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Steel camels: Harleys rumble across Saudi sands

America's ultimate icon of letting loose has gone from Milwaukee to the land of Mecca and Medina, where members of the Middle East Harley Owners Group (HOG) held their ninth annual rally this weekend.

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Desert HOGs: A Saudi Harley Owners Group member departs for a weekend motorcycle rally.

Caryle Murphy

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A half-moon directly overhead glows in the gathering daylight as Adel Mallawi straps on his helmet.

His tall legs, sheathed in leather chaps that match his black leather jacket, drape over one of the loves of his life: Harley-Davidson's 105th anniversary Electra Glide Ultra Classic. Copper and black. Same colors as his helmet.

Birds chirp and a solitary trash truck gorges on rubbish in the empty downtown street as Mallawi and 12 other bikers, most of them Saudi, rev their engines. "Yallah!" someone yells. "Let's go!"

The sun rises as the bikers ease onto the highway for a 750-mile ride through the Saudi desert to the United Arab Emirates to join hundreds of other bikers at the ninth annual rally of the Middle East Harley Owners Group (HOG). As they thunder toward the horizon, the crisp dawn air promises a perfect day on the open road, which Mallawi, a banker, finds exhilarating.

"It's the sense of freedom you get on the bike," the 30-something Saudi says. "It's just you and the air. It's a great feeling."

America's ultimate icon of letting loose, the Harley-Davidson, has gone from Milwaukee to the land of Mecca and Medina. Dire warnings from religious conservatives about the sinful pitfalls of imitating a Western lifestyle are no match, it seems, for the allure of soft leather, gleaming chrome, and the purr of a perfectly pitched motor.

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