Coronavirus: rise of pandemic prompts UAE cycling boom as residents keep fit safely

In a nationwide survey of 3,100 cyclists, 20 per cent said they had taken up the sport since the outbreak

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The rise of Covid-19 has sparked a cycling boom in the UAE as people seek out ways to exercise safely and boost their well-being.

A survey of 3,100 cyclists carried out by the Federal Competitiveness and Statistics Centre found 20 per cent had taken up the pursuit as a result of the pandemic.

Many said they swapped their cars for two wheels to shed excess weight brought about by stay-home measures and remote working.

Others said it was a good way to reduce stress and improve their mental health.

I find it easier to social distance myself when I ride and I tend to go on solo trips

During the first half of 2020, the total bicycle trade in the UAE exceeded Dh69 million, despite many residents being made redundant or adjusting to salary cuts due to the economic impact of Covid-19.

Iraqi resident Ali Al Salihi, 41, said he became more serious about cycling this year.

“I used to cycle when I lived in New Zealand but put it on the back burner when I moved to Dubai in 2017,” he said.

“I had a basic mountain bike but decided to invest in a more sturdy road bike in May which cost Dh4,500 second-hand.

“I lost weight gained during the lockdown and had more time to enjoy cycling when working from home.”

Living in Mirdif, Mr Al Salihi said he has great cycling tracks nearby in Khawaneej and Mushrif Park so it made sense to make better use of them.

Ali Al Salihi owns a road bike worth Dh4,500. Courtesy: Ali Al Salihi
Ali Al Salihi owns a road bike worth Dh4,500. Courtesy: Ali Al Salihi

He now goes cycling about two times a week and travels up to 100 kilometres in one journey.

Forty-two per cent of the UAE: Cycling towards a sustainable nation survey respondents were Emirati.

Of that figure 11 per cent were female and 89 per cent male. The largest percentage of cyclists, 40 per cent, were between 30 and 39 years old.

When it comes to bicycle preference, 60 per cent of respondents said they owned a road bike, 18 per cent opted for a triathlon bike and eight per cent owned a mountain bike.

Folding bikes and hybrid bicycles were also popular choices and mainly used for commuting short distances.

Albert Ters says he had more time to cycle during the pandemic. Courtesy: Albert Ters
Albert Ters says he had more time to cycle during the pandemic. Courtesy: Albert Ters

Lebanese resident Albert Ters is not new to cycling but increased his weekly exercise during the pandemic.

“I have been cycling a lot more because of coronavirus,” the sound engineer, 47, said.

“Like many people, my work quietened down so I started going out for 20km rides about two or three times a week.

“I find it easier to social distance myself when I ride and I tend to go on solo trips.”

Mr Ters has a Dh9,500 road bike and said owning it is like a love story.

“You invest a lot in it because it’s a good habit and does a lot to help your physical and mental health,” he said.

“In the future I’d like to see more connecting roads where cyclists can travel and commute easier around the city.

“They are doing a great job with dedicated cycling tracks but it is still hard to access certain parts of Dubai via bicycle.”

Other residents said they would like to see a change in motorists’ behaviour towards cyclists through education campaigns.

Dubai resident Nikhil Agarwal said he made a commitment to get back into cycling earlier this year.

This past weekend he completed his first major challenge during the pandemic and cycled across several emirates.

“I purchased a road bike in March knowing the lockdown was coming,” he said.

“I thought, even if gyms are shut I can do outdoor activities like running or cycling.

“It made sense to invest as I live right next to the Al Qudra cycling track and kept delaying buying a good bike for the past year because of other commitments.

“I just completed the Coast to Coast cycling challenge on Friday past, a one-day 215km cycle from Al Mamzar in Sharjah to Al Aqah in Fujairah.”

The report revealed Dubai is home to the country's largest cycling community with 47 per cent of respondents living in the city.

The survey invited all cyclists to take part to learn more about the community’s preferences, challenges, and suggestions.

Hanan Ahli, acting director of the statistics centre, said the rise of cycling would help to reduce the country's carbon footprint and was in line with the UAE Energy Strategy 2050, which aims to cut carbon emissions by 16 per cent by 2021.

Dubai's Roads and Transport Authority is overseeing the Cycling Tracks Plan 2021, which involves the construction of cycling lanes extending 88km across eight districts.

Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, joined 20,000 cyclists for a huge event on Sheikh Zayed Road on Friday.

The Dubai Ride was part of the Dubai Fitness Challenge, which each year encourages the emirate's residents to embrace healthier lifestyles.