The bike is still by far the best mode of transport to explore the UAE...
Time Out Dubai staff
Only those with a death wish or a sizeable life insurance policy would attempt to commute by bicycle in Dubai. But swap car-congested roads for countryside, and mountain bikes are by far the best way to explore.
This is especially true in Dibba, the tranquil coastal region territorially split between Oman and the UAE, where the only thing liable to knock you off your bike is an occasional waft of fish laid out to dry on the seafront.
Otherwise, this peaceful enclave offers a range of popular biking routes suitable for anyone – from absolute beginners to those who refuse to mount anything with less than 30 gears.
Head inland to explore extensive date plantations, or go for a jaunt on rockier routes into the mountains of Musandam. Arguably, however, the most interesting trail to take is to the foot of the Qasr Al Zaiba’a. The quiet that pervades this craggy outpost might have you believe that nothing much has stirred here for a few millennia, but the route throws up a surprising amount of history. You’ll pass the rather imaginatively named (not to mention, tourist-friendly) Dibba Castle, which has had a slight makeover since its heyday 200 years ago.
Once you venture off the beaten track, leaving behind the cool breeze of the Arabian Gulf, you’ll cruise past a large plain smattered with small, oddly shaped stones. Legend has is that this was the site of a great battle in the Ridda Wars, where Abu Bakr led his armies against local rebels who had sworn allegiance to the Prophet Mohammad. The locals lost and the stones are said to represent the 10,000 fallen apostates. In the next field you’ll find the small, well-maintained graves of the few Dibba residents said to have met the Prophet in person. Given that this was some time before the days of digital cameras or Facebook, we’ll just have to take their word for it.
Changing gears as dirt tracks downgrade to bobbly, rock-covered trails, you’ll finally end up at the bottom of the Qasr Al Zaiba’a. Otherwise known as the Queen of Sheba, Al Zaiba’a is said to have ruled some time in 10th century BCE and locals claim the ancient fort on the top of the mountain was hers. It’s here where the bizarre history of this land takes a sudden twist, for in the shade of this towering protrusion sits a collection of primitive, abandoned rock huts.
The Queen of Sheba’s subjects? The rebel village of the Ridda Wars? No, these diminutive and prehistoric looking properties date back to around 1970, about 30 or so years before oil income allowed for some slightly more modern accommodation. It’s difficult to imagine.
Many of the biking routes can be done by yourself if you feel capable, but the tour is inexpensive and comes with the historical information, which makes the trip all the more rewarding. In what is very ‘Tour de France’, you’re even flanked by a pickup truck carrying spare bicycles should you bust a tyre. The driver also comes ferrying each biker’s lunch and cool refills for your increasingly warm water bottles.
Should you be looking for something slightly more ‘extreme’ than historical, there are several other tours in the area. The five-hour Cycle Sana trail takes you high into the Hajar Mountains before spitting you out onto a three-kilometre downhill blast. For some dramatic cliff faces, take the Cycle Khab Al Shamsi, another five-hour affair offering some of the best technical routes in the region. And while Dibba might be the most spectacular, there are other good spots closer to home, including around Hatta Village and Jebel Hafeet in Al Ain. The best time to go mountain biking is between December to March (tours stop between mid-May and September). Absolute Adventure offer mountain biking trips for a minimum of two people between September and mid-May. Prices start at Dhs350 per person.
They say they’re ‘not a beginner’s group’ and they mean it. Hot Cog is a mountain biking club based in Dubai angled towards the more technical and experienced rider. The group heads out every Friday on routes that run throughout the UAE. For further details, check out their website www.hot-cog.com.