Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge

We find out more about desert driving in Dubai and Abu Dhabi


Le Méridien executive chef Pierrick Cizeron likes a challenge, which may explain why he and his team are swapping their chef whites for 450cc Honda motorbikes and taking on a gruelling five-day rally across the UAE’s desert. The six Frenchman (all are chefs bar one), who call themselves the Desert Frogs, have been riding together in the desert around Dubai for the past 10 years. Pierrick says living in Dubai is a dream for cross-country biking enthusiasts because the desert is so accessible, and bikes and fuel are relatively cheap.

Pierrick and his fellow Frogs try to make it out into the desert as regularly as possible, following various routes, although they’re keen to reiterate that anyone interested in pursuing such a hobby should never do so alone. As well as medical supplies, a camel pack of water and snacks, each rider is equipped with a mobile phone and GPS. The latter also comes in useful when Pierrick and his friends come across illegal rubbish tips – the riders take down the coordinates and pass them on to the authorities. Indeed, desert motorsports have come under criticism in recent years because many drivers and riders fail to clean up after themselves and disrupt the desert’s delicate ecosystem. Pierrick concedes this a problem, which is why he and his teammates always stick to recognised routes.

While the Desert Frogs don’t expect to win the Desert Challenge, they’re excited to take part in what has become a carnival of off-roading since it began in 1991. The race draws some of the top drivers and riders from across the world and is the perfect preparation for the legendary Dakar rally – a race in which Pierrick and his teammates would love to compete. ‘The goal for most of us is one day to do Dakar, but the Dakar is another world. It’s more expensive and a lot [tougher] for riders.’

The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is the second event in the FIA World Cup for cross-country rallies and many of the world’s top drivers will be taking part. There are three race categories – quad bikes/motorbikes, cars and trucks – which all follow the same route. The bikes set off first, followed by the cars, with the trucks last. Biking is arguably the toughest of the three races because it involves the most physical exertion from the rider, as well as there being various safety risks to consider.

While a trip to Dakar may be Pierrick’s ultimate goal, the Desert Challenge is a good alternative, namely because it’s considerably cheaper and more accessible. Yet the race still hold its own unique challenges. ‘The good thing about [riding in the area] is the configuration of the sand. There are some massive dunes here, which makes for really exciting riding,’ he says.

The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge takes place in the desert around Abu Dhabi and Dubai on April 1-7. For spectator information, email info@atcuae.ae or see www.abudhabidesertchallenge.com

Desert drives

Desert Challenge a little too hardcore for you? Experience the thrill of driving on sand with these alternative options

Dune buggies
Dubai Dune Bashing gives you the chance to speed on the sand in a twin-seater 700cc buggy. An instructor leads the way, giving drivers time to get used to controlling the buggy and helping them to increase their speed. Sessions cost Dhs525.

Dune driving
The majority of the UAE is covered in desert, so it makes sense that the Emirates Driving Institute offers a specialised desert driving course. The course includes basic mechanical knowledge of a 4x4, an education on the topography of the desert and situations you’re likely to find yourself in while off-roading, as well as survival tips. Courses cost Dhs600 on weekdays or Dhs650 on Fridays, plus Dhs300 for the desert driving licence.

Desert safari
For those who want to experience the desert by car, but don’t want to be behind the wheel, Arabian Adventures offers a more comfortable approach – strap yourself into an air-conditioned Land Cruiser and let an experienced driver do the work. This said, it’s still a bumpy ride, so expect stomach-churning fun. A day-tour costs Dhs345 per person (8.30am pick-up) and a picnic lunch is included.

Quad biking
This hugely popular pastime can be organised through several local companies. Arabia Horizon Tours offers hourly sessions for Dhs395 in the mornings or Dhs495 in the evening. There’s even a Bedouin-style camp where bikers can stay in the evening.
www.arabiandesert-dubai.com (04 294 6060)

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