Everyone’s gone barmy for cycling in Dubai. Holly Sands hops on the bandwagon.
When a new hobby begins with breaking into your own property with bolt cutters, you might think it’s time to cut your losses along with it. But swept up in the moment of the city’s biking boom, I had to persevere.
If this year’s Dubai 92 Cycle Challenge is set to prove anything, it’s that cycling is bigger than ever in the UAE. More than 2,000 cyclists are expected to join in this weekend, almost double last year’s number. Sure, there’s a long way to go before it’s more popular among the massive masses than scarfing down 3,000 calories in one sitting at the nearest food court, but it’s a start.
Things such as the Byky stations in Downtown or Dubai Marina (launched in February) have given the pastime a boost this year, making cycling – not to mention the city – more accessible to all. Then there’s the 104km of cycling tracks completed this summer (part of an 850km masterplan).
When all everyone’s talking about is how many laps they did of the Nad Al Sheba cycle park, or how fast they completed the Al Qudra-Bab Al Shams track, it’s hard not to feel a little left out – though being constantly updated on people’s ‘personal bests’ or ‘PB’s makes me want to give them a puncture.
While I recognise that purpose-built tracks are a safer option, they lack the element of exploration that first made cycling so appealing to me. And so I bought a new bike and an even newer lock, and took them out for a spin to my local shops. Within 15 minutes I was making a desperate phone call to my dad for tools, after discovering that the lock was so secure that even rolling in the right code wasn’t good enough. Twelve hours and a visit to the hardware store later, and my shiny new wheels were liberated. Not quite the adventure I’d had in mind.
Cut to last Saturday, when I found myself pedalling from The Greens to Jumeirah 1, via a picnic in Safa Park and a brief flight over the handlebars outside Dubai Zoo, when a loose bit of pavement dislodged my chain and stopped the bike dead. I escaped with just a small bruise to my shin and a mysterious, rather gross splatter of ketchup up my thigh. Up until then, I’d been enjoying the very helpful cycle path along the pavement of Jumeirah Beach Road, which helps make city biking safer, though its usefulness is sometimes sabotaged by the few unchivalrous 4x4 drivers who park astride it.
Fortunately, my 60km journey up to Union House and back was littered with discoveries – a new café to try, a diving shop I’d never noticed before, and just how excruciatingly long it takes to cross at the lights at the Safa junction on Al Wasl Road.
Better yet, I’ve earned that next hour of gluttony. The only PBs I’m interested in for now are Potbelly sandwiches and peanut butter cups.