When a young German started selling bicycles in the corner of his brother’s car repair shop, he had no idea that decades later he would be considered by many as the face of cycling in a faraway land.
However, that was how Wolfgang Hohmann — known to most as simply Wolfi, a name also given to his shops— began his career, that brought him to Dubai 20 years ago where he opened his first shop in the UAE.
Since then, he has had a front row seat from which to observe an explosion of interest in cycling across the country, which has led to the UAE being viewed as an international hub for the sport.
It's a very different story today to when he first arrived in Dubai.
“When I first came here in 2002, I had a 40-foot container, half of it had furniture and the other half was bikes,” said Wolfgang, 50.
“I opened the container in front of my first store on the Sheikh Zayed Road and walked into an empty showroom and that was the start of it all for me.”
The shop, which is well known to anyone in the Dubai cycling community, is the first of four he now has in the Emirates.
The cycling infrastructure in those days was in its infancy.
“Back then, the facilities weren’t what we have now. There were less people living here and the interest was quite small,” he said.
“I remember our first riding group, the Dubai Roadsters, we had maybe five or six people.
“Now in Dubai, if you look at the Al Qudra track alone, there are thousands of cyclists there at the weekends, people have to arrive around 5am to be sure of finding a parking space.
“It’s almost like being at a concert every week when you see so many people gathered in one place.”
The UAE today is well regarded within the global cycling community for its investment in the sport, with more facilities being added each year.
Dubai has plans to expand the emirate’s cycle tracks from 463km to 759km by 2026 as part of the Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan, with paths mapped out for 29 city districts.
The emirate also received the accolade last year of being named as a Bike City by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), becoming the first location in the Middle East and Asia to receive such status.
The interest in cycling was a much different proposition when Wolfgang first arrived in Dubai from Freiburg in Germany all those years ago.
He said he made it his personal mission to try to persuade people to take up the activity.
“I think it took almost about 10 years to make it work,” he said. "I was telling people who were into cycling to just bring one person along with them to the cycling groups and it grew from there.
“That was how the business grew. There was no Facebook or Instagram back then.
“I’m extremely proud to have helped build a community and play a part in bringing people to the sport.”
Cycling enjoyed a boon during the pandemic when most public activities were banned due to restrictions.
“If there was any winner that came out of Covid-19, I would say it was the sports industry,” said Wolfgang.
“A lot of gyms and other activities were closed off to most people. There was an unbelievable demand for cycling and goods such as indoor trainers.
“It really confirmed for me how important sport is and how it can help people to survive.”
A large part of the surge in interest in cycling in the UAE was down to the facilities, he added.
“The best cyclists in the world come here to use these tracks and they are amazed by the quality,” said Wolfgang.
“There’s nowhere else in the world where you have so many cycle tracks of this size that you can ride on with your friends.
“The community is only going to continue to grow and grow.”