A new bicycle hire system in Downtown and Dubai Marina
Over the past few years, the number of cycling events, tracks, groups and stores across Dubai has noticeably increased, with more of the city’s residents turning to two-wheeled transport. And right now, the weather is ideal for getting outdoors: community cycling event Dubai Pulse Ride on March 1 attracted more than 750 riders, who strapped on their helmets and headed out to the Nad Al Sheba cycle track to take part.
The newest addition to the city’s blossoming cycling scene is a European-style bike-hire service in Downtown and Dubai Marina. The initiative is the result of a joint project between German company Nextbike and Dubai’s Byky, which so far runs a pedal-kart hire service. Hundreds of people have already registered to use the bikes, so we thought it was high time we joined them. Registering online is a breeze – the company that devised the system is from ultra-organised Leipzig, and it shows. A US$1 registration fee is deducted from your credit card, an SMS with a PIN number is sent to your phone, and you’re ready to go.
A few days later, armed with the SMS, we make our way down to Marina Mall, the site of one of the five stations in Dubai Marina (there are a further five in Downtown Dubai). The machine asks for our mobile number and PIN, before asking us to input the number on the bike we’ll be hiring (labelled in several places on each one), to which it responds by releasing it from the holding rack, and providing us with a four digit code for the bike lock. And that’s it.
Byky general manager Abdullah Abdulghani Alkahtani says the aim is to provide a new, healthy, environmentally friendly method of transport for short trips within the two designated areas (the marina and Downtown), both of which will benefit from a reduction in congestion and pollution. To put this to the test, we decide to tour the marina and JBR, and find out how easy it is to cross over to Jumeirah Lakes Towers and back.
Cycling from the mall, along the smooth path and up over the bridge towards The Walk, it’s plain sailing until we hit the roadworks in front of JBR, which have been ongoing for at least the past three years. The hired bikes are heavy and it’s impossible to lift the front wheel while riding, which makes getting up ramps difficult. On any bike, the cobbled road onto The Walk is a juddery experience, but the lack of suspension on Byky’s basic two-wheeled models makes for an even shakier ride – it’s a relief to get back onto the pavement.
Riding back round to the marina, which involves several dismounts to get up and down curbs (the activity certainly makes you appreciate how few ramps the city’s pavements have for pedestrian crossings), we decide to cross into JLT via the metro station walkway. The main challenge is holding the heavy bike still for the 30-second ride up and down the escalator, but other than that it’s without incident, and we’re free to pedal around the neighbourhood.
The promenades around the lakes in this area are perhaps a better place to take advantage of being on two wheels, as the paths have a much lower footfall than those in the marina (though if someone does get in your way, the bikes feature a handy bell). Unfortunately, we can’t end our journey here – we have to head back to the marina to return the bikes.
Byky certainly has potential to revolutionise how we get around the city, but more stations in different areas will be needed to do it. Abdullah says more will open in time, but he prefers to keep the locations ‘a surprise’. What’s for sure is that the existing infrastructure needs to cooperate – more ramps on pedestrian routes would be a good start. The metro walkways are extremely useful for crossing the otherwise impossible obstacle of Sheikh Zayed Road, so a smoother route linking the metro stations with other areas of interest would benefit the system no end, allowing people to take advantage of the bikes for longer journeys. From Dhs15 for 30 minutes. Various locations in Downtown Dubai and Dubai Marina, www.bykystations.com.
Get pedalling at these Dubai cycle spots
Nad Al Sheba This track is perfect for practising for an event, or simply cycling in a safe environment. There are also plans for a 350m BMX track. Al Meydan Road (no number).
Al Qudra to Bab Al Shams Running through the desert, this track is used regularly by Dubai’s cycling groups. Shops and a café are scheduled to open nearby. Al Qudra Road, just after Arabian Ranches (no number).
Tashkeel This art centre houses its very own skate park, and welcomes BMX riders. Nad Al Sheba Road (04 336 3313).
The Springs A lesser-known skate park at the edge of the community, there are a variety of ramps on which BMXers can hone their skills. The Springs Village, behind Choithrams car park (056 253 5407).