20 years of building custom motorbikes, Gasan has gained recognition from around the world, winning numerous competitions and appearing on the pages of international motorcycle magazines.
“My first bike was a 2006 Triumph that I built myself, which won lots of awards,” he says. “My second was a 1961 Matchless that was my grandfather’s, then it went to my uncle and then it got passed to me.
“My third and current bike is the one I got the week my daughter was born and it’s a Harley that I’ve made into a chopper.
“It’s a ‘70s kind of raggerty bike called The Junkyard Dog and it’s been a labour of love to say the least.”
Last year’s one-day event attracted more than 2,000 people and this year Gasan is expecting more than 5,000, as bikers enjoy a renewed sense of freedom in the aftermath of Covid-19 restrictions.
Gasan is certainly taking advantage of that feeling of liberation.
“There are two rides that stick in my mind: The first was when I arrived in the UAE and I went down Al Khail and on my right were the desert dunes and, on my left, the Burj Khalifa. That was something that I’ll never forget.
“Most recently, after lockdown, it was announced that we could go out and I remember pushing my bike down the street at 6am and the second the clock struck I was free.
“I’m excited to get back to doing what we love on such a huge scale and this year’s event is a celebration of that.”
For Gasan, nothing quite compares to the freedom of riding and his favourite route is amid all the action.
“I love flying through the city,” he says with a smile. “I love going over bridges and through tunnels because Dubai is always changing and there’s always something being built. It really makes you feel connected to it all.
“People say it’s like therapy, but it really is. I’ve recently started meditating and I’ve found that riding a bike is so close to that feeling, because you’re in the moment, you’re focusing on breathing and switching off.”
This year, Gasan promises the show will be bigger than ever with live activations, helmet painting, live music, huge giveaways and a collection of elaborately customised bikes.
The art and photography are sourced from around the world and everything is for sale at the show, with any surplus being donated to the Autism Awareness Show.
“It really is a family event, organised by me, my wife, Anneka and Ava, of course, and we’re all running around the show on the day.
“I’m just trying to bring people together and I have fun doing it and the more motorbikes that involves, the better.”
More information is available at www.aom-show.com