BAGHDAD — Just before dusk they begin to arrive, first the motor scooters, then the bigger bikes rolling up in a cloud of leather and noise. For an hour or two each Friday, on a wide boulevard beside the Tigris River, the complexities of Baghdad life give way to a few universal questions: Can I pop a wheelie when people are watching? Can I sneak out of the house without my family noticing? And wouldn’t it be cool if there were girls here?
On a recent Friday, Ali Hamra, 28, sat on his motorcycle, watching a crowd of about 75 cyclists doing tricks on the machines that are the loves of their lives. Some rode standing upright on their seats or handlebars; others pulled the front wheel in the air; still others spun their rear wheels to create clouds of black smoke. In the United States these tricks would barely turn an eye, but in Iraq the bravado looks like the baby steps of a nascent youth culture, modeled largely — and imperfectly — on a vision from abroad.