Dubai Tour can help ride the wave against scare-mongers of cycling in the UAE
Burj Khalifa, Palm Jumeirah, Hatta Mountains. The first edition of the Dubai Tour, which starts tomorrow, not only promises to take the competing cyclists and the watching audience on a journey of the city’s most striking landmarks, but also to bring cycling to a new market.
In the same way that the Dubai Marathon has grown since its first edition, in 2000, attracting local participation by the year, the hope is that cycling in the city, and across the country, will thrive thanks to the spotlight this event will shine on the sport.
Sadly, not many local cyclists are currently able – or willing – to enjoy the spectacular routes that the 128 riders of the first Dubai Tour will be traversing, from tomorrow. The city’s roads, not without reason, do not exactly inspire confidence among amateur cyclists. Self-preservation, it would seem, comes first.
One cycling enthusiast, however, believes a new perspective is needed.
“Now with the Oman Tour, Qatar Tour and the one here in Dubai, there will be more global awareness that cycling is worthy of being taken seriously at a professional level here,” says Josh Harney of the cycling club Dubai Roadsters.
“I do think it will raise the profile of cycling in Dubai, but to be honest I think it will raise it globally rather than among the local population.”
That is not necessarily a bad thing; Harney believes interest among Dubai residents has been on a steady rise, anyway. “There’s already been a huge surge in interest over the last year,” says Harney, who hails from Seattle. “There’s been gradual growth over the last six years, and last year there was a big spike.”
That may seem counter-intuitive, considering many perceive Dubai’s roads to be incredibly dangerous. Harney admits to being surprised. “If you come here from any western country, there is an impression that people don’t ride bikes here,” he says. “When I moved here five years ago I was told not to bother bringing my bike, that it’s too dangerous and you’ll get killed.”
The reality has been somewhat different. For a year Harney rode to work, a total of 40km a day, without any issues. “In Seattle I had about six incidents when I used to bike to work,” he says. “Here, I had none.”
Which is not to say that genuine risks do not exist. Riders should not take to the roads with abandon, just yet.
Last year, the death of Roy Nasr, a triathlete, who was hit by a car while cycling near Safa Park, highlighted the dangers of riding on roads that even Dubai Police’s traffic chief warned were not ideal for cyclists.
“One hundred per cent safety on the roads cannot be provided,” the Emirati cyclist Abdul Ghaffar Al Khaja, who often trains with Dubai Roadsters, said last summer. “But the road authorities are consistently trying to raise awareness of the risks and provide solutions.”
The group organises rides throughout the year, and advises on the safest venues to train. Mainly: Nad Al Sheba Cycling Path, Dubai Autodrome, Al Barsha Park, Mushrif Park, Jumeirah Open Beach Track, Al Qudra Cycling Path and Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit.
“Of course, safety is something we pay attention to,” he says, before conceding that Dubai’s diversity plays a part in the confusion on the roads. “There is a clash of cultures. You can have 50 drivers from 50 different countries on the road and each will have their own interpretation of rules.”
Harney has cycled in Seattle, New York and London and believes that the scare-mongering in Dubai is exaggerated.
“I’ll say riding in Dubai is not significantly more dangerous than in any other country,” he says. “However, there is significantly less awareness of the rules. There are different rules you need to follow here, and if you do that, you should be fine.”
Over the next four days, the Dubai Tour can only make it more attractive to get on that bike.
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Published: February 3, 2014 04:00 AM