A university study has found the vast majority of people cycling on Al Ain roads for work do so without proper protection or lights.
Researchers at UAE University found that 98 per cent of cyclists who use their bikes for work don't wear helmets, while 96 per cent cycle at night without lights.
A total of 1,129 cyclists were observed at random for the study – the majority were non-local, adult males, many of whom were carrying out deliveries.
The findings were published in the online edition of the Medicine journal and exposed poor cycling habits on busy main roads in the UAE's Garden City.
It found almost 40 per cent of riders were on main roads with high-density traffic, and 33 per cent were cycling in the wrong direction, against the flow of vehicles.
“Unsafe practices of bicyclists and low use of helmets despite legislation persist in Al Ain,” the study’s authors said.
“There is a need to raise bicycle safety awareness and improve enforcement of bicycle helmet legislation. This should be directed toward expatriate workers, children, parents, and maids.
“Environmental changes, namely building separate bicycle lanes, can increase safety for cycling.”
Of the 40 per cent of riders at night, 97 per cent did not have lights.
The data showed women cyclists were more likely to wear a helmet, with one in four choosing to do so, as opposed to just 2 per cent of men.
In a bid to reduce bike-related injuries on the road in Dubai, Nicholas Brooks established Cycle Safe Dubai in 2008 with two friends, Stewart Howison and Nichola McDonald.
“People do not need to be in a high-speed accident to suffer a serious head injury, so wearing a helmet is so important,” said Mr Brooks.
“A lot of focus is placed on feeding and looking after gardeners and labourers during Ramadan, so why not ensure they all have cycle helmets to wear?
“The next step should be to encourage their employers to provide adequate protective equipment.”
Omid Rahat, a member of the Al Ain Chain Gang cycling group, said cycling is more popular now than at any other time in his 13 years in the country.
Traffic-related injuries are a major global issue, with 1.35 million people killed and 50 million seriously injured in road traffic collisions every year, according to the United Nations, which has road safety included in one of its key sustainable development goals.
Under good health and well-being, the SDG seeks to halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic crashes.
Data from the Global Burden of Disease Study has shown the death rate of cycling-related injuries in the UAE has increased from 0.33 per 100.000 in 2009 to 0.7 in 2019.
Abu Dhabi Police said there were 109 accidents involving cyclists between 2018 and 2020 - four per cent of the total road crashes during that period.
Under federal law, a bike should be fitted with front and rear lights, as well as a rear reflector, on public highways.
Cyclists are prohibited from using pavements and must stick to the right side of the road, in a single file. It is also mandatory to wear helmets.
He said most recreational cyclists wear helmets and obey the rules, while delivery riders are normally ill-equipped.
“Most people we see out on their bikes for recreation are wearing helmets,” said Mr Rahat, 52, who cycles around 350km a week in Al Ain.
“But when you see people using their bikes for transportation, almost no-one is wearing them.
“They either don’t fully understand the risks or just don’t have access to a helmet.
“We had just a single group of cyclists who would go out regularly in Al Ain, now there are more than 10.
“A lot of locals are out cycling and even young women, it is great to see cycling booming.
“Accidents are rare, but there is a clear safety issue with some and that can be improved.”
There are efforts to make the UAE safer for bikes, with cycle-friendly areas with designated lanes in Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi, Al Qudra, Nad Al Sheba and Dubai Autodrome.
New cycle lanes for recreation are becoming more common across the country, with a wider network linking places of residence and industrial hubs also in the pipeline to make commuting easier.
Dubai’s Master Plan for Cycling Tracks 2026 will see the construction of additional cycling tracks extending 276km, expanding the total length of cycling tracks in the Emirate to 739km.
The plan aims to link the tracks at the coastal areas of Jumeirah, Al Sufouh and the Marina, with the external tracks planned for Al Qudra, Seih Assalam and Nad Al Sheba via Al Barsha, Dubai Hills and Nad Al Sheba.
A new cycling track that stretches 16km alongside Jumeirah Beach linking the existing Jumeirah Street cycling track at Dubai Water Canal with the existing cycling track along King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud Street at Dubai Internet City is also under construction.