Abu Dhabi is on the cusp of becoming a global hub for cycling, said a senior figure for one of the emirate’s leading property developers.
Factors are aligning to make the UAE synonymous with cycling as a sport and popular pastime, said Jonathan Emery, chief executive of Aldar Development.
The emirate was also awarded the status of Bike City by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) last year, the first location in the Middle East or Asia to receive the accolade.
“There has been a significant increase in interest in cycling in Abu Dhabi, as well as Dubai, over the past 10 years,” Mr Emery said.
“It’s a physical activity that is accessible to so many different cultures and age groups.”
He made his comments from the sidelines of the last day of the Tour de France in Paris.
His company is one of the main sponsors of UAE Team Emirates, who were competing in the event.
An Abu Dhabi investment fund bought a majority stake in bicycle maker Colnago two years ago, whose bikes Team Emirates ride.
The team’s star rider Tadej Pogacar finished as runner-up, after winning the previous two Tours.
“One of the main reasons we support the cycling team is because it tallies with our broader objective of improving the quality of people’s lives,” Mr Emery said.
“Physical and mental well-being are a key part of quality of life.
“There is a huge sense of achievement that comes from being able to perform physical exercise or take part in sport. We are happy to be involved with UAE Team Emirates because it allows us to present heroes and role models to inspire young people to get into cycling.”
Promoting cycling is a strategy in spreading the message across that the UAE is a great place to live, he said.
“When we start our master plans, one of the first things we do is plan the cycling and running tracks,” he said.
“We put the emphasis on what kind of community it’s going to be.
“Being able to go for a run or a cycle where you live is a huge part in making someone feel like they are part of a community.”
Sheikh Khaled bin Mohamed, member of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council and Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Office, launched Bike Abu Dhabi last year.
The organisation is developing cycling infrastructure projects in Abu Dhabi to allow for the growth of the sport.
As a result of its Bike City status, Abu Dhabi will host the UCI Urban Cycling World Championships 2022, in November, and again in 2024.
Recognition from the UCI was a huge coup for the city, Mr Emery said.
“It’s something Abu Dhabi should be very proud of and it will really help to develop cycle culture,” he said.
“Being UCI approved is great motivation to further develop the infrastructure.”
One reason often put forward for cycling not being widely adopted by people in the UAE is that the weather is too hot for most people for long parts of the year.
“There are people here who cycle for 12 months of the year just like in other countries,” he said.
“Other nations have different challenges with the weather. In other parts of the world they have issues with it being too cold.”
He pointed to the likes of Amsterdam and Copenhagen as examples of cities that had fully immersed themselves in cycle culture.
However, the infrastructure in the UAE is different from those European cities, with most of the cycling tracks in the emirates being loops.
“There are a lot of big changes in terms of infrastructure before we can get to that level,” Mr Emery said.
“The UAE has been built on a culture that’s very much dominated by cars but there are already signs that things are starting to change.
“If you want to build competitive cities to attract the best talent and businesses then you need to provide a certain infrastructure — being able to cycle or walk around is part of that.”
Andy Fordham, founder of Dubai Cycling Community, said the facilities on offer have allowed cycling to flourish.
“There are people living in Dubai and Abu Dhabi who have taken up the sport because they have access to facilities here they don’t have in their home countries,” said Mr Fordham, a New Zealander.
“The likes of the Al Qudra cycling track in Dubai didn’t even exist 10 years ago but now it’s a world-class facility that offers almost 90 kilometres of uninterrupted track.”
He said the infrastructure here still needed to change before the UAE would complete its journey into a completely cycle-friendly country.
With the country dominated by motorways and high-speed city roads, cycling largely remains a pastime, rather than a method of transport.
“There needs to be more separate lanes or tracks on the road for cyclists,” Mr Fordham said.
“People here drive far too fast for cyclists to be out on the public roads, it’s not like in other countries where the speed limits are a little lower.
“It’s not realistic to cycle to work here either like you might see in other countries. Companies would have to offer shower facilities for staff in this heat and you are only allowed to take folding bikes on the metro in Dubai, which would rule it out for many.”