Underpinning the countries’ decades-old relationship is power politics: American protection and arms sales in exchange for free-flowing oil and cooperation on security. But often overlooked by outsiders, who mainly know the kingdom for its strict version of Islam, is the American cultural influence that has seeped in over the years.
Many Saudis fume that Osama bin Laden is one of their country’s most famous exports, especially those with fond memories of time spent in, say, Oregon, Indiana or Arizona.
Hundreds of thousands of Saudis have studied in the United States, and many others have interacted with Americans through military ties or the oil industry, leaving traces of the United States across the kingdom.
“Fasten your seatbelt for some real driving,” Mohanad Aljuaied, a Saudi Uber driver, said as I climbed into his silver Dodge Charger to visit the motorcycle rally. A hip-hop track filled the car’s red interior as we sped through traffic.
Mr. Aljuaied recalled his six years in Monterey, Calif., where he lived while his father was in school. He returned to Riyadh as a teenager and missed some aspects of American life. But Saudi culture was slowly changing, he said, making it acceptable for men to try jobs their elders would have avoided, like driving a taxi.
“It used to be weird for a Saudi family to ride with a Saudi driver,” he said. “But now they like to help out young guys.”
The biker rally ended at Al-Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic University, where many of the kingdom’s future clerics and Shariah judges are trained. The bikers hung out on the grass, drinking Diet Pepsi and lining up to face Mecca when the call to prayer…