Diplomats and government employees get on their bikes

Ambassadors and staff members from several European diplomatic missions made the most of perfect weather on Tuesday and used pedal power to get to the office.

Patrizio Fondi, fifth right, European Union ambassador to the UAE, is joined by other ambassadors and staff members from 13 EU embassies on the Corniche on Tuesday to cycle to work. Christopher Pike / The National
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ABU DHABI // European diplomats and Abu Dhabi government employees got their workouts in early on Tuesday with a bike ride around the capital.

Ambassadors, embassy staff, and Department of Transport employees donned their helmets and mounted their bikes as they set out to participate in The National's second annual #cycletoworkuae day.

Setting out with dozens of his colleagues for a short ride from Al Maqta Park to his office at the DoT headquarters, Mohammed Al Naqbi said it was a refreshing way to start the day.

“Cycling first thing in the morning lasts with you the entire day and gives you a chance to change your life,” said Mr Al Naqbi, who also, however, admitted that he rarely exercises.

He said the two-kilometre ride had opened his eyes to the accessibility of cycling.

“This is something you can do with friends and family and instead of being locked up indoors it gets you out in the fresh air,” he said.

Senarth Arachchige said he commuted to work at the DoT by bicycle every day of the year, no matter the weather.

“I still don’t have a car but I don’t feel that I need it.

“I take my bike to work, for groceries and sometimes to ride by the mangrove forest for my photography,” he said.

Cycling to work for the past two years has helped to keep his weight down, Mr Arachchige said.

“I lost 10 kilograms very fast and never gained it back.”

On the other side of the capital, European diplomats joined forces to promote the initiative with an 8km ride along the Corniche.

Ambassadors and employees of the British, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Irish, Latvian, Belgian, Polish, Finnish, Swedish, Swiss missions, as well as Luxembourg’s, rode side-by-side from the Mina area to Etihad Towers.

“The European Union cares about the health of people, not only in Europe, but everywhere,” said Patrizio Fondi, ambassador for the EU delegation to the UAE.

Having regularly cycled in much more challenging conditions in his hometown, Rome, Mr Fondi said Abu Dhabi’s flat terrain and wide roads made it ideal for cycling.

Agreeing with Mr Fondi was the ambassador for the Netherlands, Frank Mollen.

“I think you have great potential in Abu Dhabi with large roads where you can put paths in relatively easily,” he said.

Coming from a country with more bicycles than people, Mr Mollen said it was essential the Dutch embassy supported the initiative.

“I biked to work every day back home and if I could bike to work here I would,” he said.

Despite representing a country with a population about a third that of Abu Dhabi city’s, fewer than 100 citizens living in the UAE and an embassy staff of just six, Nicole Bintner-Bakshian, Luxembourg’s ambassador, played a lead role in uniting the European diplomatic contingent for the event.

“It’s not fun if you do it just by yourself and I was impressed with the turnout today,” she said.

Philip Parham, UK ambassador, said the event was certainly one area in which the EU ought to be able to cooperate.

As well as encouraging the idea of cycling in Abu Dhabi being easy and enjoyable, Mr Parham said he was using the ride as inspiration to exercise more.

“In the past 18 months in Abu Dhabi I have put on a lot of weight so I want to encourage myself,” he said.