Eight years ago, when three Dubai expats established a group to promote safe cycling, they could not have imagined it would kick-start a community of riders and a healthy – if still fledgling – industry for the sport.
Cycle Safe Dubai, the brainchild of Stewart Howison, and set up with the help of Nicholas Brooks and Nichola McDonald, is now a part of life for the three friends and many other exercise enthusiasts.
“In the beginning it was not about a business opportunity, but an awesome city and climate to grow the cycling family in,” said Brooks, 38, who moved to Dubai from Melbourne in 2008.
“We always knew things would spin out from this and it’s been great to see. New groups, direct business, associated business and sporting facilities.”
The club started regular Motor City Autodrome Cycling Nights for adults and kids to safely ride after work or school. Soon, more than 800 riders were showing up on Wednesday evenings. Over the years, Cycle Safe Dubai’s Facebook page has swelled to 4,300 followers, most of whom have genuine interest in riding.
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“From there we were blessed by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid’s generosity and vision to create Al Qudra Cycle Track and surrounding area as well as the Meydan Loop,” Brooks says.
The Vice President and Ruler of Dubai is a supporter of cycling and the building of the new circuit, which Howison was involved in, has revolutionised how the sport is enjoyed in the city.
“Before, we had about 400 cyclists in multiple groups and abilities on a quiet single lane road,” he says. “Now we have a designated track and the road is dual lanes in both directions, which supports the traffic beginning on the loop itself.”
Cycle Safe Dubai continues to have regular Friday and Saturday morning rides. “We have some original members still joining us for the weekly rides, while others have developed their own mini groups,” Brooks says.
In 2011, Howison set up Revolution Cycles in Motor City, a shop that caters for all the sport’s needs. “You can tell with the growth of the cycling business as well that there is a growing movement in cycling,” Brooks says. “From really one shop 12 years ago to about seven actual businesses now, times are good for all involved.”
Brooks is a big supporter of the Cycle to Work UAE campaign. “I think it will raise awareness in the greater community on fitness, but it also allow road safety to become a focal topic for everyday life,” he says. “Sheikh Mohammed has a vision for 1,000km of cycling track and this can only support health, community and well-being in what is an amazing city.”
For McDonald, 40, lack of exercise is not an option. She has had Diabetes Type 1 for more than 30 years. “I’d always been a runner by nature, I’d never been a cyclist,” says McDonald, a native of Johannesburg and a Dubai resident of 10 years. “I thought let me give cycling a try. We do a lot of socialising here in Dubai, we go out for a lot of meals, and everybody picks up a bit of weight. With me having diabetes, control of my food is very important. Exercise is crucial, and I have been an avid supporter of trying to get people, especially with diabetes, out to exercise. It’s the only way to control the illness.”
The rise of diabetes in the UAE is well documented and Tuesday’s Cycle to Work is just the kind of campaign needed to combat the disease. “I think it’s wonderful idea, getting more people out on their bicycles,” she says. “Riding to work is a wonderful way to get into a basic level of exercise: it’s not high endurance, it’s easy to get into and they can build themselves up.”
The benefits of cycling, according to McDonald, are both physical and mental. “The way you feel when you exercise, the endorphins, is just wonderful,” she says.
“The other thing is you manage to control your weight. Over the time I’ve cycled I didn’t lose a huge amount of weigh because I didn’t want to, so I made sure I was eating the right amount of food. But my weight came down about three or four kilograms when I first started cycling.”
McDonald believes enterprises that encourage cycling year round stand to gain as well. “It definitely improves productivity,” she says. “I’ve seen a few initiatives in other countries where exercise is promoted by the employers to promote a more positive attitude at work. And it does work, without a doubt. I cycle five times a week, and if I could cycle to work all the time I would do it.”
Luke Naismith, part of the same community as Brooks and McDonald, took part in Cycle To Work last year and will again on Tuesday. He believes one of the campaign’s biggest challenges is devising a safe route through Dubai’s heavy traffic.
“I live about 40km away from where I work and I would normally take the 311 road to get there,” Naismith says. “I normally go riding with the group on Tuesday mornings. This takes me as far as Meydan and from there I can take the roads towards Nad Al Sheba and then on to work, and that worked absolutely fine.”
Before moving to the UAE eight years ago, the Melbourne resident would cycle to work once a week, and while he says that he would “love to do it every day” in Dubai, logistics make that practically impossible.
“Part of the issue is that it is easy to do it one way in the morning, but it’s a lot harder going back in the afternoon,” he says. “There’s a lot more traffic and trying to get from where I work to home would be a lot more difficult.”
Naismith, who has been cycling competitively over the last four years, also concedes that climate considerations can restrict cycling’s suitability. “There are a few months of the year where you can do it here,” he says. “Other times it’s too hot and it would be pretty difficult to cycle to work, you’ll get hot and sweaty.”
Brooks says that today riders across the country should do whatever they can, however little, to support the Cycle to Work campaign.
“You can drive your car as close as you can and ride the last bit, or just ride in the evening,” Brooks says. “That day should be about riding to work, or going down to Nad Al Sheba cycling track or taking the kids down to Al Qudra track. If you can’t get to work, you should at least try to get out on your bike.”
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