Dubai’s known for many things: glitz, construction, shisha. It is not, however, known for its gleaming cycling paths. Not yet, anyway. According to Wolfgang Hohmann, the owner of Wolfi’s Bike Shop, the RTA has planned the construction of nearly 1,000 kilometres of dedicated cycle paths by 2012.
‘They see how other major cities in the world have benefited from having more bikes on the road,’ explains Hohmann. ‘It makes for less traffic, less pollution and a friendlier community.’ Luckily, you don’t need to wait until 2012 to enjoy a leisurely ride on a two-wheeler. While he admits there are parts of Dubai that aren’t exactly bike friendly, Hohmann cycles more here than he did in his native Germany. There, he notes, ‘You can have bad weather for six to seven months of the year.’ Dubai, on the other hand, offers ‘eight months of perfect weather.’
Here, Hohmann reveals his best places to ride away a sunny day.
For a gentle pedal
Contrary to popular opinion, there are areas of Dubai that are set up beautifully for navigating by bike, including many of those around Ibn Battuta Mall.
‘I ride in the Lakes,’ says Hohmann. ‘You get to know all the people in the morning, the ones walking their dogs or bringing their kids to school. It creates a community.’ Furthermore, districts such as the Lakes, the Springs and the Meadows have lots of speed bumps, slowing down drivers and making it safer for those on pedal power. As Hohmann notes, ‘People in those areas are more used to cyclists than in say Deira or Bur Dubai.’ Mirdif is another excellent spot for cycling, not least because the ’hood is home to Mashreq Park – the only one where bicycles are allowed.
Making a day of it
Intermediate riders can join the Dubai Roadsters, who ride en masse every Friday, covering distances of 70-120 kilometres (it’s up to each cyclist to decide how far they want to ride). The group meets at Lime Tree Café at 6am (5.30am in summer) before riding to Academic City, through Nab Al Sheba, and all the way down to Mashreq Park and back (or, if they prefer, they can just stop at Academic City). ‘It’s like a party, but on bicycles,’ quips Hohmann. Keen cyclists can also join the three-hour training rides around Nab Al Sheba on Tuesday and Sunday evenings.
The areas around Dubai are made for mountain biking. Hohmann recommends cycling up to Hatta, or through Sharjah to Fujairah (though this, obviously, is for serious cyclists only). Ras Al Khaima and Oman also have rich mountainous terrain, which is good for some serious biking. First timers might want to go with the Dubai Roadsters, who make monthly trips to Hatta and beyond.
Buying a bike
Hohmann says it’s important to exercise caution when buying a bike in Dubai.
‘In Germany, you need certain training to open up a bike shop. There’s no such certification here. In Dubai, it seems anyone who thinks they have enough money to open a bike shop gets a trade licence and starts selling bikes. The result is there are a lot of bikes on the market that from the beginning are in a very dangerous condition.’ Hohmann says you should look for a shop that sells more than one size of bike (many will only sell medium size). He also says it’s important to give a bike a thorough test run before purchasing it.
‘You also need to ask yourself what terrain you see yourself riding in.’ he advises. ‘If you want to stay in the the streets, get a hybrid. If you want to ride with a group, get a racing bike. If you’re planning to ride up to Hatta, get a mountain bike.’
Hohmann emphasises that it is important to be respectful of the surrounding culture when cycling. Obviously, bikers must dress appropriately on UAE roads, and changing in public is a big no-no (and a punishable offence). Furthermore, it is important that riders in Nab Al Sheba don’t park in the mosque parking lot.
When riding in groups, littering and spitting can have disastrous outcomes for those cycling behind. In other words: don’t do it.
Hohmann also says it’s better to leave ‘crash’ stories and riding advice at home, as both can be jarring for new riders to listen to. Though exercising caution and keeping a safe distance from bikes around you is key, the number-one imperative is to have fun. ‘Riding in a group is like any other social event,’ he concludes. ‘It just happens to be conducted at 15 to 30 miles per hour on bumpy roads.’
Wolfi’s Bike Shop, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 339 4453). Open Sat-Thu 9am-7pm. Call Wolfi’s for more information on Dubai Roadsters