Over the past 40 years, and in particular since establishing his ‘TRISTAR Motorcycles’ business in 1985, for many in the country, Jafar Behbehani has become Kuwait’s ‘Mr. Motorbike’. Today, TRISTAR is the place to go not only for Ducati and BMW Motorrad machines but also for a host of top-of-the-line and desirable clothing, safety gear and accessories. Perhaps most of all though, TRISTAR is a repository for the most exceptional expertise, knowledge, and passion for all things on two-wheels. With four decades of experience in his back-pocket, Jafar now runs the business along with his son Masoud. We met with the high-octane duo in their Shuwaikh showroom.
Father Jafar’s relationship with motorbikes goes right back to 1973. He recalls his first ride and how it started a whole new direction in his life: “A great friend of mine owned a small motorbike, he offered to let me try it out. I sat on it, rode for around 100 meters and hit the curb! I didn’t fall, but in those first meters, I got bitten by the passion. I bought myself a bigger bike – a 550cc – and had another small accident. The bike needed a repair, but it spent too long in the dealer’s workshop waiting for spare parts. I got frustrated – so I bought an even bigger bike – a 1,100cc”.
Since his pre-motorcycle days, Jafar Behbehani has always put safety first. He’s been wearing a safety-belt in his car since 1966 – long before they were fitted as standard in most vehicles and during a period when they were little more than a curiosity for most drivers. He insists no one in Kuwait has been wearing a safety belt for as long as he has… and we think it’s a claim that stands up!
From his early days as a motorcyclist, he’s carried through his belief in the paramount importance of safety. “Even back in 1973, I was wearing a motorcycle helmet. Remember, at the time our own police were still wearing our national headdress while riding. I also wore a well-padded ski jacket – but only because there was no safety gear available. It got me thinking. So, I became a supplier of safety clothing and boots”. The business was born.
Back in the day, motorcycling wasn’t widespread or popular, but Jafar recalls there was a small number of very passionate riders. “At the time, most people rode a motorbike to express their character. Today though, the whole cross-section of society rides a bike”.
It wasn’t easy at first. “When we first became a distributor of motorcycles, with BMW Motorrad, it took 9 years before we actually sold our first bike. At the time though, BMW was a classically-styled bike, for a more traditional and older generation perhaps. Today, of course, our brands of BMW and Ducati have the fastest and most beautiful bikes on the road, as well both being the most safety aware”.
The first store was in Shuwaikh and remains the location of their current workshop. Another larger showroom was subsequently opened, but this was ransacked during 1990’s invasion, and the bikes were stolen. Following Liberation, they eventually reopened in Salmiya before moving to their (now) previous and well-known showroom in Sharq. Today they’re settled into a great new location in Shuwaikh. It attracts a younger crowd and is one of the city’s most dynamic of areas.
His son, Masoud, was born into biking. “My father bought me a small 50cc bike when I was around 5 years old, and while growing up, motorcycles were always around me. I always wanted to ride. I remember my first ride: my dad put a helmet on me, sat me on the bike and said go. I twisted the throttle, and fell! I learned to ride the best way though – off-road on a dirt bike and in the desert. Learning on the road isn’t necessarily the best way”.
A career in the business wasn’t written in stone for the younger Masoud though; he’s a civil engineer and worked for many leading oil companies in Kuwait for around twelve years. Working alongside his father for half a decade, he now says, “Only over the past five years have I been lucky enough to wake up every morning and go do something I want to do every day.”
Jafar, and now Masoud, have been at the heart of exponential growth in motorcycling in the country. Jafar established the first group under the name of Kuwait Riders in 1988 with only a few handful of members. Later it was re-named the ‘Kuwait BMW Motorcycle Club’. This club, along with the total biking population, has evolved well beyond anything Jafar ever dreamed it could be. There are now more than 50 groups in Kuwait with wide influence on the other Gulf & Middle Eastern countries.
Under TRISTAR’s wing are also currently the ‘Kuwait Ducati Club’ and the women-only ‘Kuwait Motolady Club’. Every year, too, the Behbehani’s are instrumental in organizing an annual blood donation ride as a way to help saving lives, promoting road safety and make motorists more aware of bikers on the road. Motorcycling has gone mainstream.
“So many people ride today. Some commute, some for sport and enjoyment. But we’re all motorcyclists together”, says Jafar. The social and group aspect of riding is important to Jafar and, while he’s far from being militant, he’s certainly a vocal activist for the safety of motorcyclists. “I always want to emphasize to riders the importance of taking care of themselves, and equally I want to advise car drivers to be aware and respectful of motorcyclists. Motorcyclists today are everyone – they are sons, fathers, grandfathers, mothers, and daughters. I want to see everyone respect the road, respect the riders. I always remind people that we can get spares for your bike, but we have no spares for your body”.
Jafar is a well-known sight on the city streets as he rides daily to the office. “I also say to people – don’t complain about traffic – change your vehicle. That doesn’t necessarily mean a motorcycle. Although public transport isn’t well-developed in Kuwait, there is the possibility to share rides. We all complain about the traffic, but we are each the cause of the problem”.
They don’t say it, but for sure if everyone commuted by bike, there would be much less chaos on the streets.
Masoud delivers a contemporary view of TRISTAR. “Today, primarily we now focus on the brands that we feel have a vision and represent the best technology. We want to focus on the best brands in the market.
“BMW Motorrad has been a leader for many years, particularly from a technological standpoint. The way Germans use technology is function over form, so their bikes are very technologically advanced. BMW was the first to come up with ABS – and this is now used on every car and motorcycle too. They draw a lot of high-end tech from racing and touring, and this trickles down to their road bikes too.
“Ducati is the jewel of the motorcycle world. For Italians, form comes first… and only then function. It’s beauty first. They do it with their cars, clothing, jewelry and of course motorbikes too. Ducati is steeped in a racing pedigree, and they’re driven by their own passion and by their customers’ passion – the people known as Ducatistas.
“At TRISTAR, we don’t pride ourselves only on selling motorcycles – we’re adamant to offer our customers the highest standards in safety too. For example, from Dainese – another Italian brand that will be known to many; AGV – also high-end Italian brand; and Arai with their hand-made Japanese helmets. They’re the only company that offers a $5,000,000 insurance policy on their products. We stock a wide range of bikes accessories too – from BMW Motorrad and Ducati, plus other niche brands.
Masoud’s motorcycling passion has lately taken him to race. “I started racing just three years ago, although for the past ten I’ve been attending track days. I used to take my sports bike to the track. This was a bike I used to ride on the road until I realized that you can only really enjoy them on a racing circuit. I fell in love with riding on the track. The first year of my racing career was cut short when I broke my arm – I must add this was not in a bike related incident though! In my second season, I completed just one race and then damaged my back. Last year my highest finish was fifth, and this year I’m doing a lot better. In fact, I’m currently leading the championship after three rounds”.
What’s the secret behind 40 years of success? There’s no secret – the truth is, the business has grown through sheer passion. It is owned by a motorcyclist, it is staffed by motorcyclists. They know what their customers want because they are brother (and increasingly sister) motorcyclists themselves.
Four decades have put TRISTAR in pole position with the world’s leading brands and at the heart of Kuwait’s motorcycling community. Jafar remains the nation’s Mr. Motorbike, and his son sits at his right hand, helping steer TRISTAR into what promises to be a very successful fifth decade.