Spinneys Cycle Challenge in Dubai

We meet race director ahead of huge cycle race

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Dubai is, surprisingly, full of keen cyclists. You might not spot quite so many of them during the warmer months, but they’re out there, getting up at 5am to beat the searing heat. Yet for beginners, the thought of joining them can be intimidating: where to start? How to learn? That’s where Spinneys’ annual Cycle Challenge comes in.

Many novice and amateur cyclists join the city’s more experienced bikers to take part in the annual 92km Spinneys Dubai 92 Cycle Challenge, but 92km is no walk in the park, and they’ll all need plenty of training in the run-up to the race on Friday December 14. This is where the organised training rides – known as ‘build-up cycles’ – come in handy, with the next one scheduled to take place on Friday September 28 at the Al Qudra cycle path on Al Qudra Road.

Established three years ago, the aim of the Spinneys build-up rides, which take place throughout the year, are two-fold. ‘We’re working in conjunction with Dubai Sports Council on the Dubai Pulse programme: the main objective is to get Dubai moving,’ explains Stewart Howison, the race director. The second aim is – as the name suggests – building up stamina for the Cycle Challenge. ‘We see this is the perfect way to take you from the couch to 92km in just over five months: from 35km in August, to 45km in September, then 65km in October and 80km in November.’

But how do they encourage beginners to join in? Those with a basket on their handlebars and baby seat on the back, who aren’t quite sure cycling’s for them, but who want to give it a go? ‘Every Wednesday night, free Cycle Safe nights take place at Dubai Autodrome from 6pm until 9pm,’ explains Stewart. ‘This is the ideal place to take the first pedal stroke, with no cars on the track and hundreds of fellow cyclists willing to lend advice, support and motivation.

Once you’ve gained confidence, the next step is a Friday-morning build-up ride with Cycle Safe Dubai.’ At the build-up rides, first-timers will get their first taste of group cycling, taking in a 35km loop on the safest roads in Dubai.

Stewart notes that since he moved to Dubai four years ago, there have been dramatic improvements in the inclusivity of the local cycling scene. ‘Four years ago there were no cycle races or challenges that were open to the public – you needed to be part of a club, or possess a UAE cycle federation licence to take part,’ he explains. Since then, there’s been a rise in the number of bike paths and cycle parks, such as the one at Nad Al Sheba. He claims the move has been ‘the injection of enthusiasm’ that the sport needed. ‘A few years ago, people would say: “You’re crazy to cycle in Dubai.” Cars, trucks and buses weren’t accustomed to seeing cyclists, so they never looked out for you or gave you any grace on the roads,’ Stewart explains. ‘HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and prime minister of the UAE, has certainly been the main driving force behind motivating, pushing and completing all the cycle paths. From what we understand, there was a master plan to have multiple cycle paths in Dubai, and from the work we’ve seen completed so far, we can only assume that plan has been reignited.’

But before you head out and spend thousands of dirhams on expensive kit, Stewart recommends making enquiries and asking your local bike shop for help. Look for a bike store that will lend you a bike and invite you on a ride before you splash out. Revolution Cycles in MotorCity offers free test rides; if you decide cycling is the sport for you, you can then move on to the free Spinneys Cycle Safe nights at Dubai Autodrome.

Still feeling intimidated? We’ll let Stewart have the final word. ‘Finding the ideal group is the best part of cycling. Having the right support and advice freely available is part of the benefit of riding in a group. If you feel that you’re looked down on, or treated like an intruder when you arrive at the ride, you need to join a different group. Cycling should be a fun and social way to get fit.’

Join Cycle Safe Dubai’s free nights every Wednesday, 6pm-9pm at Dubai Autodrome, www.cyclechallenge.ae. For info on the next build-up ride, see www.premiermarathons.com.

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