Get out of the city and take your bike into the UAE's hills
Mountain biking is growing and with ever congested roads, cyclists are heading for the hills.
Dubai wasn’t exactly built for cycling, and there’s hardly a hill in sight, but for the hundreds of mountain biking enthusiasts living in the city, there are still ways to enjoy and practise this rugged sport.
Andy Whitaker is one of the founding members of Hot Cog, an advanced mountain bike group based in the emirate. The group has a growing membership, but a core gang of a dozen or so regular riders head out to Shawka in Ras Al Khaimah every week to pedal through the region’s rocky terrain.
The cyclists started as a bunch of expats who just wanted to get together and cycle in Dubai, but the emirate’s distinct lack of mountains, coupled with some crazy motoring on the roads, made the group look further afield for challenges. ‘The frustration is that there are no hills in Dubai except in Hatta and there isn’t much riding there,’ says Andy. ‘All the riding is done in Ras Al Khaimah. Even then the paths only went so far – there were 4x4 tracks but not much single track riding and that’s what we’ve been building over time.’
Hot Cog Mountain bikers ride out every weekend, meeting in Shawka, and as Andy explains, it’s no easy weekend pedal. ‘Hot Cog is not a beginner’s group, it’s the high end of the fitness scale. We’ve had people join us who think they’re fit because they go to the gym two or three times a week but they’re not bike fit and they haven’t got the technical experience to go off road. They come out and end up getting dropped and someone has to cancel their ride to get them back to the car. For the person that comes out it’s disappointing because they haven’t had a full and successful ride.’
Hot Cog is part of the wider mountain biking community in Dubai, and although it is better suited for fitter, more experienced riders, the group is closely affiliated with a number of other outfits that cater to newcomers to the sport. ‘Without question the sport is really growing, and the increase in different groups has helped – our Facebook group has 400 members and there was recently a race event with 250 people attending so it’s definitely a growing sport. We’re all friends and everyone knows everyone – the groups are just made up of different abilities. People might start on the MTB Friday group, which is great for a fun yet demanding cycle, and then want more of a challenge and ride with us – there’s no hard structure as such. Some people flit between groups, people are welcome to do as they please, it’s all very friendly.’
There are four other groups of mountain bikers in Dubai, so it doesn’t matter what level you’re at, or if you just want to give it a try, you can still get involved. MTB Fridays meet once or twice a week to engage in physically demanding but fun rides on single trails and sometimes on Jeep tracks. KOM MTB is good for newbies to the activity. Dubikers is also a good choice for novices and enables the less confident riders to improve. Elsewhere, Dirt Skirts was started by Andy’s wife, Angelika, and is a group just for women who love the dirt and tracks of mountain biking too. You’ll find all these groups by doing a simple search on Facebook.
Taking part couldn’t be easier, there are no joining costs or charges for any of the groups, though you will need to be able to drive to the meeting points. Once you join the Facebook group you’ll see information on where rides are taking place. You need a minimum of five or six inch full suspension mountain bike, helmet, gloves, a puncture repair kit, pump and a hydration pack. Andy also recommends converting to a tubeless tyre set-up, which minimises punctures, especially on tougher terrains. ‘The mountain biking community in Dubai is constantly growing, and we love the challenge but it’s also a biking community – we’re just a bunch of people that enjoy biking, barbecues and a good laugh.’ Free. Hot Cog meets on Fridays and various weekday mornings. See www.hot-cog.com for more information.
Top tips for safe mountain biking
1. Carry enough liquid when out on the road- you can become dehydrated very quickly.
2. Know how to repair your bike and fix punctures.
3. Always wear a helmet.
4. Ride with the groups to begin with rather than venturing out on your own. There’s no better way to discover the best trails and it’s all too easy to get disorientated out in the desert.